Man, it’s a hell of a lot of work to chase an artistic dream.
A lot of hard, tiring, unpaid work, to be precise.
And, to be really honest, as much as you’ll usually hear me beaming about how much the pursuit of my dream animates me – and it does – some days are better than others.
There are days where the chase is pure elation, and each microscopic win feels like running across the finish line of a marathon: you finish a chapter, you get an unexpected book review, a blog comment makes you smile, or a tweet goes mildly viral.
And then there are days where everything is a giant mess of shit.
You spend hours fiddling with formatting a table of contents, for instance. Or you are stuck copy-editing (or worse, proofreading) a short story before you submit it to prizes or journals. You tweet and nobody retweets it; you post on Facebook and nobody likes it; you blog and it is met with resounding indifference (you can only imagine the precipice my mood rests upon in writing this very post …).
Unlike a day job, you don’t get a paycheck at the end of a bad day as an artist. You just have a really shitty day. In fact, in economic terms, you theoretically lost money, because of the opportunity cost of spending two or three or ten hours working on your fledgling artistic career.
I’ve had a run of great writing days recently, as I plough through my second novel for Camp NaNoWriMo. My project is currently sitting at about 37,000 words (out of a goal of 50,000), so I’m closing in on my target.
But despite that success, there have also been a couple of really frustrating days in the past week where everything seemed to go wrong at once. Nothing catastrophic, just some medium-grade SNAFUs.
Today was one of them: a head-desk, “why me?” kind of day. I think I thought I was further ahead in my career than I really was, in some ways, and that crashed down all around me. I’m still torn between wanting to sweep everything off my desk in a melodramatic writery tantrum and wanting to curl up into the fetal position and rock myself to sleep.
I am also considering the sage counsel of the little girl from the Old El Paso ad: “Why not both?”
But, of all things, something that happened at work yesterday made me feel better about the whole mess.
Like a lot of writers/dreamers, I have a range of casual jobs to keep my head above water and my arse off the street corner, so to speak. Some of my jobs are more highly paid than others – and one of them, in particular, is now a couple of grades lower than I’m worth, so I pitched to my boss that I ought to have my position promoted.
My pitch was declined. I felt deflated and considerably undervalued, but I went about my day after that.
But when I thought about these crappy last couple of days, I realised something.
While I felt undervalued in my day job, where I am paid decently, I didn’t feel undervalued as a writer.
This is even though I am paid nothing.
If I look at the last month of preparing my new e-book, THE BLACK FLOWER, for publication, I was paid exactly $0.00 for every hour I spent writing, editing, proofing, formatting, blogging, marketing, submitting, designing, and so on. And there were many, many hours.
But even when everything seems to go wrong, not one second of this feels like a waste of my time, because every second of this journey makes me feel alive. Every moment spent wading through molasses towards my dream is a moment in which I am aligned with my personal quest in this life.
I am always energised by it, and never drained, despite the unpaid element to this journey. The bad days never deter me. They can’t.
Reflecting on this made me feel better, because I now realise a day of unpaid writing is more valuable than a paid day of work.
Tonight, I will make my choice between a raging tantrum or cocooning myself in a blanket.
And tomorrow, I will pick myself up, dust myself off, listen to some Alanis Morissette and get back on the horse.
I am not there yet.
The road ahead is still very long.