Today Julie Isaac (aka WritingSpirit on Twitter) asked: “As a writer, do you see yourself as an artist, an entrepreneur, or a bit of both?”
Aha! I could talk about this! I found my answers wanting to take up much more room than 140 characters, and had to stop myself from venturing Elsewhere on the rabbit trails that presented themselves. So here I am spreading out a bit.
First let me talk a little bit about why I decided to go to grad school for my MFA. One of the biggest reasons was because I knew if I went to school for writing … I would have to write. No excuses. No laziness. My hope was that, in addition to learning about craft, I would acquire habits that I would carry away with me. They would be ground into my life by the heel of academic scheduling and be permanently stuck, and I would write every day and no longer carry around this guilt about not writing, this doubt about calling myself a writer when I wasn’t living the life I pictured writers living.
I tried to write the summer before my first semester started–a few paragraphs here, a few there, all in different word documents. I felt pretty inadequate coming into grad school. I wondered: Who else here hasn’t really written much in years? How long until they discover my acceptance, my funding, my being here is all a mistake?
I could go on for some time on my insecurities as a writer, but I’ve only given a glimpse of them here to show what I saw coming to grad school as–a commitment, a dedication, a consecration. This was it, whether I was ready or not.
My grad level workshop was taught by Fiona Cheong. On the second day of class she showed us a documentary on Seamus Heaney (which I *think* was called Out of the Marvellous). It spoke to so many things I was dealing with and experiencing as a writer; but one of the things that stayed with me most was this:
“I have always had the notion that you earned your living and that poetry was a grace.”
Heaney also mentioned how long it took for him to think of himself as a poet, because letting himself be called that was like a consecration.
Yes. That was my soul’s response to everything in this documentary: Yes.
Overall, that workshop with Fiona was exactly what I needed. I did learn about craft; I felt affirmed as a writer; but I learned very much about the writing life, and that was most valuable to me. The door started to open that let me think of myself as an artist.
My undergraduate degree is in Creative Writing. This caused me a lot of stress in my senior year, because you know, you can’t really get a *job* with it. Now granted, it came out pretty well for me in the end–at least for now. I do sometimes wonder what I’ll do after the MFA. The funny thing is, people still ask the same question they do in undergrad: “What are you going to do with that degree?”
Well, I am going to write. I am learning a craft, and I shall practice it. Education is not all about utility, and its value cannot be measured simply by economic viability. The crazy thing, to me, is that this is my job right now. I am getting a paycheck. And yet when I’m asked such questions, I still feel pressured to *justify* what I’m doing. And it seems that justification is always expected in terms of money. With varying degrees of seriousness, teasing, enthusiasm, or sarcasm, they say, “Maybe you will be a best-seller. Maybe you will be the next J.K. Rowling. Maybe you will be famous.”
Maybe. I highly doubt it. I’m not sure it’s what I want.
I used to daydream about it, of course. Up until more recently than I care to admit in public. But now I feel that the writing itself must matter more than any result of it.
Because in thinking of myself as an artist–in thinking of my writing as an art–it can’t be a utilitarian thing. Not that I’m opposed to making money or think that writers don’t deserve compensation for their work! But the purpose of art, I have come to believe, is to reveal or search for truth. (Fiction is a medium of truth–it allows us to *experience* it, to see it; or it lets us understand it through metaphor or symbol.) In fact, I don’t even think writing or art in general is about self-expression, though of course if you commit yourself to writing you pour your self into it; if you search for truth, you can only do so through your own eyes. Perhaps you will discover a truth about yourself or something you have experienced. But therapy and art are different things.
Another reason I don’t believe art is just about self-expression is because, if that were the whole of it, why would we even dream of fame, of having thousands of thousands of readers? Writing is an act of communication. It is meant to be read. This is part of the art of it. And I think this is where I stand in terms of WritingSpirit’s question. The business aspect of writing, the entrepreneurship of it, is meant to serve the art of it. To get it out there to readers. But it should not shape it.
Art involves craft, and the craft of writing involves making something that can be read and appreciated for what it is. But that “what it is” part is important.
I have come to the conclusion that I am okay if I need to get a job after I get my degree, whether it be as a teacher or something else. If my writing supported me, that would be a dream come true. But in the end, it is more to me than a career. And it is even worth enough to me that I would learn the business aspects of it to get it out there and read.
In other news! Break is wonderful. But it needs to be a week longer. I have been doing almost nothing but read, which while arguably unproductive, is very, very wonderful. I’ve taken a break from Jack London’s Sea Wolf to devour Waking Rose by Regina Doman in two days, and am now reading G.K. Chesterton’s The Ball and The Cross, which I am enjoying immensely!