“I cannot afford to waste my time making money.”–Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz
I’m speaking tomorrow at Marc Allen’s Summer Writing Workshop. To prepare, I re-read my 2017 book, Art & Soul, Reloaded. It was Taz’s favorite of my 20 books and, in fact, I dedicated it to: “Taz, the most creative person I know.”
One of the sections details the many myths about being a writer, the first of which seemed like a fitting excerpt for a rainy Monday morning. Enjoy!
I am forever grateful I never ran across the famous French novel Scènes de la vie de Bohème by Henri Murger.
I’d have probably loved the novel that was wildly popular in the mid-19th century. Revolving around a group of impoverished artists who lived in the bohemian quarter of Paris, this bestseller spawned Giacomo Puccini’s 1895 opera La Bohème and is widely credited as being the catalyst for the now-household term starving artist. Like Rocky and Bullwinkle, pancakes and syrup, the words starving and artist have been joined at the hip ever since. How many posters have you seen for starving artist shows or starving artist sales?
But it’s an exceedingly dangerous belief for any artist to subscribe. And it’s the first of our list to meet the chopping block. Using these words, even as a joke, perpetuates an energy field that does none of us any good. It cements an antiquated belief that (a) you can’t make art without money (so untrue, it’s preposterous), and (b) if you’re an artist, you’ll always be broke.
Luckily for me, I didn’t buy either maxim.
I was naïve enough to believe I could make a living as a writer. Without a trust fund. Without a bunch of savings in the bank. Without really anything but my own fool imagination.
You might have noticed my last name is not Rockefeller. Not only did I grow up with a glaring lack of silver spoons, but my father was a poorly paid Methodist minister in a tiny town in Kansas.
It was very clear to me that if I was going to reach my dream of being an author, of inspiring the masses with my words, I would have to rely on a different kind of capital. I would have to amass creative capital.
This unique retirement plan has been my saving grace, especially since I didn’t fare exceptionally well in the ranks of corporate America. Even after securing a college degree, my one concession to the normal paradigm, I bristled at thoughts of a “real job.” Even a semicorporate job (a theme park that, at the time, was owned by Lamar Hunt, the guy who owned the Kansas City Chiefs) frowned on my choice of footwear and my “let’s throw it out there and see what happens” attitude.
I’ve never felt the need for surveys, market research, and prescribed plans that, sure, might work for someone, but offer no guarantees for me. I prefer traipsing to the well of the unknown, the river of infinite potentiality, the field of the brand-new.
That’s not to say I always believed in myself. That would be like saying van Gogh didn’t suffer mental illness.
But between bouts of lying in bed and staring at my ceiling fan, I found the wherewithal to believe I could create work that someone might enjoy. Between thoughts of unworthiness and self-pity, I believed I could devise creative capital with nothing but a good idea.
I was able to self-publish not one, but two books. I put them out there even though I was a single mom with a three-year-old (for the first one) and a seven-year-old (during the production of the second one).
It’s one thing to call myself a freelance writer when it was just me, sharing homes with friends, trotting around the globe. But when I became a parent, it was expected I would settle down, be realistic, get a real job.
I am very grateful I didn’t listen to the conventional paradigm.
Because here’s the thing. You don’t need money to be an artist. You need but one thing. Persistence to keep getting up off the floor where you sometimes lie (or at least I did) with your face pressed against the cold concrete, moaning, “What was I thinking?” You just keep getting up and taking the next step.
When you have no budget, you’re forced to get creative. You have to find new and interesting ways to get things done. Like collaborating with others, like trading services.
Money offers a leg up, but it’s far from imperative. #222 Forever
Pam Grout is the author of 20 books including E-Squared, E-Cubed, Thank & Grow Rich and her latest book, The Course in Miracles Experiment: A Starter Kit for Rewiring Your Mind (And Therefore Your World).