Writing as Work (not as Work Therapy, just Work): Part Two

Saturday, October 23, 2010

There seems to be a general public perception that writing—or almost any artistic endeavor for that matter—is not work.

I’ve often wondered why this is. Is it because the odds of being “successful” at it seems so remote? It is because people who are not artists do not understand the efforts and skills involved in producing a piece of quality work? Does it stem from a sense of personal jealousy from people unwilling to take the same risks themselves? Or it is because, at some level, it involves a certain level of “make believe”, so it cannot be real work?

For any given detractor, the real answer (or answers) probably might be any one of these, a combination of any of them, or even some reasoning entirely different.

I have found, generally, that almost any attempt at explanation, at describing the process and effort required to produce a creative piece of work (and notice the word choice there—work), tends to be met with skepticism or disdain, rarely with admiration. The attitude often changes if we can produce some sort of proof that we have actually been published or otherwise recognized for our efforts, but there seems to be little regard or consideration while we are in the process of creation. During that time, it feels as though we are treated as a dilettante, a grownup playing at childish things that we should have long put away.

Working at one’s art requires time, commitment, and energy—any or all of which can often be in short supply while we try to keep the mortgage/rent paid, food on the table, our families clothed, and our employers reasonably content. Even those of us fortunate enough to have among our circles of acquaintances other artists who understand, the wider chorus of voices around us provide little support for our creative endeavors. Most often, some kind of lip service is offered up, but in the end it rarely takes the form of anything tangible or material.

What is the answer, I wonder? How do we get our society to respect and truly support its artists? By this, I mean the ones struggle to make it happen, not the ones who walk the red carpets at the Academy Awards (and other) ceremonies who are publically and financially well-rewarded for their efforts. (I do not mean to imply that they are not worthy as well, but I have wondered how many artwork exhibits or small press publishers might be funded by the cost of the clothing worn to those events alone.)

Is it that what the public wants is glitz and glamour? That the hard-working writer who dutifully and expertly writes their page or two a day, gets published in a few thousand copies, is simply not interesting enough because they lack a good publicity agent? That if you’re not on Oprah or publically placed in rehab or involved in some vaguely notorious scandal, you’re not worthy of the title of “successful artist”?

It’s a strange and baffling world out there . . . Maybe it is really is as they say: Truth is stranger than fiction.

Labels: ,
  1. Well...

    When writers who have worked at their craft stop being embarrassed about needing to eat, just like everybody else, and learn that the money is supposed to flow TO the writer, instead of to the publisher or the reader, then perhaps others will start to take writing seriously as a profession.

    Artists who produce something a buyer is happy to pay for need to stop feeling like whores. They need to stop buying into the whole myth and mystique of the "starving artist." Starvation does not necessarily lead to better work; nor do drugs, pain, and loss. If you need those things, it's a failure of the imagination, in my opinion.

    I really think it must begin with those who call themselves "writers." Sure, a trained monkey can wield a pencil; can he entertain or inform or provoke deeper thoughts? When all who call themselves "writers" take their work seriously enough to proofread it and polish it before shoving it out into the world, then maybe others will take it more seriously, too.

    Now, having said all that, work should be play. Especially true for writers, artists, and actors - those who depend on their imaginations. We spend far too much of our precious lives working - at anything - to waste it on mind-numbing, soul-killing occupations we despise. Learning should be fun, too - how often is it? It doesn't have to be dreary and dull, but people make it so. To "grow up" is too often synonymous with "kill your imagination" - and that is horribly, horribly sad.

    I read, years ago, that kids who DON'T have imaginary friends are not mentally healthy. So perhaps it's the mentally ill who keep trying to get the rest of us to give them up?

    Er, they're called "characters." And to say "she's got character" can be an ambiguous thing, but I'd rather have it (them) than not! :)

    Don't worry. The voices in my head only tell me to do NICE things.