This is a message for artists and storytellers of all kinds who want to get a big project done in 2014, who aren’t lucky enough yet to earn a living from their art or stories, which probably includes most artists and storytellers on this planet.
New Year’s day, 2014. Here’s what I did this morning:
I got up.
It was a little later than I would have liked, but I’ll give myself a break since last night was New Year’s Eve. I think that if I can keep getting to bed early, I’ll eventually be able to be up and chipper by 4:30. No one stops me from writing between 4:30 and 7. (As a side note, when I made my first feature film, I frequently worked through the night. This is much harder to do with writing for some reason and I’ve come to believe that it is not as healthy (which my wife tried to tell me but I ignored for far too long).)
I checked on my kids.
They toss their blankets all over the place. And if they’re cozy, they’ll sleep longer.
I worked out.
It was a pretty pathetic 15 minutes of mostly stretching and jiggling fat. I added a few nose-touches to get both sides of my brain working. The theory is, if my body’s functioning optimally, my brain will too and my word count will be higher with less trips to the thesaurus.
I can’t change the world unless I tune in some cosmic powers, align some priorities, and show a little gratitude for the non-frozen state of my kitchen pipes.
I did NOT check email, facebook, or the news. I sat down and finished the scene with the dragon.
I’ve been working very hard for weeks to get this routine worked into my DNA. I’m baking a cake, you see, and this may be the recipe.
Every holiday I watch one of my favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life. Besides being a cinematically superb film on pretty much every level (I know of few movies with so many memorable scenes, other than maybe Groundhog Day), it is powerfully apt for any struggling artist or storyteller.
If you haven’t seen the movie, go watch it, and then come back an finish reading.
I cringe and laugh and cry during the scene where George Bailey, who’s about to lose his mind because his career dreams keep getting thrown to the backburner, is trying to avoid one last distraction—letting himself fall in love. He grabs his future wife and tells her: “I want to do what I want to do!” Here’s the clip:
Well, I do too. I want to do what I want to do.
Ogion (A Wizard of Earthsea, LeGuin, emphasis added) said:
“You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. And the truth is that as a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do…”
I musn’t get fired from the job that pays the bills, and I musn’t let my kids get the impression that my “projects” are more important than they are.
But… but… I want my cake! And I want to eat it!
Hence, the above recipe.
I am not a wise archmage. I do not have a heart as big as George Bailey’s (though when I look at my kids I do really feel like the “richest man in town”). Cheesy, you say? Sappy? Rolling your eyes are you? But you too have had these same struggles, and have raged in frustration.
We don’t have time. We don’t have money. But there’s a work of art inside of us that wants to come out. We’re as talented as the next guy/gal, and we’re not even after fame and fortune! (Well, a little fortune wouldn’t hurt.) We can’t we make a living off our art? The system is stacked against us!
All true. And we musn’t give up what makes life wonderful. But there are only 24 hours in a day!!! And here, my comrades in commiseration, is the ray of light…
There are 24 glorious hours in a day.
Instead of thinking that it’s too little, think for one moment that it is a banquet. What fatty foods can you cut out? There must be SOMETHING that can go.
For me, it was television and books. (Books! Books you say?? Read on, but first, television.)
I have not had cable or satellite for over fifteen years. (A blessing from poverty.) I have Netflix, but even there you can cut out everything but Foyle’s War and Star Trek and you’ll be fine. Most movies I watch are bonding time with my wife or my kids, or to study my craft.
I rarely read books anymore. I listen to books in the car. Audible is great but expensive, but you can get free audiobooks through your library, either on tape/CD (yeah, those still work) or downloadable.
Again, I am not a mage or a saint and am not pretending to be so. I’m just a wandering padowan who wrote a really great scene this morning… Nothing smells so good as fresh oven-baked cake– er, bread.
In the meantime, may I recommend (in addition to watching or re-watching It’s a Wonderful Life, reading or re-reading A Wizard of Earthsea (which is followed by one of the best novels I have ever read, The Tombs of Atuan)) the following tools which may aid you in your storytelling quest:
An old, used laptop with free writing software (like OpenOffice) installed. No need to wait to start your book until you have a cool Macbook pro. No need to pirate a copy of Microsoft Word. Mine laptop actually a hand-me-down gift from my niece. I kept the pink shell in case my kids got rough. But it is my pen. My quill. My parchment! And it was free.
A sleeved Star Trek blanket. (The hair is a different story.) It’s cold downstairs in the morning! And it’s surprisingly cumbersome to wrap a blanket around your shoulders and have it not mess with your keyboard while you’re writing. These handy blankets go on top of you but let you stick your hands through them! It probably wouldn’t be good for an illustrator, but a handy dandy sweater might work for you. This site seems to have some similar things.
Anyway, good luck in 2014 with your creations. May they be wonderful.