The Struggles of a Starving Writer

The “starving artist” is a condition that everyone who follows their creative talents will fall into at some point of their life. I am not referring to an artist who is literally hungry for food, but one who is hungry for success in their creative field. For these people, like myself, it is overwhelming to try to contemplate how one can possibly make it big in a career that is overridden by people with the same artistic drive. As a writing, literature and publishing major at Emerson, I would love to be a famous novelist in the future, who has people begging her for an autograph at every street corner. Realistically, I see publishers denying my best work that I have put years of love and dedication into. For this reason, I will be starving for affirmation that my passion has been worth working so hard for. Under all of the negativity, finding the drive to continue writing is difficult.

Charles Bukowski puts this struggle beautifully in his poem, “Murder” from his collection of poetry titled, You Get so Alone at times That It Just Makes Sense. He describes the writing process as “competition, greed, desire for fame.” He goes on to explain:

the writing becomes a useless
a jerk-off of a once
mighty gift.
it happens and happens and
continues to:
the mutilation of talent
the gods seldom
but so quickly
take. (Bukowski, 1986, p. 299-300)

His portrait of writing is genuine and the cause for much of the self-deprecation in his work, as he sees himself as an aimless writer who is lost amongst others like him. However, he built his success from his struggles, as many writers do. He became a famous poet and prose writer from writing everyday after he returned home from work during his 15-year profession in the postal service. His dedication is what ultimately fulfilled his “desire for fame.”

Walter Mosley found his success with the same strategy as Bukowski, by writing every day. He is an author known for his crime novels, most notably, his first book, Devil in a Blue Dress. Now with over 40 books under his belt, Mosley publishes as many as two a year. As a half-Jewish and half-African-American man, Mosley started his writing career late, at the age of 34. He had many set backs early on, especially when he made the protagonist of his first novel an African-American.

Earlier in the summer, I saw him speak during a writing conference, at which he told the audience that his first publisher asked him why the detective in Devil in a Blue Dress was a black man. Mosley said that there were plenty of white detectives in novels, so why couldn’t his detective be black? Having overcome the first obstacle of publication, Mosley continued to write routinely, and proudly told of how he writes at least a few hours everyday. When asked how he finds the time, he explained that he just makes it work. How does he find the time for sleep? Because he has to. He takes the same viewpoint on writing. He encouraged the audience to write everyday for a hundred days and they will undoubtedly notice an improvement in their writing over time.

The hurdle for the audience, and many other writers, is finding the motivation. With my desired career in the writing industry, I face the same problem. Taking writing classes at Emerson has given me a reason to work on my fiction writing, but I won’t have the luxury of forced motivation when I graduate college. So how does one write, and become able to profess himself as a writer?

The most detrimental distraction from writing is television and the internet. Since writing is most commonly done during someone’s free time, it is difficult to get into the creative mindset when it would be so much easier to just sit back with some Netflix. What I do to fight this urge is to start reading. When I read a book that I find engaging, it serves the same entertainment purpose as a TV show, but it also creates a sense of motivation. For me, reading encourages me to write in order to be read. If there is something I am reading that is captivating, I feel an urge to create the same experience for someone who is reading something that I have written. If picking up a book is too difficult with my television or computer in front of me, I tend to head to a coffee shop, or a park, or a beach during the summer. The white noise of people talking around me seems to put me at ease when digesting a good book.

Once the motivation has set in, the next hardest step is thinking of what to write. Though I can write about anything at all under the fiction genre, there seems to be too many options and none of them are compelling enough. I get my best ideas in my bed, when I am trying to go to sleep. Granted, this is not going to make me fall to sleep any faster, but it is a time when the silence takes over and I can just think about my passion. Sometimes when I wake up and remember the brilliant idea that I was so excited about right before I fell asleep, I will realize that it is completely absurd, but at least I got to thinking about ideas and maybe even gave myself something to work with later on.

Once I have even a sliver of an idea of what to write about, I like to make an outline. I think of everything and anything that could build off of this idea and write them all down. When starting to write the story, I can look back on my outline for guidance, because sometimes the point of my story will get lost. That being said, sometimes my outline becomes obsolete because I have come up with the best idea while I was writing that has nothing to do with my original plan. That’s great, but not always the case. The outline works so that when I have an idea and it doesn’t go anywhere, I can have some sort of path paved out in advance to guide my story along.

With proper motivation, a compelling story idea, and a constructed plan, writing feels less aimless and becomes an enjoyable and productive activity. Ultimately, not every writer will find fame, and not every writer is looking for fame. Having a passion for writing is the most beneficial part of the creative process. To neglect that passion with laziness and self-doubt is the most detrimental thing that a starving writer can do.

Bukowski, Charles. (1986). You Get so Alone at times That It Just Makes Sense. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow.

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