People tell me being a writer must be so cool, that I should quit my job and work from home, they wish they could write a book, etc. I have no doubt my artist friends have heard similar utterances.
Truly, it is pretty awesome. I can write something that’s in my head and make you see it (at least I hope you do) and live vicariously through my characters. So it’s good, mostly. I’d rather have it than not.
In no particular order, here are the things about creativity that suck.
It’s not fun ALL the time
I hear over and over in freelancer blogs, articles and comments how everyone thinks full-time writers have it made. The cliché is a pajama-clad person lolling on the sofa enjoying daytime TV in between occasional bursts of typing. Stay-at-home moms get the same “You don’t really work” crap.
THIS IS THEIR JOB. If they don’t do it, they don’t eat. They just don’t have to sit in a stupid office like you.
Even part-time, it’s work. Imagine writing a term paper. For six months to a year. That’s kind of what it’s like to write a novel. If you’ve penned a thesis, you know what I mean.
Yes, there are plenty of paid writers out there doing more than content work. And I know graphic artists, illustrators and musicians who are professionals at least part-time.
Most of them have a day job. You know that old joke about every waiter is an actor? That is truer than you know. Also, freelancers have to work longer hours than someone employed traditionally because they have more to cover, and they never know when the flow will dry up.
Most of us won’t make the big bucks like John Grisham or Ken Follett. We’ll be lucky if we can pay the bills. “Just sell a book!” you say, smiling brightly. Yeah, okay, after a year of writing and editing, and another six months of querying, submitting and waiting for people to get back to us—hell, we’re out on the street already.
It’s always in your head
Families of novelists often complain they are distracted and spacey when they’re involved in a manuscript. We’re sorry. Really, we don’t mean to ignore you. We love Aunty Myrtle and we’d like to go to her cat’s anniversary party, but the book is demanding all our attention. We probably see Christmas as a free afternoon to actually get something done.
Once you get in The Zone, it’s extremely hard to turn off your brain and focus on anything else. For those of us with a real job, weekends, holidays and evenings are the only time we have to write. Good scheduling and an understanding partner are priceless. Some writers are better able to prioritize than others, but it’s something you can learn.
The whole “mad genius” thing
Recent studies showed a supposed link between creativity and mental illness such as depression and psychosis. A high percentage of artists and writers are addicts, too.
Correlation doesn’t mean causation. If you’re a free spirit, you might already enjoy doing things most people would label as crazy. Less-inhibited personalities may mean signs and symptoms are more easily noticed. Either way, it can produce the wrong kind of attention.
As for depression and substance abuse, those can both stem from extreme disappointment, frustration and stress, things artists have to deal with on a regular basis. Financial, career and relationship struggles will do a number on anyone.
And I won’t even mention the waves of “OH MY GOD I SUCK SO BAD” low self-esteem that wash over you periodically. Especially when you read something so good you can never ever hope to duplicate its success.
It bites you in the ass all the time
Stephen King once mentioned something about how everyone told him “It must be great to have such a vivid imagination!” Yeah, he said, until it turns on you with sharp teeth.
In bed late at night, you hear a noise. A normal person might think “burglar” or “damn raccoons / possums / idiot dogs next door.” A writer might have his hideous, gory death worked out before his feet even hit the floor. Both will still be scared, but one’s gonna torture himself a lot more than the other.
Don’t even get me started on what Facebook can do to you. The usual “why’d she post that? Who the hell is [unknown work friend]?” shit only gets magnified. Next thing you know, you’re cyberstalking instead of working, ready to meet your partner at the door with a flamethrower.
Yeah, thanks a lot, imagination. You suck.