Why and When You Shouldn’t Create
Are you okay with the time it takes to create?
I don’t know how to be (and I can’t conceive of becoming) the person who’s okay with just sitting and letting herself write whenever she wants. It’s always been my affair, my hidden thing. The secret place I go to breathe, escape.
Writing as an enjoyable, relaxing act of art is not something that is allowed to be easy. It’s not supposed to be that place of respite I’ve described. Writing should be a struggle.
That’s what they say, at least, those who’ve succeeded …
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” ― George Orwell
And if it does not feel like a struggle, then I am not doing it right.
Paying Dues the Wrong Way?
I haven’t paid my writing dues. I’ve scarce submitted pitches, proposals, sweat equity. Seldom have I worked under a deadline that isn’t self-imposed. The book was difficult, yes, but not soul-suckingly so.
Most of my writing toils have been self-imposed. I’ve invited them, tinkered alone and willing in my workshop. The indulgent act of writing hasn’t come with a ticking clock of financial expectation, because I’ve earned most my income elsewhere.
So what suffering I don’t endure through the craft, I create externally. Because there has to be suffering somewhere, right?
Since I feel relaxed when I write, and since I have a habit of not letting something just be wholly good, I lock writing in a room and create obstacles to reaching it. These obstacles generally take the form of outside jobs meant to fund my writing/lifestyle habit.
But I get lost in these jobs, splattered. I tell myself that the reward of writing cannot come until this much money is in my bank account, until this to-do list is finished, until I’ve finished that for him or her.
I like to write, I just don’t like letting myself write. Letting is for people who deserve it, who’ve earned it.
And suddenly the thing that is not my craft has taken over my schedule, and along the way, somewhere, I’ve decided that it is the thing that matters and writing must hidden off in a shoebox.
Writing becomes only the reward, not the object. It is the affair, the stolen thing.
But this isn’t true. From my stomach I hear the voice telling me,
“You’ve got it all wrong!” There can be writing amid it all! You’re distracting yourself!”
And this is indeed what I’m doing, for I’m wily and apt with methods of distraction. As far as life paths go, the one toward writing is relatively straightforward: just write. Be prolific and focused on growth. But more than anything: just write.
The Art-Making Conundrum
I want to write my thoughts, and I want them to connect to people. I’m greedy for this, and spoiled by the times it has happened. There is little better than the real softness of reaching someone and their reaching back. It’s more real to me than most conversations, most exchanges otherwise.
Which means it’s not exactly the writing I’m after, but the promise it holds. Connection. So it won’t work for me to write for others, to sweat for others’ deadlines and foreign styles.
And that is my conundrum. I enjoy writing in my style, and nobody’s paying me for that (yet). I want to be prolific and write, but I don’t want to do it at another’s bidding. Ask me to do another’s style for money and generally, I’d rather just do something else. I’ll act, I’ll research, I’ll tend bar. But I won’t sell my art disfigured.
It is said by wise people that if you find your one thing, you must do it at all costs. But I haven’t figured out exactly how. Maybe I’m taking “one thing” too literally. Numbers are just something we’ve made up, anyway.
“Success demands singleness of purpose. You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects. It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world.”
-Gary Keller, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results (a really, really great book!)
Do I Stay or Do I Go (Create)
I realize that writing for other people would in many ways make me a better writer. I could do it, I could earn enough income, and eventually it might lead to the writing lifestyle freedom I so desire.
But it would also carry with it the rather ugly risk of tarnishing my love for this thing.
So I will keep the act of writing unspoiled for myself, at the risk of losing it altogether, and at the risk of decreased progress. I will try to make bigger, faster income elsewhere.
I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do.
But there’s also this: writing takes a toll on the body. Does that seem silly to mention? The hunched shoulders, the crick in the neck, the hours and hours of sedentary crafting.
Though my mind may flow in the glorious white of the computer screen, my body rebels. It is angry and unsated with this lack of animal humanity. It wants to wander and move. So, I can’t punish it for others. I will only punish it for myself. I will save it hours and hours of unnatural seating so that when I do take the chair, I respect the physical.
The Risk of Creativity
I’m trying to convince you, trying to convince me, that it’s okay to work on things that aren’t your craft in order to expedite the path toward fully working on your craft. It’s not because I want to “be a writer,” but because writing with freedom makes me feel like the healthiest version of myself.
I want to write for nobody else’s agenda and not worry about getting paid for it. But I do need to make money, so I would also like to get paid for it. Mark Manson style, I think. What a dream.
Do I get there by prolific toil, or do I get there by buying myself the freedom (through income earned elsewhere) to be happily prolific?
“Most of what I write is written for myself, first and foremost. I don’t share these ideas because I think I’m right and other people are wrong. I write them because I think I’m wrong, and correcting my own misjudgments on a public platform seems to help out a lot of other people in the process.”
–Mark Manson (of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck)
Essentially, this is a betting game on how to reach the income I want most quickly and with least strain on my well-being. I don’t want cars and mansions, I want lifestyle freedom. I want to not fret over money so much.
And while I think writing could get me there, I don’t think it’s the fastest + easiest route. But it might be.
There’s no resolution here, and will there ever be?
For now, I dabble in at least two other careers (travel and real estate), even while writing is the ultimate goal. I’m betting on their odds, and it feels like betting against conventional creativity wisdom.
My intent with this post, I think, was to explain (perhaps just to myself), why it’s okay to not explicitly pursue one’s creative craft, even when the craft is the ultimate goal. But I’m not sure I’ve made sense. Have I?
What would you do?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below … Oh, and get an email when I post something new.
Ah, this post resonates with me. We have the same conundrum, Meggan. I feel you!
Well, I’m glad to hear it. And also looking forward to the say where we say “I think I’ve figured it out!!”