Lessons from the Lives of Writers: The German Romantics


“Wanderer Above the Sea Fog” (1818) Caspar David Friedrich

The German Romantics were pretty awesome. Their style of writing and thinking set in motion a key literary, art, and philosophical movement.

The German Romantics were also particularly practical folks. Not only did they want to write but they also wanted to remain in society and make a living. Which meant that almost all of them held some of the most “unwritely” jobs possible.

Goethe, whose The Sorrows of Young Werther kicked off Romanticism, was a statesman. E.T.A. Hoffman, author of “The Golden Pot,” “The Sandman,” and “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” was a judge. Novalis, the brilliant poet who died at the age of 24, managed a quarry. And these positions were not unimportant to them. Indeed, Goethe, Hoffman, and the unfortunate Novalis worked hard at their day jobs, and then went home to write at night.

In a world bent on specialization—the idea that we can only be really good at one thing—we often forget that this specialization is a new phenomenon. That writers have very rarely ever been only writers, and that people can be highly talented in vastly different ways and enjoy all that they do. So, like the German Romantics, don’t limit yourself and enjoy life to the fullest. (And, if you can, do it all while taking the literary world by storm.)

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