Lessons of Art and Living

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For a long time I wanted to start a blog. For a longer time I have wanted to be a writer, but I was waiting for permission. I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that I wanted to write, I just never got round to doing much writing, and what little I did I rarely let out of journals. I would never have introduced myself as a writer.

It took ages to get this blog up and running. Ruth and I were sat on the idea for at least a year, and I had been ruminating about how to write for a couple of years previously, since I started a travel blog.

I enjoyed writing a travel blog but, it wasn’t true to what I wanted to write, or how I wanted to write it. It was easy. It’s been done before, and I didn’t have such a sense of risk around looking stupid. I was terrified to publish the kind of writing I share now. It was too personal, not in the sense that I was giving away too much about myself, more that it was too true to what I wanted to write that I feared its rejection.

The greatest obstacle to doing what really I wanted was myself. Even though we know what we want we tell ourselves a hundred stories why we can’t or shouldn’t or haven’t and never will do what we want to do. I told myself that other people would think my writing silly or inconsequential or, worst of all, plain.

One of life’s simplest truths is that other people don’t give a shit.

We act as if the best thing is not to care what other people (might) think about us. But the fact is that most of the time, they don’t think about us at all. And if they do, I hardly care enough anymore for that to prevent me from doing what I enjoy.

When people ask me what I do now, I smile and say that I’m a writer, because that’s what I do. I’m not an author or a bestseller or a novelist, but writer isn’t a protected term. To put it in twenty-first century terms, I identify as a writer. I was waiting for approval and acknowledgement, rather than finding it within myself to say “I am a writer.” I don’t need permission.

I’ve come to terms with exactly what a creative life is: a life where I make the time for creating new things. Joshua Fields Milburn, a writer and one half of The Minimalists, often quips on their podcast that when writers say they like writing, what they really mean is they like having written.

This is a thread that I’ve come across as I’ve read more work by others who have chosen creative careers or who devote themselves to some kind of art. The difference between bad artists and good ones is that bad artists want to be seen as artists, where as true artists want to get on and make art. Bad writers want to be writers; true writers want to do writing.

I only take on the title of “writer” because I’ve finally been able to release myself into doing the thing, the writing itself, and not frustrating over how it looks or what people will think. So much dissatisfaction comes from the fact that people don’t view us in a certain way or for certain reasons, and yet this completely detracts from pursuing the very art that we profess to love. We obsess of what people think we’re doing, rather than what we’re actually doing.

Writing a blog and (maybe more importantly) sharing it shamelessly on social media with people who know me personally, has taught me that the value of writing is in the writing itself, and not in what happens to it afterward. Metrics, hits, views, shares: all of this is after the fact. The joy of sharing my work is in the freedom of letting it go, is in the act of declaring: “this is something I’m pleased with, and if anyone else likes it then that’s a bonus.”

The irony is that it’s only really by letting go of what other people think (or giving up the illusion that they think anything at all) that we are able to make something meaningful. Srinivas Rao calls this creating for an audience of one. If others come to see that you have made something worth looking at, then that’s extra. I don’t kid myself. Not everyone will enjoy the way I write, and that’s fine.

I do, however, want to make something that is meaningful to me and hopefully, if I am fortunate and persistent, meaningful to a few other people. If I stress about pleasing the masses, then I’ll likely never please anyone.

To write adds value to my life, adds depth and purpose, and that’s enough. I’ll work on my craft, I’ll practice and fail and improve. If nothing comes of it, if I never make a penny from my words then I still won’t have lost out. I will have spent my life following a passion, making art, and honing my skills.

Perhaps what I do will sink to the bottom. Perhaps it will never matter that much to anyone apart from me. I think I’m finally okay with that.