Tag Archives: starving artist

#WW Judging An Author’s Life

10 Jun

Judging An Author’s Life

The photo

The photo

Recently—and by “recently” I mean a month ago—I posted this photo on my Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, and . . . well, pretty much anywhere on the Internet that I have an account on. To my surprise, (and still to my confusion), I received a bit a slack for this. It was a Wednesday afternoon, fairly nice outside, and due to the events of my day, I ended up in my hometown with one of my best friends. When it started raining, we ducked into a bookstore, and I couldn’t help myself. I bought a book—Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan to be exact—and some sticky notes for work since my stockpile was dwindling. The caption of my photo read, “Silly rain. Forcing me to hide in a bookstore to collect books until the sun came out.”

I didn’t think anything of it. I simply thought, “Hey! I am having fun. This has to do with reading, and I bet my readers would enjoy sharing this moment with me.” Because that’s what I think every time I post something—I think about how much fun it is to share these bits and pieces of my life with my wonderful followers. I don’t think much beyond that. So, I guess that’s why I was so surprised when I received a message, stating that I was adding to the misguidance of the industry and how authors live—how our lives actually are and how much of a struggle it is to be a writer—that I was adding to the “problem”, to the mirage of authordom.

And this is my open letter to you, dear sir, about that photo and my life as an author.

First and foremost, social media is up to the individual controlling that social media. No one else. I share what I choose to share, and I choose to share my fun and delightful moments. That goes to say that I’ve often—more often than not—discussed many difficult aspects of my life on my blog, particularly my mother’s death and my college roommate’s death. I’ve discussed moving around a lot as a child and finding myself creating stories and characters to make up for my lack of real human connection. I’ve confessed to doubting everything, and I’ve strived to remind myself (and my readers) why we write . . . which is always because I love to write and read. All of these topics have been on my blog. Numerous times. Throughout almost three years of blogging. But I’m assuming you’re judging me based on one or two photos posted during the afternoon. I know which ones you’re looking at. After all, I’m the one who shares all the moments of coffee, cats, and books. And guess what? That is my life. But it isn’t my whole life, and by no means have I ever expressed that “I do this every day.” Take this photo for instance. At no point does it state, “Here I am on my daily afternoon walk, just buying a dozen books for me to read this week.” In fact, I only bought one . . . with a gift card that my older brother bought me for Christmas . . . five months before this photo was taken . . . five months in which I saved that card just for the perfect moment to buy a novel on a day I needed some cheering up.

You see, back in January, I lost my car and my job, and I had to move to another state. (Something I openly discussed on my blog, by the way.) And ever since January, I’ve been building myself back up. On the very day this very photo was taken, I had finally saved up enough to buy a car, and I did, but I was broke afterward. That gift card was then used to help me buy office supplies (the sticky notes) that I had run out of, and I happened to see a novel I really wanted. Did I have to buy it then? No. Of course not. But it was a way of reminding myself that I am proud of how much I saved from my hard work and how far I’ve come in the five months since hitting rock bottom. My car was a long-needed necessity. This novel was a reward for the five months I’ve worked and saved and walked without one.

Why didn’t I put that story as my caption? Well, aside from the fact that it would be the longest caption in the world, the caption was my decision—and my decision was to express how much fun I was having and how much fun I wanted to share with my readers.

By no means was I trying to portray myself as an author who spends their days browsing bookstores. By no means was I trying to pretend I could afford every book left and right. By no means was I trying to prove something at all. I was just being me. I was just sharing me. By stating authors have to share ugly moments of their lives, we’re stating something ridiculous—that we assume they don’t have human lives—and that is a ridiculous presumption to have about anyone.

