My sister wrote and published a memoir about our childhood. It’s a good book, and I’m proud of her. It has won awards, and put her in demand on a national speaking circuit. Am I jealous of my little sister? Yep. She’s an engineer by training; I was the artist in the family. By rights, I should be the “successful” writer.
And it doesn’t stop there: I have at least one classmate from acting school who is sort of a movie star today, gosh darn it. And others with cushy university teaching posts. One guy I see around town has won a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. I had a professor who eventually got to be the Poet Laureate of the United States, and I can tell you he seemed perfectly normal (well, sort of) back in the day. Hell, Isaac Fitzgerald gets to be the Books Editor at BuzzFeed, and don’t get me started on Stephen. (Hi, guys!) Some of my friends and colleagues are dead already, for Pete’s sake.
It’s enough to make you give it up. Folks, the longer you live, regardless of how hard you work, the more you’ll see contemporaries (or, worse, young whippersnappers) pass you by. It comes with the artistic territory. So how do you keep going? Tell me, O Muse!
Here’s the thing: If you’re not writing, acting, singing, dancing, whatever, for the sheer joy of it, as naturally as breathing, or eating a good meal, or swimming in the ocean, then you’re going to be disappointed. Do it because it feels good. Do it because it’s human. Do it to get better at it, and find joy in those little improvements. Or resign yourself to bitterness.
Honesty helps. Maybe, like me, you’re not really a very good poet when it comes down to it. And your essays (so far) aren’t being published in the New York Times, or the New Yorker, or the New Flavor of the Week. But is that what we’re writing for?
This is an amazing, miraculous time for writers. We all have an audience. Write for them. Not for the money, not for a living, not for admiration, not for anything at all. Write for your audience the way you wriggle your fingers when you meet a baby, or talk silly to a dog, or pet a cat. That’s it. There’s the whole shebang: Kootchie, kootchie, koo.
Here’s the skinny, muse punkers: Find (or imagine) an audience and fall in love with ‘em. Seriously, if you aren’t in love with your audience, you’re dead in the water. Then, show your love. How? Love finds a way. Make your writing a striptease, massage their figurative tushies, suck on their metaphorical toes, blow their minds, and wriggle your tongue around the porches of their ears. Find your best moves, and don’t be afraid to repeat them. Do whatever works—love is a mystery, and isn’t there always something silly about sex? (Yes, my dears, this is sex, more or less.)
So go ahead: be jealous. But be jealous for the love of your readers, not for the dross of awards or some ego-boosting advance.
Gaze on your audience with the eyes of love, be grateful they are there, and you’ll find—really, you will—that this can be enough. You know the drill: Better to have loved and lost…
And maybe, if you love enough, you’ll hit the jackpot.
Rumpus original logo and artwork by James Lorenzato, aka Argyle C. Klopnick (ACK!).
“The Storming Bohemian Punks The Muse” was originally developed as a column under the editorship of Evan Karp at Litseen. An earlier incarnation of this work can be found there, along with many other interesting things.