When it’s Work

Everyone thinks that being an artist means crawling in to your happy place and spending an hour or three pouring out a part of yourself onto paper or into music or whatever. It’s all inspiration and creativity and fun. Even artists think like that. And there’s truth to the notion, it does happen.

But it’s work a good chunk of the time. Musicians practice endlessly, only occasionally getting it right. Drawing, painting and animating has huge amounts of tedious detail work. Writing is 90% editing and trust me, it’s no fun. And that’s before the other things. The Life things.

Sometimes you’re depressed. Sometimes your support network seems like it’s slipping away from you. Sometimes you spend a month or two moving into a new place and you just need to get all your ducks in a row. Sometimes you commit a week of precious vacation time to volunteer in a way that, while important, is still emotionally and physically draining. Every once in a great while all those things happen at once.

Handling those things is important and everyone understands those circumstances when they happen. But they make it hard to switch off the world and focus on the chase, the search for the muse, the quest for inspiration.

You see, artists don’t go chasing after art because they are somehow unique or gifted with inspiration. Artists chase art because we need to be inspired so much that we can’t wait to stumble across inspiration so we go and seek it out.

Everyone tells you before you start, of course. That the spark of greatness is not something you find every day, that there will be large stretches of the mundane, that you will have to push through to find what you want, just like everyone else. Sometimes it’s not fun. Sometimes it’s work.

And sometimes that work is more than you thought. Sometimes even modest goals prove too much for you. Sometimes you spend all that you can spare and you can’t break through to the next level. Life creeps up around you and all that joy you had in creating seeps away. You can find satisfaction in other things. Maybe it’s okay to take a break for a day, or a week, or a month, or even a few years. After all, you have all those other opportunities to follow up on and all those people to talk to and hang out with.

At times like those it’s really easy to say yes, let’s just take a break. It’s hard work. You’ve earned it.

And to be honest, no one will blame you if that’s what you do. It is hard. Most of the time, no one is expecting much of you. And inspiration can wait. Art, by it’s very nature, is timeless. You can find it any time and it will still be valuable. That’s part of what makes it beautiful.

But let me tell you a secret.

Sit down at that keyboard. With that pen and paper. Pick up that instrument. Tell them all about the times you’ve been having. Don’t let anyone see it. Don’t let anyone hear it. This is just for you.

And when you’re done, you’ll know it. You’ll find the perspective, you’ll see the barriers for what they are. Tough, sure, but beatable. And beyond that, the inspiration that makes it worthwhile. It’s work, and we’re lucky to have it. Because people like us, whether we’re artists or just hope to be one someday, well…

We can’t live without it.

Story returns next week. See you then.

The Work

You can read all the books on writing you want, you can study the greats, you can join a writing group and talk the finer points of writing over and over again, but if you don’t keep your nose to the grindstone and actually write something, then you are not a writer. Let me stress this again. You must write something on a regular basis or you are not a writer.

A writer, after all, is a person who writes.

As I said in my first post on the author’s obligations, a writer writes for the purpose of sharing with others. This doesn’t mean that you have to share everything you write. Some drafts may need considerable work before they’re ready for the harsh light of criticism. Some may never be worth sharing at all. Writing for exercise and for fun is all part of being an author. But try to develop a tendency to write with an audience in mind.

Write when you’re in the mood to write. This is something you love, and whenever you can indulge your passion your skills will grow and so will your love of the art, so this is a win-win situation. It’s likely to result in your best work.

Write when you’re not in the mood. It’s very easy to make excuses for yourself and not write. There’s no solution to this other than to ignore those excuses and write anyway. Sure, you’ll probably use the delete key (or your eraser, if you’re of the analog persuasion) a lot at first, but with a running start you’ll be surprised what you can do if you just reach for it a little.

Write when you’re absolutely, positively in no shape to write. It will probably result in one of those passages that you never share with anyone, but sometimes buckling down and writing when you’re not emotionally or mentally prepared to write can result in something that surprises you and eventually finds a place somewhere.

In short, treat writing like your job. Hopefully a job you love, one that fills you with excitement and joy whenever you think of it, that allows you great freedom to creatively express yourself and one that shares those feelings with others, but still a job that brings with it the obligation to keep going, even when you don’t always want to.

Only when you begin to cultivate that mindset do you start to move away from the realm of dabbler and begin to be a writer.