I don’t see the link between art and commerce…People were talking about writing for money. I said, Look, you can bartend, or you can teach classes, or you can write shit you don’t want to write for publications you don’t want to write for. You can be a secretary, or a hooker, or a lawyer. That’s all Column A. In Column B there’s making art. There’s painting, dancing, writing poetry. In Column B there are things you don’t do for money. You don’t know why you do them at all. That can include starting a website, or sending out a daily email. Later, when you’re finished, you try to get as much money as you can. How much you sell it for is not the point. The point is, Why did you do it. – Stephen Elliot
At this moment in time, I make my living doing (mostly) writing-related things. I edit books, I teach creative writing workshops, I proofread reports for a nonprofit organization, and I occasionally even sell an article. But while I LOVE this work and feel so honored to do it, this is not my real work.
Blogging is also not my real work. Neither are Facebook updates or Twitter posts. These are things I do to practice the craft of writing and to promote my paid work and my real work – but they are not my real work.
My real work is what I do when I work deep and long on a project that I choose because I NEED for any reason to do it. It’s the essay I wrote about shaving my mother’s head and the piece I crafted about silence and solitude. It’s the vignette I wrote about how important Peter Jennings was to me during the days after the 9/11 attacks and the book project I’m currently trying to find an agent for. These things are my “real” work. These are my art.
My other work – the things people pay me to do and the things I do to get paid and be able to earn a living – these things are important, and I do them well. They feed me in a very literal sense some days. But it’s the creative work that I choose, the work where I can disappear for hours and come out groggy but changed, the work that reshapes me in the most fundamental ways – that’s the REAL work for me.
The work I do for pay is valuable – it serves an important purpose in my life and, I hope, in the lives of people I work with. And I pray the same is true for this blog and for the social media work that I do. But this is not the work that made me want to be a writer.
That work is quiet, and it is work I would do – and have done for my entire adult life – whether I am paid for it or not. In fact, it’s a bonus when people pay me – I feel happy, relieved that one bill will be paid more easily. But I don’t need the pay to do this work – I do it for love – and I say that in all sincerity.
There are many people who think writing is only valuable if we are paid for it, and that’s fine and valid – those people are business people, not artists. They are looking to make a living BEFORE they create art – and truly, that’s a fine way to be. But to say that one CANNOT write if one doesn’t make money, that’s bullshit. Anyone can find a piece of coal and scribble on tree bark. Everyone can take 15 minutes to write . . . not everyone choose this – and that’s totally good. But to claim that one has to “put off one’s art” because of time or money – that’s an excuse every time.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with making money from art; in fact, when those rare moments come and artists are paid for their work, I rejoice because usually our society says that we do is selfish and useless because it is not pragmatic or practical. To be paid for this work is rare, and so then, it is special.
But for me, I would write even if no one paid me a cent for it. I would carve words from the cliffs of life with my bloody fingernails even if people pitied me for not “capitalizing on my talent or my time,” even if others judge me because I choose to give my time to words instead of to paying off debt, even if sometimes I tell myself I’m ridiculous for not just finding a way to make a lot of money off my talent. I choose to give my time to my art, and sometimes that means I don’t give my time to making cash. I’m okay with that.
For I have learned that art pours honey onto my tongue and scrapes scars away from unhealed wounds beneath. Art levitates me into the air and it forces me to smell the rot of our existence. Art consoles me, and it forces me to see what is inconsolable.
Money can never do that.
What about you? Why do you write? For the money or for the art?