The Myth of the Struggling Artist – Part II

In The Myth of the Struggling Artist – Part I, I addressed the idea that to be a “good” writer, you must surround yourself with the right people, situate yourself in the right locations, and fully understand what it is you are doing and why. I feel that in order to produce the most honest and true work you possibly can, there has to be a balance between finding inspiration and motivation externally, and channeling your own, inner muse and motivating yourself based on your experiences and objectives.

From a young age, I was drawn to the romantic fantasy that is being a writer. I dreamed about being that stereotypical young, aspiring author, barely scraping by, and not giving a rats ass about responsibilities because I had my writing to fulfill me. When I got out into the real world however, I quickly realized that this fantasy-driven lifestyle was not for me. I am a Type A personality by nature and living by the seat of my pants, bouncing from day to day nonchalantly was not the life I wanted to live. I knew I needed to find a different way to satisfy and fulfill my life and my urge to write, and I did.

I ended up getting a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature, a decision I am extremely happy with. I studied what I was passionate about which fueled my passion further and gave me the motivation to pursue a career in writing. I was able to find a job in HR in which a vast majority of what I do is technical writing. Granted, not the fiction writing that feeds my soul, but I am able to put my major to good use and I am still writing, and sadly, not a lot of English majors can say that.

There are so many factors that tie into this lifestyle that many young (and not so young, for that matter) writers don’t think about when embarking on their journey of being the idyllic, Beat-era, vagabond writer. Taxes. Health Insurance. Bills (you know, those things you have to pay every month?). Retirement accounts and savings. Just to name a few, these are all important elements that should be considered when choosing this type of lifestyle. I read a fantastic article a while back that addresses this topic, and posed a number of questions that writers (or artists in general) should consider when making the important decision of “quitting their day job.”

Don’t get me wrong, if you are single, living on your own, and have no one dependent upon you for security, you can absolutely live whatever lifestyle you want. In fact, I envy that freedom. However, it is all a matter of balance. Being able to balance financial responsibilities, being able to successfully maintain friendships and romantic relationships, being able to commit to working from home, and possessing the self-control and time-management skills to work independently. All of which can be difficult elements to balance without isolating yourself and limiting your resources.

Some of my favorite authors worked until they received a nice fatty paycheck from their publisher and were able to quit their day job and write full-time. (Cheryl Strayed, Kate Morton, and Jeannette Walls, to name a few). Like myself, they worked to help support their families, and wrote in their free time. A responsible approach to writing I admire, these authors are the proof in the pudding that you don’t have to struggle and partake in the illusion to be successful.

I’ve been able to work full-time while balancing a successful part-time writing career on the side which has kept me balance and fulfilled. There are so many important elements of my life that I love, and I don’t feel that I should have to sacrifice any one of them to fit this cookie-cutter myth of what a successful writer “should” be like.

At the end of the day, every writer is different. Every individual is different and what works for one person won’t work for another. We need to make certain we respect and not judge fellow artists and colleagues for the work they do, whichever way they do it. You don’t have to agree with their process to respect their work. Every journey is different, and equally meaningful and beautiful.

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7 thoughts on “The Myth of the Struggling Artist – Part II

  1. I totally agree wight he first half of your piece concerning separating yourself from to much contemporary influence…but regarding the “myth” of he struggling artist, be it a writer, musician, painter, etc…..it still is alive and well. I am surrounded in Asheville by artists that have sacrificed everything to “make it”…. Will most of them drive a nice flashy car, have fancy vacations, or pay most of their bills on time every month? no. Are they succeeding as artists? Yes. It all comes down to what you are willing to sacrifice for your passion and art. If you want security and a nice 401k plan, being a full time writer or artist of any kind is probably not a good idea….to be a cliche, let me quote Charles Bukowski here….
    “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”
    ― Charles Bukowski, Factotum

  2. I’m not saying that the “myth” is that this type of artist/artistic lifestyle is not alive and well. I personally know a number of fantastic writers who fall into this category, and who’s work I deeply admire and appreciate. The “myth” that I am referring to is that in order to be successful at writing you “have” to live this way. The sacrifices that you refer to are those factors that some writers chose to forgo in order to completely give themselves up to their craft, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, you do not HAVE to do that in order to be a successful writer which is the point I am trying to make here.

    I have personally been judged for not being a “serious writer” because I have made the decision (at this stage in my life) to not “go all the way” as Bukowski quoted. The individuals who have unfairly judged me have never been published, have no “career” to speak of (whether writing or otherwise), and are in absolutely no place to throw stones. (I would like to make it clear that you are NOT in the category of those who I am referring to. You are living your dream, are succeeding, and I truly admire you for that).

    Would throwing all caution to the wind and giving my all to my writing be a fantastic experience? Absolutely! I agree with that quote in that giving yourself up entirely to your craft would be “better than anything else you can imagine.” But, it is not the only way. I value my relationships, I value having stability, and I equally truly value my creative side. For me, balance is key and to judge one way or the other is simply not okay. We need to encourage and support vs tear down and maliciously criticize.

    The cliche was fitting and a beautiful quote!

    Thanks for your feedback! I was hoping this piece would elicit some great conversation! 🙂

  3. I sometimes wonder where I might have ended up had I chosen to be a full-time writer But, like you, I used my writing skills as part of my job. Living in the nonprofit world of environmental and public health advocacy, I was able to accomplish change using a combination of writing and political skills. No regrets. Now I am retired, I can pursue writing full-time, and not starve. 🙂 –Curt

    1. That is fantastic and sounds like an incredibly fulfilling career! I count my lucky stars every day in that I, like you, am able to put my writing skills to good use in my job.

      Yet another benefit in balancing work and writing as you have done (as I am doing), when you retire you finally have the freedom to both full-time write and be financially stable (savings, retirement plans, not starve, etc.) as prior to that point, you have had the opportunity to save while working AND writing. Win win win in my book!

      You, Curt, are a shining example of the balance I am speaking of and live the life I strive for 🙂

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