My Meandering History as a Starving Artist

I don’t actually starve. But the word “starving” is a whole other blog topic dedicated to the slang usages and relative versus absolute poverty. That said…

When I was a little kid, I was often praised for my artistic abilities. They even stuck me in a special school for it, encouraged it. My parents drove me to art lessons and band practices and my aunt hand-made books with my stories and illustrations inside. They gave me a lead role, an award, another award, and kept saying, “That’s some talent you got there, kid.” And even things like, “You’ll make quite the writer,” or “quite the painter.” (No one ever thought I was going to become a world-famous singer.)

I feel cheated. All those rosy sentiments and here I am 20 years later, nursing my wounded pride and scraping together a living.

(Don’t be misled. I don’t actually make any real money. My husband does that, to the best of his ability, and if I bring in a couple hundred bucks a month, we count ourselves lucky. So maybe, erase him from the equation, and I would actually starve. But I said we wouldn’t go there.)

I was so convinced of my own talents and future that I went to a wonderful, expensive college and got a degree in philosophy! I thought it–and my English Lit minor and obsessive involvement in student publications–would give me the experience I needed to become a WRITER (if I could draw hearts around it, I would). I interned with a publishing company and took a job there until I moved a year later and continued to freelance for research materials. And I submitted. And I studied. I read years’ worth of Writers’ Digest, Poets & Writers, Writer’s Market, and book after book after blessed book about the writing life, craft, and publication. And I submitted more. And I wrote and then I wrote more. I got better at writing, I believe. So then I tried for a grant, I applied for alternative funding, I even made a bid on Kickstarter. So far, the only ones falling for it are Medicaid and Food Stamps.

Meanwhile (five years ago), my husband lost his job at the beginning of the economy tank, and also got very sick. Between his medical bills and lack of job we faced bankruptcy, etc. I had a newborn and a 3-year-old, an old house, some old cars. A nail-full of agent rejections, and no bites. So I decided to branch out, using some of those other creative talents to cobble together a home business and make arts and crafts. I had a few cafe shows; someone even made a YouTube video about me. I started an Etsy page and stocked it with homemade cards and upcycled tee shirts. I reached out to local stores with my jean purses. No one was buying. (Except you, Mom, and you, Aunt Shelly.)

I know that I have never–since I started staying home with kids–been a full-time writer. Someday soon I will be. But it’s not like I haven’t tried. And it’s not like I don’t have talent. And I’m fairly organized and pretty energetic and very motivated. I’m even generally likable and relatively cool.

So where’s my piece of the pie?

I’ve dropped the arts and crafts. I haven’t painted in months (which is a pity, because it makes me really happy). My son, Eamon, spends days at a time knocking around the house with me while I stare at the computer. And I am focused. I am going to do this myself or die trying. It has taken a lot of waring on my stubbornness, but I have finally accepted that indy-publishing just may be a great idea; the next step forward on my newly focused path. And with Self-Printed in hand I march forward. Still unconvinced that just anybody can “make it” in the writing world, but fully convinced that if I can just gather a big enough readership to me I will be able to make a decent living from what I love. I am following advice on how to go about it, just like I followed advice on most other of my work-at-home endeavors.

In conclusion, is the starving artist a myth in this house? Not yet.


One thought on “My Meandering History as a Starving Artist

  1. Starving isn’t just about food, income, things. It’s also about a lack of beauty, or the ability to see and hear beauty, a poverty of ideas, a lack of enriching experiences. Those also cause an artist to starve. I don’t regret being injudicious in my praise of your talents. You have them in abundance. And some amount of success, or some people’s success isn’t due to talent, but opportunity. So you’re making the opportunity now. And let’s say you never become famous. You still will have lived a good life honoring your talents, setting an example of someone with the courage to put yourself out there, and leaving a great legacy for your kids. And that is more awesome than you realize. Darn it!

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