When I saw the headline on a recent article in the Guardian, “Writing for a Living: Joy or Chore?”, I thought I knew what I’d be reading about. The familiar complaints of working writers usually have to do with privation–the scarcity of gigs, the low pay for freelance articles, the shrinking number of places that will publish your work. It usually boils down to this: How in the hell can I get enough work and money to quit my day job and make a modest living doing this?
It’s less often that you hear successful writers talk candidly about the day-to-day joys and petty frustrations of their writerly work lives: what happens after one has gotten to the enviable position of living the dream, earning their keep as a full-time writer.
A.L. Kennedy responds: “The joy of writing for a living is that you get to do it all the time. The misery is that you have to, whether you’re in the mood or not.” Will Self, on the other hand, sees the task as anything but a chore: “I gain nothing but pleasure from writing fiction…. Frankly, if I didn’t enjoy writing novels I wouldn’t do it – the world hardly needs any more and I can think of numerous more useful things someone with my skills could be engaged in.”
A veritable constellation of other literary luminaries–established novelists like Amit Chaudhuri, Hari Kunzru, Julie Myerson, Geoff Dyer, Joyce Carol Oates–weigh in on the question. Their responses are as fascinating as they are varied. Here’s a spoiler: many of them find their success, specifically being in a position where they write creatively for a living, to be more arduous, more painful than they could have imagined. In fact, a number of them admit to regular fantasies of switching to a vocation far more mundane.
I’m struck by the idea that this question is an equally pertinent, intriguing one to pose to other sorts of artists. So, what about it? Do you who earn your livings by being an artist of some kind ever find that the necessities of the grind–the need to make money, to be unrelentingly creative, to hustle up recognition enough to maintain the status quo–suck the joy out of making the artwork? Or, do you find that earning your daily bread by using your artistic talents–whether it’s in performance, film, painting, sculpture, or putting words together on a page–to be an unmitigated pleasure?
To get the ball rolling, I’ll make my own confession: there’s nothing in the world I’d rather do to earn my keep than work with words and writers (and I’m keenly aware that I’m damn lucky to have the job I do in this economic and media climate). BUT some days I dread everything about it, too. The practical concerns of meeting deadlines and making sure everything rolls out on schedule, the interpersonal dramas, the necessarily cut corners and last-minute compromises–the job of it all–are no loftier or more rewarding, in many ways, than I found in any other work I’ve done. I love writing and editing, but I can’t say I always find it delightful.
What about all of you out there? Did any of you land your dream job in a creative field, or finally establish enough patronage to quit your day-job, or get a coveted staff job in performance only to become wistful for your carefree days as an amateur? Have you successfully married the unbridled creative flow of making art with the day-to-day grind?
Is making art, doing your creative thing for a living a joy or a chore?
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