There is ugliness in everyone’s life, but I choose to focus on the happy moments, and I want my readers to know that they can have fun and encouragement when they come to me. I choose to share laughter and coffee and silly cats and paperbacks slung over my shoulder. I choose to post only when I’m smiling too—because I want to smile with my readers. I want my readers to feel encouraged when they come to me, not discouraged, and that is my choice, just like sharing my emotions around my mother’s death is my choice. I am not perfect, and I do not pretend to be, but no one should assume that about me either. Authors are human, after all, but not every detail of my life needs to be publicized all across the web (even though a large portion of it is).

Take my cats for instance. They’ve stared in my YouTube channel. They’ve done interviews on my blog. They’ve popped up on my Instagram and even shown their kitty faces on my Twitter. I love them, and since I work at home, I spend a lot of time around them. I share them in the grass, on the couch, while they are sleeping and playing. I make cartoons with them and pose with them and cuddle with them all the time (sometimes even when I don’t want to cuddle). And when I share them, people have fun—because most people love animals—and I have fun—because most people have shared their pets with me—and it’s a fun way to connect and relate to one another as friends instead of Internet strangers. I’d even like to exchange photos of my pets with you. But if you really want to see the ugly moments instead, I’d be more than happy to send you photos of me cleaning out the litter box instead of my three cats cuddling on the couch. (Just kidding, of course . . . I think.)

~SAT

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The Artist’s Guilt

6 Nov

Win a signed copy of Minutes Before Sunset today

Most people would agree that art is very significant to a culture, especially the older the art lasts. Ironically, those same people might belittle the “starving artists” or any artist for many reasons (the main one generally surrounds an income.) But, even more importantly, artists often belittle themselves, and that’s what I wanted to talk about today: the guilt associated with being an artist.

Granted, I am a writer. I cannot draw. I definitely can’t sing. And dancing might result in a broken limb. So why am I talking about artists like we’re all the same? Because all types of art are a form of expression. With a definition as simple as this, it’s hard to remember why we–as artists–might feel guilty. There’s nothing wrong with expression, right? As long as it’s not violent to others or to the artists, I would say there shouldn’t be any guilt in expressing something, but, to be quite frank, society just doesn’t function on expression.

There are basic necessities needed for survival. There are loved one who need attention. There are bills to be paid. And then there is expression. ( Take the order however you want to take it. )

Because of this, I believe the artist’s guilt comes down to two different categories: (Since I’m a writer, I will be using writers as examples.)

1. The art is conflicting with every day life: it either prohibits life’s needs or life’s needs prohibit the art.

I see this mainly with money. It’s a necessity to life. We buy groceries, see the doctor, and get clothes with money. But it’s hard to make enough money with art, and it’s difficult to pursue art while working a full-time job. Beyond that, we see a time guilt as well. This happen a lot with parents. Mothers and fathers take care of their children first which often takes time away from writing. (This is not to say this is a bad thing, of course.) But I also see it happen with students, who feel guilty about writing instead of studying or studying instead of writing.

2. The art is unsatisfactory to the artist: that can rely on the final piece or how people react to the piece.

I think many artists feel guilty for all of the time they spent on a project if it doesn’t satisfy the viewer or if they failed to meet their own expectations. But my biggest guilt hits me when I realize some of the topics I write about are truly traumatizing to people, and I’m afraid I might offend, hurt, and/or misrepresent those very people. Honestly, I’ve seen reviews of readers saying an author was disrespectful to a topic, and I found myself wondering how a reader could assume the author hadn’t gone through it themselves and that the author was actually being honest rather than disrespectful? It’s hard to say. But I think this guilt–whether it be a reaction from the artist or the viewer–happens a lot.

So what can we do to cope with this artist’s guilt?

A good cuddle session with Bogart also helps with the guilt :]

A good cuddle session with Bogart also helps with the guilt :]

Like everyone else, I have responsibilities: school, work, relationships, etc. But writing is a must for me. My emotional and mental, if not physical, health depends on my ability to express myself. Even if it’s for five minutes, I need it. But that’s not to say I don’t feel guilty when I spend an entire night writing instead of seeing a friend or running errands that I should’ve done last week. I do. And I definitely have anxiety over a reader feeling I’ve misrepresented a group of people. But these two worries are overcome by one fact: Writing brings me happiness. It completes me. No matter how much guilt I feel, I am quickly reminded by how much happiness I feel following my dream, knowing that expressing myself through art will allow me to be the best person that I can be. 

