Working, or Why Making Art is a Fulltime Job

A-hand-writing-with-a-pen-006While following a symphony orchestra labor dispute recently, I was reminded of the public’s perception of professional orchestral musicians, i.e. these people don’t work hard or fulltime. Wrong! It’s the same thing with writers although with professional writers, the professional tends to go in quotes and work is actually hobby. Makes my blood boil.

It doesn’t help that getting paid for one’s art is so difficult. If I were to have gone into journalism and written as a journalist, there’d be no question that my writing was worth my salary. But a novel? Short stories? Just how much work goes into creating fiction? I’ve written before about creative writing as a job and what the job description would look like. There’s a lot more that goes into the work than people know or even think about. It’s not a matter of simply sitting at a desk and putting words to paper (or computer screen), although that’s part of it.  I can safely say that I’m working at my writing all the time, even when I’m at my part-time job. Writing requires thought. It requires inviting the imagination to come out to play. Writing requires the study of language and vocabulary. And it requires a dedication and determination most fulltime jobs don’t require.

For example, I listened earlier today to a video of a composer and a writer talking about an oratorio that they had created together. At one point, the writer talked about writing one section while he was driving his car on a short trip. He wrote down the words as he drove. That writer, although he was traveling to do something else, was working on the oratorio as he drove. I tend to do some of my best writing in the shower or walking outdoors.

Writers need to keep their imaginations in shape, stimulating them in whatever way works for them. For me, I read voraciously, attend theater, movies, and listen to classical music. I indulge my curiosity often.  I also pay attention.  Let me repeat that: I pay attention. What does that mean? It means to be in the world, in the moment, and open to all that is surrounding me. I do not commute to my job with earphones in my ears and my head bent over a smartphone. I listen to the voices around me (often one side of a phone conversation) and how they use language or look out the window at the landscape, or I read with ears always listening. I laugh out loud every time I encounter someone on the street who’s bent over a smartphone, furiously texting, oblivious to where he or she is walking. Oblivious to the physical surroundings, to Nature, to other people who are present, in person, in front of them. Be observant. How can you write about something without knowing it? Observe human behavior. Listen to the way people speak. Observe human bodies and the way they move, unique to individuals. Observe and research. Leave no stone unturned, as they say.

This is the work of writers. Living as well as observing life. And then writers take the tools of their profession — language, pen, ink and paper — and draw from their extensive pool of raw material from all that observation, research, and paying attention to compose stories. It is beyond a fulltime job. If a writer slouches off, the writing and the stories suffer. It’s not easy. Most people just don’t have what it takes to do it.  They write a family history or a couple short stories or poems for themselves and a small group of family and friends. But they are not committed to it.

How are writers like professional orchestra musicians, then? Well, people who don’t know think that musicians only work during rehearsals and concerts, like they think writers only work when they sit at their desks. Maybe an hour or two of practice. But that’s it. The reality is that musicians, like writers, work nearly all the time — they must practice at least 4 hours a day to stay in shape technically and to learn new pieces of music or relearn old. This work is in addition to rehearsals and concerts. The orchestra musicians who also teach add another layer to their music work.

I sometimes rage against a society that does not value its artists or what they produce. It’s fine if you’re a Stephen King or Jackie Collins because you make millions and have proven that you’re a writer. And that’s what capitalism does to art which is another blog post entirely. Let me end with the words that writer I mentioned earlier wrote while driving his car, and that were set to music by the composer:

Hymn to the Eternal Flame

Every face is in you,

Every voice,

Every sorrow in you,

Every pity,

Every love, every memory,

Woven into fire.
Every breath is in you,

Every cry,

Every longing in you,

Every singing,

Every hope, every healing,

Woven into fire.
Every heart is in you,

Every tongue,

Every trembling in you,

Every blessing,

Every soul, every shining,

Woven into fire.

–Michael Dennis Browne




4 responses to “Working, or Why Making Art is a Fulltime Job

  1. Reblogged this on Pattimouse and commented:
    Omg! This! I can not tell you how many times I have been told that I sit around and do nothing. I have 11 books on amazon. I have three more in progress. I homeschool. I assist with dealing with the big truck that I am riding in. And I write. I am always writing. Always producing art. Both of the writing sort and of the visual sort. This blog explains my frustration so well…

  2. Well put! I’d also add that writing new material isn’t something that’s easy to initiate. It can take me an hour or more of fiddling around, shuffling through notes, resisting the temptation to re-edit previous work and just knuckling down before I start writing. Once I’m writing, interruptions are way more destructive than the non-writers appreciate. The office door is shut with instructions not to be disturbed. The phone goes off and emails don’t get returned.

    Every so often, the ideas and words flow freely rather than having to be coaxed to life. I find myself scrambling to keep up with the dialogue and the action, much of it unexpected and veering off in new directions. Then after several hours the magic spell breaks and I’m back in a room with a PC and bunch of new words to re-read to see what in the hell I’ve written. Getting into the Zone is one of the reasons I find writing a fulfilling (if non-remunerative) vocation. The more I read and am aware of the world around me when I’m not writing, the more ideas I have fermenting in the subconscious and the more often I can transport myself into the Zone.

    • Yes! I often have problems getting going — page one is quite the obstacle to the rest of the story. Sometimes, it helps if I just write what’s in my head and see where it goes, rather than agonize over how to start something. I can always return and revise! Getting into the Zone is one of those things no one understands unless you’ve been there. It could be addictive. I know I’m doing really deep writing when I’m there.

      Thanks for stopping by and the comment, Bradley!

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