Sometimes, artists and writers are told that the way to make our leisure activities legitimate is to turn them into work. In order to become a real writer, the saying goes, you have to write every day. I wholeheartedly hold this to be true, but it’s more engrained than that. When people tell me I’m “talented,” I tend to quip that the only talent I have is the ability to want to write every day, and the discipline, built up over many years, to actually do so. The hunger to be writing, as acute and disastrous as my caffeine addiction, is my biggest asset. I am a real writer not because I treat it like work, but because I genuinely feel more psychologically secure and content when I have spent time writing. My leisure has the consistency of work, which is why other people accept it as legitimate.
Yet there is the looming opposition, the force of finances. While we artists are told to convert our leisure into work, we are also told to discard it, and turn what has become our work into mere leisure. “You should be an Economics major, and get a career in consulting,” as it were, “because you can still do art on the side.” Or, to be more blatant, “You should focus on getting a job and find time to write on the side.” This mantra of on the side, on the side, delegitimizes the claim that art of all mediums is done well when it has become work. Art, in this on the side view, maintains that you can be good at art, and enjoy art, in a minimal timeframe. That if you are truly talented, you can make it work. This notion that art should be a hobby, or a pastime, kind of strips the ability for writers and artists of all types to prioritize the very thing they want to do. And as a result, it becomes that much more difficult to turn on the side, this leisure project, into work, which is a necessary step of improvement and enjoyment.
So: in order to get good at an art form, you have to turn it into work; in order to turn your art form into work, you have to acquire time. In order to acquire time, you have to turn your art form into leisure (to make money). We’re facing a bit of a crisis.
Still, there are some ways to adjust to this crisis-type time frame, strategies for attacking this sort of reality. This is why I’m actually a big fan of things like Inktober, NaNoWriMo, and the accompanying NaPoWriMo, programs that gather writers and artists and poets and create a schedule of accountability for turning leisure into work. You can’t participate in one of these three sort of activities (or any other sort) and expect amazing work out of them. All the same, these programs take time out of the equation when it comes to developing habits. Inktober, for instance, requires one piece a day. Why stop in the month of October? And if a piece a day means the pieces aren’t very good, well, you’ve still gotten in the habit of carving out a slice of time, so keep that time alive.
It’s not quite a perfect solution – we still all must face the gripping questions of financial stability, and the markets aren’t shifting in the direction of elevating all artists to financial glory any time soon. Still, the way to adjusting with any scenario is to put tools in your tool kit. Establishing long-term discipline and habits is a harder task than it seems, and it doesn’t seem as enticing as the possibility that one day, you’ll wake up and be able to write/paint/draw/whatever the next cultural touchstone of a generation. But the long-term strategy, in my opinion, is the way to stay highly aware of the way art is being relegated to the position of the fries that come with your hamburger, and to remind yourself – my art is work, too. I’m the kind of person that orders a hamburger just to eat fries anyways; at least until I can get to the point where I’m exclusively ordering fries.
Written by Erika S.
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.