Sick with an ear infection and feeling all contemplative and stuff. Watched the Voice the other night and Seal asked a contestant what will she do if her singing career doesn't take off. She was a university student and he said that the best thing he can give her is to teach her not to have a back up. That singing just has to be it. And this got me thinking about writing and the artist life in general.
When I first began seriously writing in about 1999 when I commenced my Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing and Editing I had no plans for a back up. Writing was it. I had the day job of course, this is a must because after all we do have to eat, and worked as a office chick. Every workday was full of frustration as I did a job that I knew was beneath me intellectually, but this frustration just fuelled my passion for writing more. I was going to prove all those co-workers who looked down on me as their serf and do something great with my life.
Getting a novel published was a hunger that burnt within me. Even so it took years for it to happen. Ten years in fact. And getting published did change something within me, it confirmed what I believed about myself and the purpose of my life, but the hunger didn't abate. Sometimes it seems that publication corrupts that passion because know there is always this strategic element about writing what is potentially publishable, but I digress.
About the time that my daughter was born things changed. I had to grow up and accept that I could not always put the artist's life first. While writing was still always my passion, a certain wear and tear occurred. There is the need for creature comforts. The artist life of barely having enough money loses it's allure. And there is also the acceptance that my writing is not a sprint, it's a marathon. I will be writing until my dying day. That is what I do. And while I might have to slow down a bit as other aspects of my life take priority, sometimes with less time to write comes greater efficiency. After all writers practice procrastination religiously.
There is also the fact that being an artist is to undertake the practice of sadomasochism. There are highs and there are lows, and this is just through the writing process in battling the muse and filling the page, not to mention the glacial slow process of waiting for anything to happen, and then there are the inevitable rejections. There are always rejections. The hardest times of my life have been those when I have had nothing but writing to fill my time. The harshness of a writer's life was most apparent then because I had nothing else to lift me up from the sting of rejection or the battles with the muse. So from my perspective a back up is a necessity. Not just to eat, but also to give you something to push against, to give you another outlet for self esteem, and to give you perspective.
I have found in my career that when I am busy with other things, this is when the writing comes the easiest and when I have the wins. It's because I feel good about myself in having a full life and engaging at different levels. And it is also because getting published doesn't have that whiff of desperation attached to it. Instead I can roll with the punches easier and just keep doing what I love, being true to my muse and getting those words onto the page.
Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher who draws on her Bosnian cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like her, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. She writes memoir, young adult and romance under the pen name Mae Archer.
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