This post can be summed up quite succinctly by quoting Angela Koh, whom I follow on twitter: Writing is inner discipline, years of constant reflection, anguish, tears, a mountain beyond the temporal, please don’t tell me I just “sit”
Lately, I’ve been feeling the need to elaborate. Perhaps only someone who considers any artform more than a hobby (or schoolwork) can understand, writing included. I’ve had grunt work jobs before, where I run my tail off. I once waited on an entire packed restaurant of over 30 tables full to the brim from 3 surprise buses at 3am with only the help of my manager, who also had to go back and help the one cook (I also had to do the shake and dessert area as well as dishes for my tables as well). That’s cake compared to some days where I’m “just sitting” here at my computer, or curled up with a notebook.
Yet still, the ignorant whisper and give that look. I’m fairly sure every artist who’s tried to turn serious about their work knows it. Most likely appearing more times than they care to count. Please stop it. Our world needs artists. Turning my focus on writing, I wonder if people who dole out that look like candy realize how often they rely on writers just like the person they disapprove of. Writers are needed to flesh out your magazines, write your books, convince you to buy things you see on tv, make your favourite shows and movies better, provide the content online that you enjoy reading, dispense information discovered in countless studies and more.
You would miss writers. So, the look doesn’t say that to us. What the look says is that you doubt we can do it. You disapprove. You think we are lazy and just want to sit on our butt all day spitting out pretty words like it’s as easy as, well, sitting on our butts. It’s not. In fact, many days it is such the opposite that I wish I could just go to work slaving away at a minimum wage job and keep my words to myself. Excellent writers make the job look easy and with more practice it gets easier (but it’s still not easy); particularly once you start making a name for yourself (because the confidence comes with that).
In theory, it is easy to tell a story. I make up stories all the time. We make them up in our sleep while we dream! Crafting a believable, well written, marketable story…not so much. I’m unpublished (for cash compensation), but my primary obstacle isn’t rejection letters. Confidence is my primary obstacle, it keeps me from practicing some days. It keeps me from sending out things I feel are done.
My own brain questions whether I’m wasting my time. My work ethic keeps me writing anyway because I still haven’t found a job that can work around my husband’s hours and/or pay me enough to afford a sitter for my son without wasting the time worked. Rather than twiddle my thumbs, I write, telling myself maybe…if I believe enough and practice enough, aiming to improve…and yet that look.
When I’m forced to explain, I think so many people don’t realize they give that same look. You’d swear sometimes I told them I thought about taking up freelance murder in my forced spare time or that I was shoveling neighborhood poo for free, hoping to get paid on a charitable whim. Poor thing, she doesn’t realize no one wants to get close enough to the poo girl to pay her…not to mention flushing is so much more expedient.
Writing, and indeed, all art, is a worthwhile and admirable endeavour. Our world and culture is absolutely full of the need and demand for it everywhere we turn. It fills greedy, trivial, and vain niches, but also feeds and shares our souls with others. One of the ultimate forms of expression AND connection. It’s a vacation and a sort of therapy that nearly anyone can afford.
I admire anyone with the guts to make such an effort. I know how hard it is to labor for the right words, or just the right brush stroke. For all those looks you receive from the ignorant, I hope you know you have me looking back in admiration for your courage to paint something otherwise invisible, whether it be with words, brush, clay, instrument, film, or any other medium. I hope you keep it up. Not all of us can be paid for our work, but the effort is no less admirable. The hope and determination are beautiful.
To those of you who felt any doubt over another’s creative endeavours (particularly before you even experienced their art), you are very likely guilty of “the look.” Practice it off your face. To those of us working our creative tush off in a chair, wrestling with our own inner doubts, your look is a poison. Enough of those looks have killed dreams before the simulated test flight. Yes, a thicker skin is an advantage in this business, but that isn’t a license for clueless, careless behavior void of tact and compassion.
Perhaps next time someone tells you they are a writer (or poet, or artist), published or not, you should think about how admirable and widely pervasive the need is for such people in our culture, rather than automatically assuming they’re lazy, suck, and will never make it. They may still not make it, but at least it wasn’t a look from you that helped kill their spirit. Also, tip your neighborhood poo shoveller, someone has to do the dirty jobs, and if not for them, it’d be you.