My last post included a little tidbit on the common perceptions of artists and writers. Mainly what I want to focus on is the very wrong perception that we only work when inspiration hits us, as if we sit around doing a narrow range of activities from nothing to smoking pot or getting drunk. Basically what this perception amounts to, especially in this country where most Americans are diseased with a work-complex, is that artists and writers are lazy, useless to society, and generally a waste. If you are reading this and don't share these conclusions, then great; but my hunch is that the vast majority of people, even those who appreciate the arts and perhaps dabble in artistic endeavor themselves, still think that something called inspiration does or should drive all artistic work.
That's just plain wrong or misguided, whatever you want to call it. Too many self-proclaimed or aspiring artists/writers, poets and painters especially, say that they work when they are feeling inspired. And then if they are not feeling inspired then they don't do anything. I know a lot of these people and, quite frankly, I do not like them because they are the reason artists of all kinds are poorly perceived.
There is nothing wrong with writing or painting as a hobby. If your artistic work is just a hobby, though, then please, when I say I am a writer, do not reply, "Oh yeah, I write poems every now and then when I feel inspired." Frick in the balls that upsets me. If you meet an architect, you don't say to them, "Yeah, I build little toy houses as a hobby every now and then when I feel inspired." If you somehow meet a professional football player, the last thing you should say to them is, "I played football in middle school and still play a pick-up game every now and then when we're all feeling inspired." Who cares!!
Ok, "who cares" with two exclamation points might be a little harsh. The point is, there is very little comparison between someone's hobby and someone else's profession or career, even if it's the same activity. You make clay pots every month with the pottery club, you say? Great. Does that mean your pots are sold at the Pottery Barn? I don't think so. Obviously there is very little actual pottery sold at that store, but I'm making a point here. You could be very good at this hobby of yours but it does not make you a writer, painter, sculptor, poet, or artist of any kind. As long as you think of it as something that you do as a hobby or every now and then or just whenever you feel inspired, there will always be a large gap between what you're doing and what the career artist is doing.
Poetry is perhaps the easiest of all the arts to pretend at. Many people think it takes just a few minutes to write a poem, and then they shop the poem around as if it's the next "On a Grecian Urn" or "God's Grandeur" or William Carlos Williams. Oh silliness. Real poets, the career poets, agonize over poems. It's fairly common that a poet will spend all day writing a poem and then be unable to sleep at night questioning whether they should add a semi-colon, or something.
An artist or writer cannot afford to wait for inspiration or for the next word from a muse. Writing is my life, I must write to live. That means that I write with or without inspiration. By God I hope I have inspiration, motivation, determination, and whatever other word you can think of that fits, but if I don't then I must write anyway. And if I simply cannot write then you will find me in serious arrears. If I cannot write then I am thinking about what to write, how I can't write, what's wrong with me that I can't write, whether I'll ever succeed, oh dear God why am I such a failure! If I cannot write then I also cannot just move on to something else. Writers may have other jobs but they are not fall-back options or anything of the sort, they are merely meant to keep the writer afloat to be a writer. When a writer has another job they often work themselves to death because when they are not 'working,' they are doing the real work of writing. This is even more true if the writer or artist is also a born priest or architect. Oh what little time they must have to sleep!
I encourage writing or something other artistic activity as a hobby for everyone, but please do not think that writing is simply a hobby that I or anyone else have made into a life. Writing is my life. I am writing all the time, even when I am not. Again my friend Alexandra, who is a far better artist than I ever will be, put it well when she told me not to worry about the times when all I felt like doing was reading or traveling because even then my mind was writing.
In a way I think that I create my own inspiration and my own muse. The artist's mind needs training like anything else. Since I have trained my writer's mind 'inspiration' may come to me more than others. That does not make me lucky, it simply makes me a writer. Hence there is another difference between a writer and someone with a hobby: I create my inspiration through training and keeping at it, and others wait for inspiration.
Basically this post is one big act of self-praise, so feel free to kneel before me whenever you so desire.