Basically, I think it’s vital for artists to remind themselves why they became artists in the first place and what/why art brings them happiness. We can also remind ourselves that we are definitely not alone in this.

To prove this, you can look at my Facebook Author Page where I asked, “Do you have any guilt associated with being a writer?” And here were two fantastic answers: 

Patrick Dixon: (Insomnia, Nightmares, and General Madness)

“I tend to suffer from an overabundance of guilt in general, but two kinds directly relating to writing are pretty common for me:

First, that I don’t do it enough or well enough, so the concept of even calling myself a “writer” feels like a bad joke. This has been especially common in the last couple of months since personal, financial and health problems have kept me away from the keyboard for far longer than they should have. There isn’t really a cure for this other than just sitting down and writing, but that has a way of making it’s own guilt complex (“What am I ignoring to do this, which is actually just a hobby or a joke or a waste of time, hmmm?”)

Second, similarly to you, that what I write will offend, irritate or otherwise alienate readers, especially those sensitive to the source material. One of my novels deals heavily with a suicidally depressed (and possibly schizophrenic or otherwise delusional) individual and ends… well. Quite poorly for him, we’ll say. I’ve received several angry comments, claiming that I don’t know what it’s like (and, actually, given a background of abuse and mental and physical health issues, that’s kind of where most of it came from…) and some that claim it’s essentially an endorsement for erratic and suicidal behavior (when I was trying to write it out of my system, not “infect” others with it.) Again, there isn’t much you can do except stand by your work; you wrote it, the “truth” as you knew it, and it’s bound to upset somebody… but it’s also likely that there’s just as many somebodies who found something useful in it.”

Josephine Jones Harwood: Romance Writer

“This is an excellent question and topic, Shannon. I just read this post and I hope I’m not too late to make a comment: As a first-time author there has been a transition that has occurred in my life. Writing is no longer a hobby like putting a puzzle together for relaxation. I feel a true passion and need to write and keep on writing…and this is when the guilt settles in like a stone in the pit of my stomach. I am a wife, a mother, and I am also a family caregiver. Writing must take a backseat to obligations and responsibilities. I have no regrets, and I have a very blessed life. I truly appreciate the quiet moments when it is my time to write…but this is always accompanied by guilt…because it is “my” time.”

So do have any guilt associated with being a writer? Or being any kind of artist? 

Comment below and share your story!

~SAT

Writing Tips: Mother’s Day & Childhood Inspiration

12 May

Now, I have to admit that I’m unsure if this qualifies as “writing tips” or not, but I can’t seem to think of another way to explain it other than to explain recent events in my life and how I got to this decision to post about this.

On Friday night, I was driving home when I was hit by a drunk driver. Everyone was physically fine, but these moments often make you take a step back and wonder “what if?” or simply reflect on life. It’s also Mother’s Day, and, as many of you know, my mother passed away in 2003, so there’s been a lot of personal reflection happening for me over the past few days, and I wanted to share my thoughts on how reflecting can help your passionate spark if you feel as if it’s about to die.

Happy Mother's Day. This is Halloween, 1992, with my mother, my brother, and I. I was a ghost :] Probably perfect considering my paleness.

Happy Mother’s Day. This is Halloween, 1992, with my mother, my brother, and I. I was a ghost :] Probably perfect considering my paleness.

But, first, If you want something short and sweet, I posted this on my Twitter, and many followers found it comforting. “Do you sometimes feel like chasing your artistic dream is hard? This will cheer you up: click here.” 

