Friday, October 13, 2006

2. What is Your Motivation?

I have a friend who doodles and sketches all the time. Now, it just so happens that he has a job as an illustrator, but that’s really beside the point. I believe that if he was paid to answer phones in a call center, he would still be sketching while he watched Battlestar Galactica reruns on Tivo.

And that is, in a nutshell, my definition of an artist. Someone who does what he loves regardless of whether he is paid to do it or not. So now should be that time in the program where you get to answer the magical question: are you an artist?

But it’s not as simple as that.

The real question is why. Why do you do what you do? Why do you write? Those who answered with something along the lines of “because I want to be rich and/or famous” should go get a job as a stockbroker. Seriously.

First the bad news: you might as well come to terms with the fact that the odds are against you being able to make a living selling your art. The Society of Authors estimates that between 2 and 6 percent of all writers make a living by only selling their books, and that estimate is probably a bit high. The point being that your dreams of being a rich and famous author are flat out unrealistic. You probably have better odds playing the lottery.

So why bother?

Well, remember when I asked you why you write? If you are a real writer, your response was probably something along the lines of “because I have no choice.” You are compelled to produce something – whatever it is that your mind needs to do to keep from going insane. Because that’s what art is, a compulsion.

It is not merely a means to an end. It is the end result. It is what you do when you are not doing your day job (or when your day job is slow, if you’ve got a job like that).

Now, if you have read this far and not gotten entirely discouraged by reality, then I’ve got good news for you. It is entirely possible to be a good, moderately well-known writer and still have a day job. In fact, the day job can actually be a good thing, if you let it be (it removes the need for the art to be entirely financially successful, for a start).

The best thing you can do is face facts, get a sense of what the odds against you are and then ignore them. That’s right: ignore them. It is not a sensible, rational or logical thing to do, but then again, neither is making art. And once you have understood that essential paradox, you’re on your way to credibility.