The Price of Our Dreams (Title Borrowed!)

When he talks about writing, George Saunders brings it all down to earth.

He’s so straightforward, so sure, so clear about every phase of the process.

And reassuring, too.

Literary snobbishness?

Zip and ola.

I’ve sung his praises before and reviewed Tenth of December, a terrific collection of imaginative short stories.

I could also post link after link of thoughtful exchanges with Saunders, including from The Big Think podcast and a fabulous two-parter on Bookworm about his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo.

Anyway, I really didn’t expect to see Saunders pop up on an advice podcast but there he was with Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond. Turns out Saunders was one of Strayed’s writing teachers and mentors at Syracuse University.

The topic was chasing creative dreams while managing, you know, little practical things like work and income. You can read the question and listen to the entire conversation, called 'The Price of Our Dreams' at WBUR.

It’s powerful.

Saunders argues you can do both—and that work and the workplace can provide a wealth of inspiration.

Saunders: “There's a crossroads moment where you say to yourself, ‘okay, either I'm going to do the starving artist route and make these kids suffer or I'm going to suck it up and find in myself the potential to go into a job that I wouldn't have dreamed of taking a year ago.’ And what I found was that actually that was great. To go in and say I have to give up my image of myself as this scrappy, cool young guy and put on a tie and go into this job. So maybe as a way of gaming myself I said ‘Ok, look, if you're a writer you should be able to find material even here, everywhere.’ Since these are human beings gathered together, this must be percolating into my artistic machinery, therefore it's not a waste."

And later in the same podcast, Saunders: “The path that lies between you and the book you dreamed of is actually not a different day to day life except the addition of some writing time. The magic that's going to make you published and beloved is yet to be found. When I was working a day job and writing my first book, I noticed that you can get a lot done in 15 minutes. In some ways, writing at work or writing when you're tired has a way of focusing your mind. I like to gently say to anybody who wants to be an artist, it doesn't always work. Your worth as a human being is not tied to your productivity as an artist, those are wildly divergent things. The pure artistic path is the one that's not too tied to the outcome but is tied to the transformation that happens.”

I like those last two sentences so I’ll highlight it for emphasis:

Your worth as a human being is not tied to your productivity as an artist, those are wildly divergent things. The pure artistic path is the one that's not too tied to the outcome but is tied to the transformation that happens.

Over and out.

Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens is 2016 RMFW Writer of the Year. He writes the Allison Coil Mystery Series–Antler Dust (2007), Buried by the Roan (2011), Trapline (2014) and Lake of Fire (2015). Buried by the Roan, Trapline and Lake of Fire were all finalists for the Colorado Book Award; Trapline won. Trapline also won the 2015 award in genre fiction from the Colorado Authors League. Kirkus Reviews called Lake of Fire “irresistible.” More about Mark on his website.


10 thoughts on “The Price of Our Dreams (Title Borrowed!)

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I read Lincoln in the Bardo a couple of weeks ago and I’m still chewing on it. I liked it, though I’m not sure I’d recommend it to most people. Certainly an exteremly interesting style and vision.

  2. Thank you for sharing, Mark, and for repeating that message. I’m not sure I can be that pure–but it felt good when I read it. 🙂

  3. “Your worth as a human being is not tied to your productivity as an artist, those are wildly divergent things. The pure artistic path is the one that’s not too tied to the outcome but is tied to the transformation that happens.”

    So needed those two lines. Thank you for sharing, Mark <3

  4. Thanks, Mark. I enjoy Saunders work and thoroughly agree. For me, it was my night job; donning scrubs and white shoes. Instead of a tie, I draped a stethoscope around my neck. When I wasn’t on the clock or chasing kids I was freelance writing. Writers find ways to write. Day jobs — and night jobs — give us material and possibly a market.

  5. Spot on! I wrote five books while still holding a day job. The true gem is this line: Your worth as a human being is not tied to your productivity as an artist, those are wildly divergent things. I am printing it out and putting it on my bulletin board.

  6. My self worth is tied to my disciplined focus on my writing — either during content writing and PR consulting for cash or finishing up my novels and short stories. I needed to back off and appreciate very much your reminder to go easy on myself. Thanks!

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