Now–the bigger reflection: I’ve had more experiences in this sort of stuff than I’d like to admit to myself, but they always cause me to look back, and my childhood is often where I end up. I cannot say why this is other than it’s caused by a “flashback” sort of a thing. I begin thinking about what I’m grateful for, who I love, what I love, and everything that moves me from one day to another. But I’m going to concentrate on writing, because I want to stay in the “writing tips” as much as I possibly can.

So what in my childhood moved me forward into writing? (And many of you already know about my mother’s death being the biggest moment when I was pushed forward into taking it seriously, so, again, I’m going to talk about something else, although that is essential.)

Favorite Books:

I think this can be very important to remember, but, even more so, to return to every piece once in a while and read. Include first books, middle school reads, and beyond. On days where you’re feeling down, especially about writing, returning to these texts can spark your passion again, easily and without any strenuous effort. All you have to do is read, and you might be amazed at how quickly you’ll return to your timeless love for language, even if the original texts are simple and/or wouldn’t spark interest today if you hadn’t read it before.

Mine, as an example, includes childhood novels about Nancy Drew and Scooby Doo, young-adult series by Meg Cabot or Lynne Ewing (specifically Daughters of the Moon), and adult novels, generally memoirs like Mop Men, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, or A Long Way Gone. I can even return to literature I loved in school, my favorite being The Stranger.

As a comedic picture: this is me, shocked by novels, at 3 years old, and my great-grandmother quite thrown off by my craziness.

As a comedic picture: this is me, shocked by novels, at 3 years old, and my great-grandmother quite thrown off by my craziness.

Favorite Writing Experiences: 

These moments can bring back the original moments that brought you the utmost happiness before other moments brought you down. You can return yourself, especially to childhood, when you first started writing and you didn’t have the stresses of publication or critiques. These memories, although little, are very powerful.

My personal example? In second grade, my short story about my two dogs, Milo and Max, won the class writing competition, and I got to read it to the class. I still have it, and the drawings and wording often makes me giggle, but it also lightens my writing soul. I go right back to that podium, when I was fearless, and I feel it transition to today’s time.

Others who inspired:

Think beyond the top five people who inspire you today. Try to recall the first few who you may not remember on a regular basis but know that they linger somewhere in your artistic past (meaning they’re also in your artistic self today.) Most of the time, you might remember one, but then you’ll remember more and more, and you’ll soon have a list of small instances that led to your wonderful path you’re on today.

My personal example here is my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Metcalf. She was the first teacher to pull me aside and encourage my writing. When I was first writing back then, I was started my stories off with “Hi. I’m Henry, and this is my story…” and she taught me to start in the middle of action. I wrote her a story for Thanksgiving Break, and it started with a turkey running wild through a grocery store. Looking back on it, it was cheesy and poorly written, but she returned, having read the entire twenty pages, and encouraged me more and more, teaching me what else I could do in order to enhance my words. I was nine at the time, yet her teaching lingers today, and I’m grateful to have had such a wonderful teacher in my life at such a young age.

My hope is that you may take a moment today (or any day) to reflect on the moments that have brought you here today and remember never to give up on your dreams! It may seem cheesy, but it is, ultimately, very true, and I’m sure many of you know this, but many also have fleeting moments of doubt, and we can prevent these by reminding ourselves of what matters: life, love, and passionate dreams.

I always tell myself to write with passion; succeed with self-discipline. 

This is my personal philosophy, but I’d love to hear yours as well. Share below and spread the dream to others who may be struggling at this very moment in time (whether they read this today or two years from now.) Words are timeless. Let’s use that to embrace the love of art.

Have a great and meaningful day 😀

~SAT

P.S. Goodreads Quote of the day:

I leaned against the desk, ran my hand over my father’s paperwork, and picked up a pen. Turning around, I shoved it into my father’s hand.
“What’s this?” he asked, raising a brow.
“You’ll need it to sign my death certificate,” I said, pain vibrating my veins against my muscles and bones. “Are we done now?”

Eric, Minutes Before Sunset

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