And maybe some writers do. Okay, many do. Most.
I guess I did, too.
I enrolled in the program with that shiny goal in mind.
And then, after intense writing and reading and studying, one of the biggest lessons I got out of Vermont College of Fine Arts is the importance of … life.
The writing life. But also, the life outside of writing.
As I started to pay closer attention to the ebb and flow of my process and my creative habits, I discovered that the busier I was with other things, the more often I took time to step away from the keyboard, the more passionately I lived, the more productive became my writing output.
The less tightly I clutched my work in progress, the easier the words came.
The less the writing mattered in the big scheme of my life, the more I wrote, and the happier I felt about doing it.
I decided to try and build a new and meaningful professional career. In preparation, I committed to a one-year-long in-office literary agency internship, smack in the middle of my studies.
Did that new commitment affect my writing? Yes it did, in the best possible way!
Turned out, I had more to give to myself — and by extension, to my writing efforts — when I gave more to the world.
With this discovery, my real writing goal became not chasing publication, but building a meaningful and sustainable writing life.
Did that mean I’d stop submitting my work?
Not at all.
It’s simply about the shifting of the emphasis.
1. A regular writing routine
2. A story to work on
3. The next story waiting in the wings (this one’s maybe not a strict requirement, more of a nice bonus).
4. Setting aside some time for reading fiction
5. Being able to help support my family
6. Taking one day a week and/or occasional vacation time to just decompress and breathe and luxuriate in the life part of the equation
7. Giving something to the world, something else, something other than writing
As part of my studies, I read up on habits of writers, artists, thinkers and scientists, from Pablo Picasso to Jane Austen, from Ingrid Bergman to Sigmund Freud in a super fun collection of biographical sketches that deals specifically with the working habits of composers, choreographers, sculptors, filmmakers, poets and lots and lots of novelists. The book, which I highly recommend, is called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. What I saw in these entertaining sketches reassured me that there is no ONE right way to build a meaningful artistic life. Some of the greats wrote in bed for 12 to 14-hour stretches. I know I couldn’t do that — in bed or otherwise. Others (sadly) could not work without the help of some powerful chemicals. I choose not to do that. 🙂 Some wrote 500 words and called it a day. (Hemingway, anyone?) Many had low-paying day jobs. Some built meaningful careers alongside but separated from their art.
What did all the greats have in common? A meaningful, consistent and productive artistic life. So, okay, maybe the #1 thing on my list is a must: a regular writing routine. Honestly, I’d say #4 also. Ask Stephen King, if you don’t believe me.
Everything else, though? You tell me.
What are the most important components of your meaningful writing lives? I’d love to know. But whether or not you share them here, I hope you take the time to answer that question for yourselves. And then follow through!