We asked Jared to share some reflections on the tension many writers feel between writing and “paying the bills.”
Though an important consideration, whether or not you hope to be published and support yourself fully through writing is a moot point in answering this question. Because, the writer, whether published or not, still spends a good deal of time thinking about stories, developing story worlds and characters, plotting out novels—to say nothing of the months and years spent on actual writing, rewriting, and editing. This difficult, painstaking, work is what writing really involves and what you have to embrace to truly be a writer.
The answer to this question is what makes a writer different from what I would call a storyteller, because while a storyteller is fond of telling stories, she hasn’t made the decision to spend copious amounts of time recording them and thinking of them. She might be good at spinning a tale; he might spend a lot of time daydreaming; she’s probably written a smattering of poetry and short character pieces. But the storyteller still hasn’t set off down the treacherous and life-altering path of becoming a writer.
Is this you?
Let’s assume you’ve decided to become a writer. Your choice is made; a lifetime of struggle and fulfillment within your own imagination awaits you. But no matter how excited you might be about this, you’ll surely find yourself asking—and it won’t be long, either—the questions at the heart of the matter: What is writing good for? Why should I write? What good am I, and who am I to be writing stories?
It’s at this point that many would-be writers go back on their choice.
What is writing good for?
Isn’t it wonderfully beautiful how humans can create things? How we can mimic the Creator of our universe and make little worlds of our own? Characters of our own? Plants and animals? Reflections of our reality?
I think one of the highest and most important things a human can do is to create something beautiful. Make art. Tell a story. Whether on the large scale of building a civilization or on the small scale of cultivating a relationship, to sub-create—pour out the wondrous creative energy that resonates through all time into our own, flawed, incredible creations—is one of the holiest of things.
There are many ways in which a person can worship, but for the creative person, sub-creation is almost always the most resonant and personally fulfilling.
The creative power I’ve been blessed with gives me a sense of awe. I have to use this gift. I have to create. If I don’t, I’m denying one of my greatest gifts. I want to live my life doing nothing but sub-creating—shaping and working magic with my hands and my words.
This is the best answer I’ve found to the question, what is writing good for?
It’s spiritual communion.
But what about the bills?
Once I realized that writing was a way to commune with God, I understood that all I really wanted to do with my life was to create beautiful things. But then I was faced with a harsh reality, one which confronts many if not all storytellers once they’ve made their decision to write: the creative gift is not as highly prized by the world as it is prized by a writer’s own heart—or, if it is prized, others can’t or won’t see a writer’s particular visions.
Unfortunately, few of us can afford to sit in our basements creating beautiful things all the time. It might be worship, spiritual communion, mental work of the highest order, but it doesn’t pay any bills. Not most of the time. Not for most of us. And that’s incredibly frustrating.
Of course there are other ways to worship and experience spiritual communion, some of which really can pay bills. But the crux of the matter is that the best thing I can do—what many of us were born to do—often provides nothing to live on in our terribly money-shackled society.
Of course, some people can live off creating. I want to—need to—be one of those people, and many of my fellow writers would agree with me. But it is very hard to get noticed, and the fear that we never will, as well as the related fear that we will never be able to truly fulfill our purpose, can be crushing. These fears can cause writers to go back on the choice they have made to step beyond daydreaming and into something bigger—to be more than storytellers. These fears have given me pause more times than I care to count.
Facing the fears
It’s really easy to get bogged down in doubts and wonder if anything but writing would be better employment. There’s certainly something to be said for shouldering financial responsibility—something to be said for earning your bread and butter. But in your practical considerations, remind yourself that sub-creating connects us to higher things. It is an expression of our souls and an imitation of God. It connects us to a divine continuum of power and growth and revival, a building up of magic and birth. It is so. Brilliantly. Beautiful. And good.
And that’s what writing is good for. If it pays the bills, that’s great, but paying bills isn’t the point—so don’t give up!
Jared Schmitz is a poet, a writer and an artist who enjoys fantasy literature, hot tea, and obscure music. He lives in Kansas with a cadre of strange flatmates and (if it is not already obvious!) hopes to one day make a living as a writer and editor. He also dreams of becoming an elf, living in Mirkwood, and owning ten cats.
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