Friday, January 4, 2019

Fantasies of the Writing Lifestyle: How to Get Real about What to Expect

A colleague sent me two fascinating articles recently about the reasonable and unreasonable expectations we writers have of the writing life.

The first is a funny-sad yet informative article by writers Rosalie Knecht from Lit Hub (link here) about the colorful fantasy some have of the writing life.   

She likens some writers' fantasies of the creative life to images from an Anthropologie catalog, where true creatives drift through unfinished rooms in wispy clothes, have only difficult relationships, and must suffer to create.  I resonated with that last comment, which creeps into my writing life unwelcomed from time to time.  Knecht says this attitude does a disservice to writers who are actually trying to integrate "art-making with functional lives."  

The other article, also from Lit Hub, is by the coordinator of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, Samantha Lan Chang.  It's taken from a talk she gave at the One Story Debutante Ball.  It's all about protecting your writing life from such fantasies.  

I find the fantasy of the writing life both sad and scary.  How many of us writers are still waiting to be "discovered" and propelled towards fame and fortune without effort on our part?  Kind of a take-off on the Cinderella story, we hope for an agent or publisher who will truly get what we're trying to do and help us shape it.  I find it sad because rare is the writer who finds that in today's publishing world, but also because it abdicates much of the value of the years of work it usually takes to learn and practice our craft.  

I disavow writers of fantasy constantly, never an easy thing to suggest not quitting a day job to write full time when skills aren't strong enough to fuel growth, or to remind a first-time memoirist that memoir can take an average of seven years to write, according to a friend's MFA advisers.  Fantasies interrupt the reality on purpose; it's more fun to dream of being rescued from the work that writing takes.

Around this time of year, I like to revisit one of my favorite creative resources:  Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic.  I listen to it as I drive.  I crave her honesty when the fantasy of someone else's more beautiful writing life threatens to derail me from my own.

Your weekly writing exercise to is to read one or both of these articles--each worthwhile in its own right.  If you can't access the links, search at for either author's name.

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