This is almost more a personal blog than a writing one, but let’s dive in anyway. Many people who know me well know I am disabled. I have a somewhat rare condition that causes the connective tissue in my body to be more elastic than most people’s. It’s called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). I’ve spent a long time with people telling me that my pain is all in my head, that I am making it up to get out of work, that I am lying. Those doubts are some of the most damaging things I’ve experienced in my life.
Thinking about writing, I can’t count the number of stories I’ve heard where friends and family of a writer say things like “you should have a real job” or “that’ll never make money”. While this may be somewhat true (writing for money is a difficult business), hearing such things over and over again does a great deal of damage to our spirits. It’s not quite the same as the disability thing, but it’s related. If we spend our lives told our writing is terrible, and we’ll never go anywhere, we absorb that into our psyche. It’s something everyone in the arts faces because so few people in the world consider the arts “real work”.
I’m a musician and music teacher, I draw, I’m a writer, I’ve done dance (ballet and tap), and I know how much work they are. Perfecting one’s art is a never-ending battle that deserves far more respect than it receives from the world. If you’re out there struggling with your art, my hat’s off to you. Art doesn’t just happen. We don’t just wake up one morning and sneeze out a masterpiece. Those pieces of art are our blood, sweat, and tears on display for the world. We spend hundreds of hours revising, rewriting, repairing, editing, and considering our work. We agonize over word placement, sentence structure, plot ideas. We lie awake at night convinced no one will like what we’ve written (or painted or performed…).
I’m here to tell you that it is worth it. I’m not making millions on my writing and editing. I’m not even making thousands. But you know what? It’s worth it. Every time I lie awake poking holes in my plot I’m learning something. Every time I deconstruct a scene to decide if it is necessary I’m discovering new things about story structure. Every time I spend an hour staring at a comma, trying to decide if it’s necessary, I am learning something about punctuation. All those times I’m staring off into nothing, daydreaming about my plot, I’m exploring new aspects of storytelling.
The only way writing (and art in general) is a waste of time is if you get into it expecting to make a lot of money off the bat. You aren’t going to, so let me burst that bubble right now. The cliché of “starving artist” exists for a reason. What we do is hard, and in this world where there are a billion people trying to get readers’ attention in the worst way… it’s not going to be as simple as just writing your book and hoping someone likes it. But if you’re writing because you have a story to tell, one that keeps you up at night, one that drives you crazy, one you can’t get out of your head… You aren’t wasting time. No matter what anyone else says.
People like to assume artists are freeloaders. That we are only artists because we aren’t good at the STEM subjects or we’re too lazy to go into business. The idea that artists are lazy is an insidious one. We aren’t lazy. Most real artists are some of the most hardworking people I know. By “real artist” I mean people whose soul lives and breathes their art. Sure, many of us have day jobs (I don’t, but I can’t, so there’s that), but our hearts are in those hours of writing time we have between coming home from work and feeding the kids. We are most alive when we’re doing what we love, no matter what art it is.
Never let anyone get into your head and tell you that your love of writing, art, dance, music, or whatever it is you’re doing is a waste of time. Never let those voices that call you a hack and keep you up at night win at the end of the day. Never stop learning and trying. If you have the soul of an artist, that art will come through, and squashing it will only do harm to you in deep, lasting ways. It’s okay to be an artist. It’s okay to dream.