Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Art isn't a Luxury

A fellow writer and friend of mine asked this question:

When people who aren't writers suggest that if you hate certain parts of writing, maybe you shouldn't do it, do you want to wring their necks, or do you just think it's time to be less honest about your feelings?

Wring their bloody necks!

As I told her privately, I think there's a bunch of things wrong with the basic assumption of this question. At the heart of it is the issue that, in this country at least, art of any kind, including writing, is considered a luxury. So, if you're complaining about something as trivial as all that, then you're being foolish. You should love your "hobbies" or not do them at all.

Bull (on so many levels.)

Number 1: hobbies are very worthwhile. In fact, if people didn't do cool stuff in their spare time, we wouldn't have gardens, volunteer corps, and any number of amazingly awesome things. But that's a whole separate rant....

However, the place it overlaps is here, in number 2, which is that because art isn't valued in our society, the only time people have to express their art is during their spare time. I wrote the first four novels I published in science fiction while working a full-time job. Why? Because writing doesn't pay the bills, EVEN WHEN YOU GET PUBLISHED. And you know what? I wrote for years before I got published, which meant I did it in between work, house cleaning, and, well, life.

Unlike most other professions (but similar to most arts), there isn't really a structure to follow to "become" a writer. If you want to be a brain surgeon, you go to medical school and can get loans and tons of support from society while you're learning your skill. Writers? Not so much. There's only a lot of crap you get from your non-writing friends while you're learning the craft of writing, such as the rude questions my friend is fielding. I mean, WTF? Would you tell a medical student to quit belly aching over her/his residency requirements? No. Why? Because being a doctor is something Americans see as a valuable profession. Writing is just some quirky luxury. Everyone needs a doctor; no one needs a book, a short story, or, god forbid, a poem.

Except we do.

People have always needed stories.


Frank said...

The worst part is when you get comments like that from your fellow artists.

I remember being snarked at by a fellow potter out here who assumed I had the high-paying radio job because I host a folk show on the NPR affiliate.

Uh, no, Danny, that's my hobby. I sell pots for a living, just like you.


Melanie A. Howard said...

Amen, sister. I actually got the goggle-eyed "you... have another job?" look at Water Aerobics the other day when I said I don't write full time, and that most writers can't.