I’ve been writing seriously since I was 16—and I’m now 62. Most of my professional life, in different settings, has been based on encouraging creativity in others. And yet I find myself today, on the autumn equinox, with some thoughts counter to the norm. I’ve just put up two jars of refrigerator pickles—my newest love—and am roasting an eggplant. And am going to work in about an hour. There are no small children living under my roof—although the neighborhood skunks have been out all night. I’m going to view the issues of creativity in my own first world context, funky though it may be. So, here goes:
Creativity is not more important than anything else. It really isn’t. It isn’t special, or more sacred than the mundane.The hard truth, though, is that it is very difficult to carve an artist’s life out of a materialistic bourgeois one. I don’t believe that family and making a living are opposed to creativity—for women they really can’t be. Everyone has to do dishes and pay bills. It’s how you do it. My advice is to not live high on the hog and then desperately scrabble for a week’s retreat. This continues the division between art and life. Nor do I suggest you create the most gorgeous work space ever. Instead, go for low maintenance. Conversely, a terrible low paying job that drains you most certainly isn’t going to work either. An affordable standard of living, work that makes sense to you, and about 15-20% less investment in buying things, the internet, and other distractions, should work nicely.
The problem is, we don’t want to try this. We want to say—it’s either a hermit’s cabin in the woods for me or working for the man. But that is false dualism. You are creative, right? Make it work for you.
Time is not your problem. The sad truth, which I’ve observed over decades of teaching, is that if you don’t have time now, you probably never will. I know you don’t want to hear this—but explore the idea. Treat your creative pursuit professionally. You are busy, yes. You will probably always be busy. You have to prioritize your writing or painting—not the first thing all the time but very high the majority of the time. You like to read the paper and drink coffee quietly and go for a walk in the morning? Fine. You are a person having a pleasant morning, not an artist. Here again, it isn’t all or nothing. Give that first hour to art five days a week. Take a day off. Details aren’t important part. The central thing to remember is that a relationship with creativity is like that with a person—you have to give to it, continuously.
Art is the pursuit of intimacy with form, subject, and audience. Saying you want to be a writer and then not devoting yourself to it is like getting a partner and then leaving him or her to fend for themselves. That partner is not going to stick around. Be a good spouse to art. Treat art as if it is no more but no less special than anyone you love. The Muse will reward you for it.