Out of the blue this morning I received the following text message from a friend of mine:
It’s tough when you’re a writer and you write but no one (really) reads what you write. It’s depressing.
I was a little taken aback, since this was not the continuation of some conversation we had been having (at least not recently, anyway). So I figured either the text was meant for someone else and mistakenly sent to me, or some event had happened that had precipitated this gloomy thought. I asked my friend exactly that, and he replied:
I have ideas all the time for stories and essays but I don’t write them because no one will read them.
And I thought to myself: Oh, Mary. Give me a break. What a total cop out. I don’t write for the fawning accolades of critics or the adulation of fans. Those things are completely separate from the process of writing. I write to explore ideas of all types, be they epic, philosophical, political, culinary, global, funny, dreamy, and yes sometimes boring, mundane and trivial. I write because I want to write. And I don’t write when I don’t want to write. It is not my job, it is my art. It is beyond the reach of commerce, and in that sense all the more pure for it. While I love readership and feedback, especially if there is a back and forth about ideas and opinions, they are not the primary reason I write. And I think the same must be true for any creative endeavor we engage in. We have to do it because we are compelled in some way to do it. It is the creative activity itself that is worthwhile. It is the doing, not the response to the doing. That is a separate thing entirely, and although it can be gratifying or frustrating it should never be the motivating force.
I kind of feel like my friend (and many others I have heard similar sentiments from) are experiencing a tension between what they feel they SHOULD want, and what they actually want. And then the excuse for not engaging in some activity (such as writing) becomes about the fear of “failure” (whatever that means) or the lack of response. I want to say “Hey, it is ok not to write, or paint, or whatever.” Just as it is ok to do those things if you feel compelled to. The subjectivity and capriciousness of what achieves mass appeal is beyond art and only feeds the ego. People who are only trying to figure out what this mass appeal is and cater to it are making a specific product for a specific need, not making art. Some people are lucky enough I suppose to have their aesthetic interests and sensibility line up with the masses, resulting in the win-win for them of doing creative work that happens to be popular. But so what? Art and taste are subjective. If you need to create, create. What comes of it is irrelevant to that endeavor. The creative act is truly its own reward.