By Aaron Ritchey
“Don't demand that your art supports your life. Instead, make a promise that your life will always support your art.
--Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, from her interview with Luc Berthelett
“Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around.”
--Stephen King from On Writing
Okay, so which is it. Come on, Elizabeth and Stephen, you both have gobs of money and success and you both can’t be right. You need to decide. I demand it.
I have to admit, I never really understood the Stephen King quote. What is a support system anyway? And for what? Huh? Come again? The expanded version of King’s quote talks about not going into your cave and forgetting about your family and friends and the outside world. That writing is fine, but don’t sacrifice everything to do it. Basically, what I get from good ol’ Mr. King is that write, write a lot, but don’t be an ass about it.
Easy for him to say. He’s Stephen frickin’ King.
In the end, though, I think the Elizabeth Gilbert interview is saying something similar. Basically it says “Don’t quit your day job. But find work that still allows you to write.”
The reality is, the writing life is one of crushing dedication and it takes time, mountains of time, oceans of minutes, a Mount Everest of seconds, years of slavery. Or maybe not. It sure seems like it does for most of us.
So do we write to live, or live to write, and what is the difference?
Again, I don’t understand the question. Do I choose to write? Or did writing choose me? How much freedom do I have?
I think it comes down to how I want to use my minutes. We’ll be dead soon. I mean, soonish, probably, but you never know. I could be eaten by rabid mutant Chihuahuas from outer space in the next ten minutes.
How do I want to use my minutes before I feel their teeth?
I love stories. I have always loved stories, and I like crafting them, and I like the pain of editing, the sorrow of marketing, and the whips of the reviewers. Call me sick and twisted, but I do. Or have I learned to love it?
The Muslim poetess Rabia wrote that she was born when she learned to love what she most feared.
At the end of the day, the dream I have of being the world-famous writer remains. But more and more, I’m seeing success is a big, huge open word and I have the power to choose if I’m successful or not. At every stage of the game. No matter what other people think.
So, to pursue this dream, how much should I sacrifice to write?
I think a better question is, what should I sacrifice to write? Friends? Family? My health? No. Mindless TV, video games, and pictures of kittens on the internet? Yes.
In the end, I need to choose what to sacrifice, and I have sacrificed to write the books I’ve written. I’ve had the same job for seventeen years. I’m still in the same house. Same wife and kids. I’ve chosen a stable life, dreary and dull, that gives me the time to write, because, again, it all comes down to minutes and how I want to use them.
Though I do love those internet kittens. Lord, I do.