If you have creative ambitions (writing, visual arts, music) you have a hard road ahead. About 1% of creative artists make a living off their art. I know there are plenty of exceptions. And I know that number is low. But I’m thinking of a living that doesn’t require scrambling each month to make rent. I’m talking about a living that provides for a family, with a mortgage and health insurance. If that’s the “life” you are thinking of, you need a day job. You need to WRITE. But you also need a way to make a living while the world takes its sweet time learning who you are and appreciating your wonderful works of art.
Here are a few things about writing that I’ve learned or read:
- Writers want to be read. (viewers online, ebook or book sales)
- Writers want to be appreciated. (comments online, book reviews, blog comments)
- Writers need to focus more on the writing rather than the immediate gratification that comes from soliciting the little appreciations.
- Any writing on Facebook or for non-essential purposes is just wasted energy, for a writer.
- Dissipating your energy on Facebook or fishing for compliments does not serve your writing, it releases some of the pressure we feel to complete something. By letting off some of that pressure we can get complacent.
Rilke in his Letters to a Young Poet, said it better than anyone before him. (And I’ll paraphrase from memory rather than quoting.)
- Write because you love it so much that could would die if you didn’t write.
- Don’t look for others to validate your writing.
- Your writing is for you and your enjoyment.
- Don’t share your work unless it is truly finished.
- Don’t worry about becoming a poet, just write poetry.
- If you write you will improve.
- That is enough for the poet, to write. Asking to be appreciated is a trap that will kill your inspiration.
- Inspiration is nice, but writing every day is the hard work that is required to be a writer.
- You already ARE a poet (writer). By writing you are a writer.
- Write because you can’t stop writing.
Eventually, if your writing gets exceptional, the praise and accolades might come. They probably won’t, but that should not discourage you.
Writing is a very lonely task. You can’t write while carrying on a conversation with others. Often people in relationships with writers tend to feel abandoned. It requires long stretches of time, alone. And today, a writer who makes a living from his writing is very rare. Sure you could make a couple thousand dollars on your own, if you are very successful at self-publishing, and perhaps 15,000 if you sign with a publisher and have a hit. But neither of those options will put food on the table. And if you have a family, or want to have a family, you’d might think up your plan B, if you don’t break the Stephen King code of success.
It’s okay. Write anyway. Poetry never pays. Prose is read only by a small group of people. But that doesn’t mean you have to focus on business titles or technical manuals. But it does mean that if you declare yourself a poet you’re going to need a day job as well. Let poetry and prose be your night job. And if you sputter out, and give it up, that’s okay. Give yourself a break. Relax. If the writing is within you, it will come back stronger and with more intention. Nothing proves a writer, like a full-time job and a family and THEN WRITING.
No one is going to welcome you to the successful writing adventure. Because very few have tasted it. And some of them are defensive and worry that your book might take sales or exposure away from their book. It’s not true. Any gift you give another writer, in praise and encouragement, comes back to you within yourself. You see we’re writing because we can’t not write. We write poetry because we have to. If the poetry stopped so would our poetic hearts.
Be poetic if that’s your bent. Be a journalist if you prefer. And make sure you have your day job figured out, because nothing kills a writer quicker than unpaid bills and lack of food and shelter.
But do your work first.
- Letters to a Young Poet – Rilke
- Write Time: Guide to the Creative Process, from Vision through Revision-and Beyond – Atchity
- Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, 2nd Edition – Goldberg
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – Joyce
- The Artist’s Way – Cameron
- Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace – MacKenzie
- Sonic Highways (show) – Dave Grohl and HBO explore music
- The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
- Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting – Jimmy Webb
image: artist trading cards, marilyn roxie, creative commons usage