You Don’t Have To Struggle For Your Art

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. But I have always been practical and logical, the kind of person who pursues a degree in business at a state school in northern California instead of a degree in creative writing at a private school in New York. Not that I didn’t want to go to New York. We didn’t have the money to send me and I had this witch of a college counselor who told me that my best option was a state school and sent me on my way, tears forming in the corners of my eyes. I can still feel that first bitter taste of disappointment, that first compromise.

Turns out many little compromises add up to one big regret.

I’ve always wished I could be the kind of artist who could recklessly abandon all matter of security in the name of my art. I imagined I could live in some cramped studio on the outskirts of a bad neighborhood in New York just to be there, to be around those dreams — broken or not. Maybe I’d live off of tiny paychecks and eat canned food, because my writing will sustain me! Who needs food when you’re an artist? The world is your buffet! I could be lonely and broke, but if I was pursuing that literary dream, nothing else could possibly be necessary.

Turns out I either didn’t want it enough or didn’t have the personal constitution to withstand such squalor in the name of art. Maybe that means I don’t deserve it, because I didn’t spend my twenties struggling for this one thing. Maybe I never needed to do that struggle — the fear of the struggle took the words from my fingers any way.

I spent my twenties living my life sometimes with money in the bank and oftentimes without it. I drank and went to parties and kissed so many lips I’ve lost count and laughed and woke up next to people I loved and traveled and did work that paid for my life, but didn’t give my life any sense of purpose.

And, the whole time I wished I could take the risk to write, to sacrifice creature comforts for the promise of visiting Rakestraw Books in my hometown on my book tour. I started blogs and wrote in them. I tweeted. I tried to build an online following big enough that an agent or publisher would knock down my door, demanding I quit whatever I was doing and write a book immediately.

But the truth is money has always come between my dream and me. It has always been the thing that lures me away from that sacrifice, that all-in approach toward art. Because, my best work does not come from pressure and stress and the constant worry that I might not make rent.

I tried that.

I tried to make the money less important than the dream and all it did was make me miserable and resentful and mean and less confident in myself than ever before.

I think some people are inspired by the struggle. For me, the struggle drowns me and takes away my voice. I can’t be that artist archetype — drunk and aimless, beating my body and my life down for the sake of my art. I need to meditate, to have money in the bank, to have a real home, to free myself from the burden of financial stress. Only after all that can I even begin to think about writing. My best work is not born from struggle, as it turns out. It’s born from a sense of security and safety which often goes hand in hand with financial abundance.

Because, I believe you shouldn’t have to struggle for your art. You can sacrifice for it. You can make it a priority. But, I think struggle begets struggle and I don’t want my work to seem like a struggle. If I’m going to choose a creative life, I want it to be good. I don’t need the path of broken dreams in order to walk on my own.