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Some make the argument that good writers should “make it look easy.” In other words, don’t carp about all the hard work it took to get the manuscript in the gorgeous shape it now boasts. Don’t ever show the seamy underbelly of revisions, cross-outs, ripped cuticles, and gray hair. Your readers don’t really need to see all that.
I disagree. If people think your art is magic (muse-driven and easily wrought) then they don’t get art, at all. At certain times and places–your book signing, on your web site–I think it’s fair to showcase the drafts that got away, the revisions that got dumped, and the hours it took to get the glossy draft your readers now enjoy. Pull back the curtain on the perfect and say, “There’s a bit of slime back here…”
If audiences don’t know the truth, they are likely to think, as I’ve heard too often in reference to the art of teaching: “Hell, anyone can do it!” They may well decide it’s not worth paying the price. Hey, can you spot me a copy of your book/CD…can you get me a free ticket to the show?
Never mind the ego that seems to have taken many Americans prisoner in this age of self-publishing: I’m going to be the next J.K. Rowling/John Grisham/Toni Morrison/Stephen King/Malcolm Gladwell! Check out my first draft!
The man behind the curtain–the neurotic artist full of woes and struggles, never mind a history of disappointment–that man matters very much.
This said, I want to make the argument that writers and other independent artists (I would place painters and other visual artists in this category) have it easier than those who need others to make art. The independence is all. Why? Because you have no one but yourself to blame. Being married to a musician gives me this perspective, as does being the sister of an actress/producer. The group arts are a lot harder to sustain than the solo arts.
Writing is 95% solo. Sure, there’s working with agents and publishers; there are tours, speeches, and signings; there’s social marketing and comments on blogs. But every morning when I sit down to write, I only have Lyn Fairchild Hawks to hold accountable. I don’t lose momentum today if someone in my writers’ group failed to show last night. For my art to get done, I gotta do it, no excuses.
My husband is a musician dependent on at least four others in his band being able to
a) attend practice and show on time;
b) agree on singing the same songs;
c) practice those songs when no one’s looking;
d) assist with set-up and breakdown of sound equipment;
e) dress appropriately for the gig;
f) behave appropriately during the gig;
g) invest financially in a recording venture or new sound equipment;
h) and bring an audience to a show.
I’m leaving out a long, long list of other assumed professional behaviors that one would hope everyone would follow but don’t always appear.
Even with a strong group of musicians, a band leader faces these challenges or variations on them constantly because he prefers the sound that’s made by a group to his solo act. He is not merely artist but also manager, mediator, motivator, coach, etiquette trainer, and a thousand other roles that have nothing to do with songwriting, singing, and playing. Somedays, my biggest problem is believing in myself. Professional musicians don’t have much room for personal worries to get a performance going.
I won’t talk here about theater and its group dynamics, except to recommend you check out the series Slings and Arrows. Let’s just say that not everyone’s on the same page when it comes to putting up a play.
So, writers, what can we do? Stop complaining about how hard writing is, and just do it. I mean, if you’re an incredibly difficult, lazy, and irresponsible person, then maybe you do have something to moan about to a therapist, but if you have half a will and show up to the page, you’ve got an easier gig than some other artists.
And go support the local theater or musician playing near you. Listen and tip well. It took them a lot to get to that stage.