The Myth of the Starving Artist

I am a believer that living a life doing something you love for work every day does not mean a life living on tins of baked beans in a cold and dark bedsit (unless that’s what you want). But I never used to be this way. I spent four years stuck in an accountancy job I hated, because I was afraid that if I did what I really wanted to do – in my case, writing for a living – I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills and end up starving on the street. I have been writing for a living for just over three years now, and have definitely been able to pay the bills – not to mention occasionally satisfy my love of fine dining, foreign travel, and even start investing (yeah, I’m a bit of a nerd – blame the Maths degree).

IMG_3091 (I also like to take many gratuitous pictures of food. You’ll have to humour me.)

It turns out I wasn’t alone: many people are afraid to leave a job they hate for work they love, because they are afraid they won’t be able to support themselves or their loved ones – particularly if the ‘work they love’ involves a creative or artistic career. There is this belief in our culture of the ‘starving artist’: the idea that if you want to make a living from your own creative endeavours, you won’t ever earn enough to pay the bills.

I want to tell you that it’s not true. There are many others making a living from their own creative endeavours – some are making a very good living as well – who will also tell you that it’s not true. I’m not even talking about wildly successful people like, say, Harry Potter author J K Rowling, photographer Mario Testino, or artist Damien Hirst; ordinary men and women like you and me are making a living from their own creativity. So why does our culture continue to perpetuate the ‘starving artist’ stereotype?

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Why ‘read a lot’ is bad advice if you want to write

Books

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King

One thing I didn’t explore in my previous post is probably the most common piece of advice given to aspiring writers: ‘If you want to write, you must read lots.’ I actually don’t think this is very helpful advice in its current form. Read what? Read lots of books? Read lots of plays and poems? Read lots of magazines and newspapers? Read lots of tinned food labels? Read the IKEA catalogue? And what do you do after you’ve ‘read lots’?

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‘I want to be a writer, but I can’t write – what can I do?’

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image27473596

I met a friend of mine for coffee (well, tea actually) yesterday. My friend told me about a friend of hers that has decided to quit their job to become a writer, and my friend was very concerned. Not because this person had quit their job to write, and not because of the oft-repeated maxim that ‘there’s no money to be made in writing’ – but because this person, to put it bluntly, was… crap.

However my friend, being the nice girl that she is, didn’t want to hurt her friend’s feelings by telling them this. She was also worried that, not being a writer herself, she might have misjudged her friend’s ‘talent’. So she showed me two lengthy blog posts her friend had drafted to see what I thought, along with the corrections she’d helpfully put through when her friend had asked for feedback.

‘I’m not wrong about this, am I?’ my friend asked me. ‘My friend can’t write. I think they should stick to something they’re good at. I love my friend, but I don’t think they have any talent and I think they’re wasting their time. You write for a living – what do you think?’

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What is this blog going to be about?

Before we go any further, it’s a good time (while only a few people are reading this – a big THANK YOU to everybody who has visited and shared so far!) to explore what this blog is about – it’s still January 2013 and while most people have already broken their New Year’s Resolutions, I’d initially thought it would be a perfect time to come up with my own. (Hey, who said I had to decide by January 1st?)

I have been toying with a few ideas on what the direction or the purpose of this blog should be. At first, the theme of this blog *was* going to be ‘living and thinking differently’: I started with a post about a different way of thinking about work and jobs, using the context of my own experience; illustrating that ‘real work’ can, and SHOULD, include work you love – and not just what everyone else tells you ‘real work’ is.

This theme of ‘living and thinking differently’ was going to encompass anything I can write on that I can challenge or bring a different perspective to, rather than the perspective(s) or ‘wisdom’ that is generally accepted out there. Looking at my hastily scribbled notes, the topic ideas I thought I’d cover included: thoughts on writing/art and the creative life, travel, the relationship between art and business, and empathy (that is, seeing and thinking the perspective of a different person).

Now, some of you may be surprised: these are very different subjects than the ones I’ve written about as a freelance journalist. I make no apologies for wanting to write about something completely different, or unexpected.

However, I know that the focus or purpose of a blog can change; and it is often the case that the blog you start – as with the business you start – is often not the blog (or business) you end up with. For now, perhaps it would be better for me to keep an open mind and stay flexible: to simply write what *I* want to write about, and see where it goes from there.

On doing work you love (or: how I quit my City job to become a full time writer and work by the beach while soaking up the sun)

We all know the script. Go to school, work hard, get good grades, get a job, work hard at the office Monday to Friday for several decades… and then you can retire and relax and do what you want. It’s so deeply ingrained in our culture and our minds that anyone who dares to make a living any other way faces a barrage of questions implying that somehow, their work is not ‘real work’ – their job is not a ‘real job’.

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The above photo is of my job – taken last summer as I was working on my laptop on a hotel terrace overlooking St Ives beach in Cornwall, UK. I work as a freelance writer, and as long as I have my laptop (well, MacBook), a good internet or Wi-Fi connection and my smartphone, then I can do my work. Even if I’m outdoors overlooking the beach and enjoying the sunshine. Does that mean my work is not ‘real work’?

The following are the things I’ve heard said to me about my work:  Continue reading

Coming soon…

The first blog post for this site is currently under construction, and will be posted up within the next day or two. That’s a promise!

In the meantime, please do take a look at the About page for an idea of who I am and what I do, and the Journalism page for examples of articles I have written for the press.

Thanks for your patience! x