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Beyond Talent

Creating a Writing Life

By Geoffrey Philp Published 15 days ago Updated 10 days ago 4 min read
My Trusty Keyboard and Pens

Writers constantly grapple with balancing craft against life's demands, seeking a formula for consistent production while nurturing creativity. The stark reality of living solely from writing underscores the need for such a framework. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported approximately 151,200 writers and authors in 2023, yet only an estimated 10-20% earn a full-time living solely from their writing. Most supplement their income through teaching, freelance work, or other fields. These statistics highlight writers' challenges and the importance of intentionally structuring one's life to support creative pursuits. So, how do we create a framework that will allow us to work and create in our calling?

Given these challenges, writers need a sustainable approach to their craft that goes beyond mere talent or sporadic bursts of inspiration. The "rule of life," rooted in Christian monastic traditions, offers a method. This ancient practice addresses the timeless question of intentional living in pursuit of our deepest desires.

A “rule of life” is not about rigid schedules or oppressive discipline. Its versatile structure addresses fundamental questions: “Who do I want to be?” and “How do I want to live?” For writers, these questions translate to “What kind of writer do I want to be?” and “How can I arrange my life to support my writing goals?” This flexibility allows writers to design a life that aligns with their creative aspirations.

Many writers have adopted practices that match their circumstances. Maya Angelou rented hotel rooms for solitude. Haruki Murakami pairs early morning writing with afternoon runs. Virginia Woolf insisted on a room of her own. These methods reflect personal needs and circumstances, demonstrating that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to cultivating a writing life.

When crafting your own ‘rule of life,” it's crucial to consider your rhythms. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you thrive in coffee shops, or do you need the tranquility of your own space? Does physical exercise invigorate your writing, or does meditation clear your mind? The key is to align your practices with your lifestyle, finding a balance between solitude and community that suits your needs.

Importantly, your “rule of life” should be adaptable, evolving with changing circumstances. For instance, I transitioned from teaching at night to teaching during the day as my children grew, prioritizing family meals while maintaining my writing practice. This adaptability is a key feature of a sustainable “rule of life.”

Roger Robinson, winner of the 2020 T.S. Eliot Prize, suggests a Minimum Viable Artistic Starter (MVAS) - a small daily creative act to begin the day. This concept aligns with the “rule of life” principle, emphasizing consistency over showiness. In my practice, I write a daily haiku or plot stories or essays like this in my head during an early morning walk. Not all the stories, essays, or haiku are worth sharing on social media or publishable. Yet this simple ritual affects my writing practice and overall well-being.

Continuous learning is another pillar of a writer's “rule of life.” This might involve reading widely, studying craft books, attending workshops, or analyzing admired works. Right now, I've been exploring the writings of Blyth, Henderson, Higginson, Gurga, and Shirane to deepen my understanding of haiku. Your approach might differ – perhaps joining a writing group or regularly dissecting the structure of novels you admire. The key is integrating learning into your routine, treating it as essential to your craft. But you've got to stick to it.

James Baldwin offers a perspective highlighting persistence's importance over innate ability: "Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance." A “rule of life” provides the framework for this endurance, fostering consistency, awareness, balanced living, resilience, growth, and authenticity. It's not about raw talent but about showing up day after day and honing your craft through dedicated practice.

Financial considerations are also crucial in sustaining a writing life. When I began my writing practice, Al Young gave me the best advice: "Low overhead." This often meant frugal living and prioritizing writing over bill-paying jobs. While I've taken such jobs when necessary, I've strived to minimize their impact on my writing time. This approach requires discipline and often sacrifice, but it creates space for creative endeavors. Given the economic realities most writers face, this "low overhead" approach becomes even more critical in carving out time and energy for writing.

Through consistent practices, continuous learning, and unwavering dedication, you shape your days to embody the writer you're meant to be. As you refine your “rule of life,” you'll likely find that the boundaries between "writing time" and "living time" blur. Every experience becomes potential material, and every interaction is a chance to deepen your understanding of yourself and your community.

The transformation that occurs through adhering to a “rule of life” is gradual. I'm slowly appreciating David Bowie's description of aging as "an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been." Your “rule of life” guides you toward your fullest potential as a writer, not through conformity or self-denial, but by providing a framework for becoming the writer you've always wanted to be.

Notes:

"A Room of One's Own." Britannica, www.britannica.com/topic/A-Room-of-Ones-Own. Accessed 3 July 2024.

"Advice to Writers." Advice to Writers, advicetowriters.com. Accessed 3 July 2024.

Baldwin, James. "Quote by James Baldwin: 'Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of ...'" Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/quotes/9283697-talent-is-insignificant-i-know-a-lot-of-talented-ruins. Accessed 3 July 2024.

Bowie, David. "David Bowie Quote: 'Aging is an extraordinary process whereby you ...'" Quotefancy, quotefancy.com/quote/2023132/David-Bowie-Aging-is-an-extraordinary-process-whereby-you-become-the-person-you-always. Accessed 3 July 2024.

"Christian Monasticism." Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_monasticism. Accessed 3 July 2024.

Clear, James. "The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers." James Clear, jamesclear.com/daily-routines-writers. Accessed 3 July 2024.

"Haruki Murakami's Writing Routine and (Running) Habits." Turner Stories, www.turnerstories.com/blog/2021/7/20/haruki-murakamis-writing-routine-and-running-habits. Accessed 3 July 2024.

"Maya Angelou Always Rented A Hotel Room Just For Writing." Business Insider India, www.businessinsider.in/Maya-Angelou-Always-Rented-A-Hotel-Room-Just-For-Writing/articleshow/35688097.cms. Accessed 3 July 2024.

"Monastics in the World: A Short Description of Oblates in the Christian." Oblates, oblates.wccm.org/v2019/readings-and-resources/articles/monastics-in-the-world-a-short-description-of-oblates-in-the-christian-meditation-community/. Accessed 3 July 2024.

Popova, Maria. "James Baldwin's Advice on Writing." The Marginalian, www.themarginalian.org/2016/02/08/james-baldwin-advice-on-writing/. Accessed 3 July 2024.

Robinson, Roger. "Manifesto: Roger Robinson – “Success is on you.”" Poetry Society, poetrysociety.org.uk/publications-section/the-poetry-review/manifesto-roger-robinson-success-is-on-you/. Accessed 3 July 2024.

"The Monastic Movement: Origins & Purposes." World History Encyclopedia, www.worldhistory.org/article/930/the-monastic-movement-origins--purposes/. Accessed 3 July 2024.

"What is a Rule of Life?" Northumbria Community, www.northumbriacommunity.org/who-we-are/our-rule-of-life/what-is-a-rule-of-life/. Accessed 3 July 2024.

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About the Creator

Geoffrey Philp

I am a Jamaican writer. I write poems (haiku & haibun), stories & essays about climate change, Marcus Garvey, music icons such as Bob Marley, and the craft of writing. For more info, visit my webpage: https://www.geoffreyphilp.com/

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