Let's talk about writers and their safety nets.
So there was this dude over on Twitter who told a woman who was struggling with writing and life that she would be even less of a writer if she had more of a safety net. It was a fucking stupid statement, made even stupider when he expanded on it with the some bullshit about suffering and desperation leading to great art and how things like medication and food are, you know, crutches for the weak that you can choose to forgo or something blah blah blah.…
He's since deleted it in a huff, leaving in its place only an epic thread of self-pity about the meanies in outrage culture, but that doesn't really matter, because he wasn't saying anything people haven't said before. There is a lot of romanticizing of struggle, pain, poverty, and depression when people talk about writers and artists. You have to suffer to create! they say, without ever stopping to think about why they are so eager to prescribe suffering to others.
So let's talk about safety nets. I often joke, when people ask me how I motivate myself to keep writing amidst all the world's horrors and distractions, that having to pay rent and needing to buy cat food are pretty good motivators. And this is true! Being a full-time writer means that I have to keep writing to pay my bills.
But. Look. That is true of every fucking job in this capitalistic hellhole of our modern existence.
My writing job is not special or unique in that regard. Everybody who works for a living has to do the work their job requires. My job is writing, so I do my job. It's a cool job that I love, and I did take a big risk when I decided to do it, but it is still a job. If you think that writing as a job takes something away from the magical romantic artistry of it, well, that's fine for you, I guess, but I don't care. I fucking love my job. I love getting paid to make shit up.
And here's the other thing, the biggest thing, the thing that Mr. Having A Safety Net Makes You A Lesser Writer completely fails to consider: the fact that I have to keep writing to keep paying rent and buy cat food doesn't mean I have no safety net.
No, I don't have another job. I don't have an inheritance. I don't have a spouse. But I am able to work full-time as a writer because I do, in fact, have extensive safety nets. I was living rent-free in my sister's basement when I wrote my first few books: safety net! I have a supportive and encouraging family and friends: safety net! I have investments and retirement accounts: safety net! I have a roommate who is also a writer and understands the wild financial unpredictability of our job: safety net! I have a background and upbringing that gave me pretty good money skills and an ability to understand things like taxes and savings: safety net! I have degrees and publications and skills that would help me find new work if I had to: safety net! I have people I could call who would drop everything to offer help if I ended up in the hospital tomorrow: safety net! I know people with spare bedrooms that my cat and I could crash in I became suddenly and unexpectedly homeless: safety net!
ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE A MOTHERFUCKING SAFETY NET. They made it possible for me to take the risk I took when I decided to become a full-time writer. They continue to make it possible for me to keep writing, to gauge how long I can survive on what I have, to know what I need to do to keep selling more books, to know what signs to look for as warnings that my life will have to change.
The idea that I or anybody else must jettison all of this in order to be a Really Real Super Real Writer Who Means It is so blitheringly stupid it is barely comprehensible. But internet douchebags who tell writers they must Take Risks and Abandon Safety to Make Art aren't talking about any of those things, because that would mean admitting that they aren't the lone architects of their success. If they admit they have all those safety nets beyond the day job they can choose to leave--all the other non-job support structures like family, friends, professional connections, social systems, financial systems, cultures that value some people above others, industries that let mediocre white men fail upwards, etc.--they would have to admit they didn't do it all by themselves. They would have to admit that quitting their day job was not a singular, courageous artistic choice that led them to success. They would have to admit their success depends on many, many factors besides their personal actions as sole directors their own fates.
And that is anathema to their concept of What It Means To Be A Really Real Super Real Writer. They cannot give credit to any circumstances besides those directly decided by them. Heaven forbid they admit they had help.
They're full of shit. They had and have help. I had help and I have help every single day, in more ways than I can count or categorize. I know that not everybody can take the risks I took and make the choices I've made; I know that it is the peculiar and privileged circumstances of my life that makes my writing career possible.
And I am so fucking grateful for all of it that in addition to having to pay rent, in addition to having to feed my fat fluffy cat, in addition to wanting to keep doing a job I love, there is a very real element of don't you dare screw this up that motivates me to put my ass in the chair every day. I don't have a day job or a trust fund or a rich husband, but I still have many safety nets.
Don't listen to anybody who romanticizes the starving and suffering artist. Don't trust anybody who insists that you need to accept less in order to achieve more. They don't want to help you; they aren't thinking about you at all. They are writing false myths to make their own successes more impressive. Telling other people they need to endure hardship and suffer more is what serial killers and Republicans do to act out their weird fantasies upon unwilling victims, not what artists do to genuinely, generously, and wholeheartedly support other artists.
Instead, pay attention to the people who are open about the help they've received and continue to receive. Those are going to be the people who reach out and support others. Those are the people you want around you in this mad, weird world. Making a career out of writing and art, however you do it, is challenging enough as it is. Anybody who tells you the secret to success is making your life even harder is not somebody you need to take seriously.