Updated: Jun 28
Writing is like a cat.
Okay, that gave off strong crazy cat lady vibes, but it's true. Go chasing it, and it runs away. Wait nonchalantly, pretending you have a million other things you can do to occupy your time? It'll come slinking up and head-butt you before you know it.
The thing is, a lot of artists put a LOT of pressure on their art. They go running after their muse while making loud kissy noises and shouting about topping bestseller lists or having their own gallery show by age 24. Unsurprisingly, their muse thinks they're really f***ing weird and starts walking away very quickly. When you act like the aforementioned artist, you pretty much look like that weird guy who tries to sit next to you on the metro and talk about how the Illuminati are teaming up with CNN to take over the airwaves and convert us into sheeple. I've met that guy. He made me want to run away, too.
I've also been that guy - and my muse could hear me coming from miles away. She started to wear increasingly elaborate disguises when I came around and had a lot of excuses for why we couldn't hang out. "Sorry, I've got to, um, go drown at the bottom of the ocean? So we can't hang out. Sorry, this is just really important to me."
Art, especially writing, can sense desperation. If you pile all of your needs on top of it - the need for wealth, recognition, fame, the ideal life - you start to suffocate it. And I'm not saying it's impossible for your work to bring all of those things into existence. Far from it! It's just that, for art to exist and thrive, it needs you to live a life that can fuel it. Not the other way around.
Think about it. If you go on a date with someone and all they talk about is how you've got to be "the one" and they can't wait to get married and have babies and stay at home while you go make all the money to support them, are you going to go on date number two? Hell no! You're going to give them a strained smile, make an excuse to leave, and then block that crazy mofo on everything. When you try to get your art to live your life for you, it quickly begins to wither.
Now, what if you go on a date with someone else, someone who is fantastically interesting and has tons of amazing experiences to tell you about? Or even someone who lives a simple life, but who has such a passion for it that everything they tell you about their day-to-day becomes fascinating? They're an award-winning sunflower enthusiast who raises kittens and travels the country to see folk bands every weekend. They're well-read on everything from philosophy to environmentally sustainable baking, and they're also confident and genuinely happy with themselves. You're going to want to see them again as soon as possible!
For a while, all I could think about when I was writing was the end product. I had visions of marketing campaigns and promotions in my head when I was supposed to be honing in on dialogue or an important character description, and it was all about what the story could do, rather than what it was. Unsurprisingly, I began to write less and less. This gave me anxiety, which made me feel uninspired, which frustrated me... I became trapped in a cycle that absolutely killed the pleasure and inherent joy my craft had once brought me. One of my friends pointed out that I was asking a whole lot of something that I claimed to love unconditionally - she gently roasted me over tea and scones, and I was shook. I was staring at her with a surprised Pikachu face, because she was absolutely right. I was loving the idea of the life my writing could make for me, not the fun and sense of accomplishment I felt from telling stories. I was, in short, being very selfish.
At the same time, I wasn't treating myself with enough respect. I wasn't going out and seeking experiences or new perspectives, I was just sitting around blaming my story for not writing itself through me. Pretty crappy, right?
Cue a montage of me getting my ass in gear and diving back into everything else I enjoy outside of writing. I gave my hobbies the attention they deserved, whether it was baking or dancing or going on nature walks. I read books just for pleasure (and not to "improve my craft" or "understand the market for my genre"). Essentially, I lived my life. And I did it with zest, because I am, in fact, an inherently zesty person. And would you look at that, my muse came back, sheepishly asking for a fresh start. "Oh, sure," I said casually, "I guess we could write a novel, if you think that'd be fun." Well, I wrote three, actually.
Can art be a career? Absolutely. Should it be the only focus in your life? Absolutely not. All of the great artists we learn about had hobbies outside of their work. Some of them were bougie victorian people who liked to go on racist safaris or gossip in parlors to get their kicks. Some were raging alcoholics who visited wild west mining towns while wearing outrageously posh suits, just to get a rise out of the homophobic cowboys while they threw back an absolutely ungodly amount of whisky (Oscar Wilde). Iconic. Some of them were birdwatchers, or wandering conservationists, or bohemian partygoers... They all had vibrant, passionate lives outside of their art. And that is precisely why their art was so gripping! It glitters with life and personality and beauty, because the people who created it had respect for all of the experiences that fuel the best work.
If your life seems outwardly boring, look again. Find the beauty in the mundane and embrace it. Or, go out there and make yourself interesting - try something new, even if it's within the confines of your home. Consume media for fun, especially media you normally wouldn't try. Learn about other people's lives, have good conversations, challenge yourself. Your inspiration will be positively purring in no time at all.
Life fuels art. Art is a living thing. So, give it some breathing room, and don't smother it - that's when the good stuff really happens.