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How Mastery Can Add Meaning To Your Life

According to Janna Malamud Smith, daughter of the Pulitzer Prize-winning  novelist Bernard Malamud, “Life is better when you possess a sustaining practice that holds your desire, demands your attention and requires effort.”  This “practice” is the subject of her latest book, “An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery.” The idea of pursuing an “absorbing errand” was first put forth by Henry James in his novel ”Roderick Hudson”:

True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of one’s self: but the point is not only to get out — you must stay out: and to say out you must have some absorbing errand.  Do you know I sometime think that I am a man of genius half-finished?  The genius has been left out, the faculty of expression is wanting; but the need for expression remains, and I spend my says groping for the latch of a closed door.

It was this need for expression that led Janna Malamud Smith to pursue writing alongside her 30-year career as a psychotherapist, despite its ability to make her feel “dyspeptic and dispirited.” The “creative process” may sound lovely in theory, but Malamud Smith makes no attempt to romanticize the so-called “absorption” in one’s craft. In fact, she claims that it is the more mundane, inglorious aspects of creative work that she finds most compelling and challenging.  Smith joins Radio Boston to explain how writing became her “errand” — the craft she claims she “couldn’t not do.”



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  • Tanya

    Just heard a portion of the interview on the radio now. The conversation sounded great and I wondered who this intriguing guest was. Then I heard the name. Janna taught a one day seminar at Curry College on writing. (Blue Hills Writing program now gone I believe.) I’ve taken many writing courses over the years and hers was one– if not the best–I’ve taken. Wonderful woman. Great to hear she’s done this book. I’ll look forward to picking it up. 

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