Like many writers, I go to great lengths to create time to write, and when I get that time, I am crippled with doubt and escape into a book. One such book was Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, which charts in mini-essays the routines of writers and artists throughout the ages. One of my favorite vignettes in the book is about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who apparently struggled to carve out his own time to write. As Currey tells it, Mozart gave piano lessons and hobnobbed with the social elite so that he might find himself a patron. If that weren't enough to cut into his composing hours, he also spent much of his time courting the approval of a woman whose daughter he wanted to marry. I could hardly believe what I was reading. Mozart had to give lessons to stay afloat? Mozart had a troubled personal life that infringed on his creative space? I was as shocked to learn this as I was when my dentist once told me that he had just cleaned Toni Morrison's teeth.
There you have it, writer friends. Mozart had a mother-in-law, and Toni Morrison has to get her teeth cleaned. We really have no excuses. But, of course, it's not the excuses we have to worry about. It's the responsibilities we bear, the economy we live in, the society that increasingly devalues art and pushes writers beyond its fringes. These very real concerns take up hours in our days and real estate in our psyches. And to dismiss the challenges we face would be to cut ourselves off from each other and from the generations of struggling artists who precede us and will follow us.
I am someone who in her writing life so far has faced the extremes. I've been gorgeously funded, and I've lived in a two-room windowless apartment above an electrical shop. In each situation, I've found it difficult to do the work. Distractions and worries abound. Sometimes I'm plagued by the irrational thought that by writing that first shitty sentence, I'll be degrading the book I'm currently reading. I only wish that I had something—anything—to revise. But even as I do these mental acrobatics, I know deep down that before the question of craft lies the question of commitment. What inspires me in these moments is knowing that I am part of a fellowship of admirable, stubborn people who face the same challenges I do. Oftentimes, this is fuel enough for me to invest the time and care it takes to write a paragraph or two that might grow into a meaningful story.
So, to any writer out there who struggles to face the blank page—anyone with stacks of papers to grade, or a graveyard shift at a diner, or a carful of kids with divergent needs, anyone who's received a slew of Monday morning rejections from literary journals/agents/publishers, anyone with a broken heart, with crippling debt, with nary a helping hand, anyone who faces a crisis of health or a crisis of confidence and all the other slings and arrows—let's make a commitment to the fellowship that we will regularly, routinely do the work. Maybe every day, maybe even just for half an hour a day. And if you can't do it for yourself, do it for me. Because one day I might find myself in the dark and unable to even find the blank page. Then I'll need you there so that I can light my candle off of your burning wick.