Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Reflections on A Writing Life

It's always a little complicated to come back from a writing retreat. In my normal daily life as a writer, I actually write all the time, as in definitely every day, and mostly every hour of every working day, Monday through Friday. This has been good because writing is really the only thing I do well, and I've figured out ways to squeeze some spinach out of my abilities.

No part of my paid writing is very meaningful, of course, or very good for that matter, but I take a certain pride in getting it done to the satisfaction of the people paying me. Of course my creative writing is very meaningful, at least to me, and we'll see how it goes with the rest of you in November. In the minutes between being paid to write, I've always found spare time to work on my own projects: novels, stories, essays, occasionally even a book or two. It's a huge balancing act, and I realize I should be grateful for all the years I've managed to have something weighing down both sides of the scales: dollars on one side, fiction on the other. It's not been easy, of course, but whose writing life is easy? My books take an eternity to finish, in part because they are written in the cracks between paid gigs. But it's been all right. In fact, looking back it's been pretty good. I wish I could take back all the worrying I did over the years. If I could give young W,R some advice, I'd say, "Calm the F down, little dude. It's all good."

Coming home from the writing retreat this weekend, I did have to wonder, probably for the first time with any seriousness, what it would be like for me to be able to work solely on my own creative projects. Could I do it? Would I really want to? I'd be very poor, of course, and probably ultimately homeless, and potentially un-spoused, and maybe a little bit feral. But I do know people who live their life this way for art's sake. I've seen them. I've met them. They are scrappy and have truck loads of integrity because they don't hire themselves out to write about smart phones and pharmaceutical drugs and psoriasis.

I'm not sure I'm cut out for that kind of deprivation and artistic intensity though. It seems supremely hard to me: both logistically and creatively. It would be like always worrying about money, and always staring at the blank page at the exact same time, but maybe also it would be amazing. Maybe my work would blossom and not be such a struggle. Who knows?

I pretty much always felt the need for a mix of things: having someone tell me what to write has actually offset the difficulty of knowing myself what I should be writing. Plus I work well under deadlines and time pressures. They seem to give my life purpose, though I do see what a trap that kind of thinking can be. Before you know, time's up and you've been writing about health insurance, paint colors and what-not. 

I could live in the woods. I could eat berries. I could write all the day long. But probably I won't. I'll stay in my house and pay my mortgage, and have annoying clients who email me constantly, and call me with issues and problems and edits and advertising crises that in the moment seem so important, but really are not. And I will be slightly annoyed by the whole thing, but still grateful for them.

In the aggregate, it has really all been just fine the way it happened to play out.

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