One of the most common excuses I hear from people - especially those with creative inklings - is that they just don’t have the time to do that sort of ‘stuff’ . . . I mean, they’ve got a day job after all . . . who has the time?
While I’m the first one to acknowledge that being saddled with any kind of regular 9 to 5 gig can be physically, emotionally, and psychologically draining, certain artistically driven types among us have - despite their job-related responsibilities - still found the time to tackle their creative work . . . and if any of them can do it, then we can too . . .
- William Carlos Williams - There are plenty of careers out there that take a serious toll on our time. Teachers, lawyers, and doctors spring immediately to mind. Somehow or another - perhaps by sheer force of will power - William Carlos Williams managed to be a pediatrician and a writer, excelling in both areas. Poetry, short stories, plays, novels, essays, and translations, Williams did it all - by night of course, because during the day he saw patients. Still, despite his daytime gig, he managed to scribble poems on the backs of prescription pads.
- Henry Darger - Now one of the world’s most celebrated Outsider Artist’s, Chicago-born Henry Darger spent 43 years of his Life dividing his time between two primary commitments: a night job as a custodian, and an unflinching passion for making art. His massive tome, a 15,000 page single-spaced fantasy manuscript called In The Realms Of The Unreal wasn’t discovered until after his death in 1973. Filled with hundreds of accompanying watercolors, drawings, and collages, the epic tale took over six decades to complete . . . an immense project that the solitary Darger slowly chipped away at during his ‘off’ time. To call him ‘determined’ merely scratches the surface.
- Toni Morrison - For much of her writing career, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison not only toiled away in an office - as an editor at Random House - but taught university courses in literature . . . and raised her two sons as a single parent. How could anyone possibly juggle such a hectic schedule and still manage to crank out novels on a consistent basis? According to Morrison, “I avoid the social life normally associated with publishing. I don’t go to the cocktail parties, I don’t give or go to dinner parties. I need that time in the evening because I can do a tremendous amount of work. I can concentrate.” That’s what’s called dedication; an essential ingredient for those of us looking to actually produce work . . . instead of just talking about it.
- Ted Kooser - Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Ted Kooser spent several decades selling Life insurance in Nebraska until retiring in 1999 at the age of 60. The author of nearly 20 books, Kooser developed a strict regime early in his career of working on poems in the wee hours of the morning before heading off to his day job downtown. Progress was slow, but for Kooser, writing poetry’s always been about quality over quantity. "I feel that I'm really fortunate if at the end of a year, after writing every day, I have a dozen poems I care about," he once told NPR. "That's plenty. I don't have great expectations for what happens in those morning sessions. But, you know, if you're not there writing, it's never going to happen." Amen brother.
It Can Be Done
Franz Kafka worked in an insurance office all day . . . and hammered away at his stories by night, usually after 10:30. William Faulkner worked on As I Lay Dying in the afternoons, before beginning his night shift at a power plant. Joseph Heller held a position in magazine advertising by day, and wrote Catch-22 - over the next 8 years - in the evening hours while hunched over his kitchen table.
Some may say that it’s a bit easier for writers to juggle both job and art as they can work for as little as an hour a day and still make a significant amount of steady progress, but what about filmmaker David Lynch and the making of his 1977 cult-classic Eraserhead?
Most full length feature films take about six weeks to shoot; Eraserhead took six years. Between 1971 and 1977, Lynch held all sorts of odd jobs, all the while squirreling away his pennies so he could complete the project. Sets were built, then torn down, only to be built again when a tad more money trickled in. Lynch begged, borrowed, and maybe even stole, without ever tossing in the towel . . . or leaning on some lame excuse as to why it couldn’t be done.
If you’re serious about doing your work - I’m talking ‘dead-set-no-matter-what-comes along-serious’ - then you’ll find a way . . . somehow. All the energy we need is just waiting to be tapped into, and there’s not a job on this Earth that’ll keep the truly serious among us from living the creative Life.
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