Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Poetess and the Zen Artisan

There is a much ridiculed image of the writer which I call The Poetess.

The Poetess scribbles her precious lines as the Muse strikes her, usually in her lovely garden, between tea parties, or if she's a little more lively, on the beach, between cocktail parties.  She plots in the bathtub, and she writes longhand and freely, rather like she writes in her diary or writes letters to friends.

She's a negative stereotype, oversimplified for the sake of ridicule -- a straw woman designed to get a point across. And frankly, I think she gets a bit of a bad rap.

First of all, the point people try to get across by bringing her up varies widely.  Sometimes she's a way to dismiss literary writing.  Sometimes she's a way to dismiss writers of fluff, or even, originally, women writers altogether. 

But mostly she's a warning that you won't be Taken Seriously if you write for the joy of writing, if you treat writing as a hobby.  If it's a part of your natural life, equal with your garden and your dogs and mixing the perfect cocktail.  There's a puritan work ethic element behind this: a warning that you will not prosper if you are too relaxed about what you do.  Also, people will laugh at you and make condescending remarks and pat you on the head and say "it's fine if you just want to be a Poetess, really."

Here's the thing: I have met many Poetesses who are successful.  That is, they are doing exactly what they want, and doing it diligently.  They may be taking the art to a higher level, and often they are even making money.

I think we sometimes get mixed up between diligence at career and business, and diligence at craft.  We think that if you aren't doing the first you couldn't possibly be doing the second.  But that's wrong.

We now live in the age of the Diligent Amateur.  We live in a time when YouTube and blogging and web comics constitute a huge culture -- not just of consumers, but of producers.  People who are diligent at their craft, but in a very different way than "professionals" are.  They are diligent at their craft the way they are diligent at mixing the perfect cocktail.  They do it because it consumes them.

And that, I think, is really what I mean when I talk about "the Artisan writer" too. 

I have nothing against careerism.  But what I want to do right now is explore this amateurism, or as I like to think of it: The Zen Artisan.

It's a more wholistic approach. It doesn't mean writing without thought to business. It means choosing writing not as if it were a career or livelihood, but as a lifestyle.  It means treating everything, even doing taxes, as you would doing anything else in your life... like mixing that perfect cocktail.

Instead of being about more and better and success and achievement, it's about that magical word: Enough.  In Latin the word for enough is satis, as in satisfaction, which means enough of doing.
Being satisfied doesn't mean being rich, or receiving awards, or getting on a best seller list. It means just doing enough.

It's a peasant lifestyle, or a subsistence lifestyle, or a frontier lifestyle.... (Which when I think about it, is the life a lot of my characters life.)

This is partly a movement for me -- an evolution in what I want to do -- but I think that is a part of the direction I want this blog to take.  I want to speak to the diligent amateur. To the story enthusiast - be they readers or writers or watchers. I think it's  a neglected group, and due to the internet and especially self-publishing, it's a group on the rise.

See you in the funny papers.


Sarah McCabe said...

It should be noted that J.R.R. Tolkien was a hobby writer. His career was teaching and linguistics. And yet he took the art of fantasy to a higher level AND made it more popular than it had ever been before simply because he had a burning passion for sub-creation and diligently worked at it his whole life.

I like your thoughts on the Zen Artisan. Writing is not my career, raising a family is my primary vocation, but it is something I have a strong passion for. I'm not doing it for fame or fortune. I am doing it because it's the only way to satisfy that part of myself that needs to create.

Lee McAulay said...

You said:

"I want to speak to the diligent amateur. To the story enthusiast - be they readers or writers or watchers."

We're listening :-)

The Daring Novelist said...

Thanks, Sarah and Lee!