A long time ago, I decided that I am not an artist, but an artisan. I consider writing a skilled trade, and I work at it, and perhaps sometimes I do it well. I'm not afraid to admit I want to sell my wares when they're finished, or that I want to be able to say they're finished and know it to be true. I want measurements and gauges and charts to tell me I've done it right. I don't want to sit around talking about art and how unknowable it is, et cetera.
I know I can't have these things. It doesn't make me want them any less.
tried to abandon this attitude in recent years, especially because it
produced a lot of stiff, mediocre work. If I wasn't looking at a story
as if it were a math equation, then I tended to see it as a business
venture. Market testing, focus groups, workshops. Every opinion mattered
because every reader mattered, and I wanted to please them all because
they were my target consumers. I heard my fellow writers when they told
me to write what I wanted to write, for me, not for anyone else, but the
fact was that they, too, seemed to be writing for approval. They might
not write toward the mass market's notion of "good," but they'd
definitely identified a standard and it usually seemed to come from
somewhere outside themselves: a famous author, a parent, a teacher. So
they weren't just writing for themselves, which meant I didn't have to,
either. What I didn't realize was that my sickness came not from wanting
to please someone, but wanting to please everyone.
My dad used to
push me toward business. He once paid me to read a book about the stock
market and encouraged me regularly to take economics and computer
wanted me to be successful, in that American Dream type way. He said I
would be an excellent manager--he still says that, though I've learned
from experience it isn't true. But though it used to baffle me, I now
know what he saw in me that made him do these things. I like
organization, even if my bedroom has always been messy. I like order,
though I keep things in piles. I always scored higher in math than in
English, and when I believe a project is important, I commit to it with
everything I've got. The hitch lies in the fact that I don't believe
business to be important--in fact, I hate most things about it. I've
worked in the hospitality business and I know the last thing that
industry is is "hospitable." I've worked in a pharmacy and had to tell
sickly old ladies that their pills won't be ready for a few days because
it's not financially sound to keep rarely prescribed medicines in stock
(my coworkers at that job wanted, for whatever reason, to educate and
promote me, but I worked there less than a month).
teens I fostered the idea of myself as an artist; I wanted to be an
actress/director and thought I would change the world through the
theater. Any businesslike behavior I displayed came out through
small-scale productions I organized and my brief presidency of the
campus drama club. I didn't realize that by being the only person around
who would wrestle the coffee cup out of an actor's hand and making him
rehearse until he took his part seriously, I was exhibiting exactly the
traits my dad had always picked up on. What dad didn't get until later
in my life was that the person I became when wrangling actors and
building sets would never give a rat's hindquarters about selling most
anything. Theater tickets, maybe. But stocks and bonds? I don't think
I've only recently realized that my artistic endeavors and my
more business-like self operate as one. When my left brain has a job to
do, my right brain flourishes. If I don't have a practical project, I
get too practical about my writing, setting tight deadlines, making
detailed outlines, and doing unnecessary research. Sometimes it gets so
bad that I forget to actually write at all, and if I am writing, the
quality of my work declines as I begin to think in terms of market
research. It's gotten so bad lately that I've almost forgotten what it
feels like to be inspired, or to write because I want to and not to
fulfill a self-imposed deadline. I need some business to take care of.
talked a lot on Bark about the whole muffin man phenomenon, and how
some writers need a vocation that is completely separate from their art.
What we often don't say is how hard it is to find that other thing you
really want to do and become employed in that field. I thought for a
while I wanted to be a cook until I worked in a catering kitchen and
discovered the torture that is mass-chopping tomatoes and onions for
people you never get to meet. I've looked for jobs in bookstores and
libraries and never been able to wedge my way in.
You may have seen the episode of Portlandia
in which Carrie tells how her sister sells jewelry on the
internet--well, I'm not exactly making jewelry now (I tried that a few
years back and always wanted to keep the good stuff I made for myself)
but I am selling vintage and antique books on Etsy. In the absence of
any real job or employable career drive, I've had to make this
opportunity for myself, and you know what? It's the best. I've been
really committed to it for a little over two months now (New Year's
Resolution) and no, I'm not exactly making money yet, but I have had a
few sales and am channeling that left-brained energy into the website. I
go to estate sales and for the first time since grad school, I'm
meeting people who make me want to write about them.
Okay, so what started out as a thoughtful and introspective post has turned into a plug for my online shop. I'm sorry about that. But here's where all that personal stuff comes back:
have decided several times to quit writing because the business side of
me is such a bully. It's much louder and bossier than my creative side,
which tends to get pushed into a corner, holding its knees to its chest
until the business side is appeased--but though I want to just give in
and do what the business side says, the creative side won't go away.
She's always in my my peripheral vision, and it's never long before I
start to miss her terribly. But for me, both sides are immovable. I
can't cut one of them off. I just have to figure out how to give them
each the attention they deserve.
Also, here's that clip from Portlandia, if you haven't seen it.