The Cost of Writing?

I’ve often said there are at many types of writers, and I don’t mean types of work writers produce. I mean there are many reasons a person may choose to be a writer. Here are a few:

  • The crusader. Something has happened to this writer that profoundly touches or even alters their life, and they want to explore and share this discovery with others through the written word. They may think they have only one book in them, the one that launched their crusade. But then they find writing to be so satisfying they may go on to write many other books, even if their crusade book never gets published.
  • The Teacher. This writer is closely related to the Crusader, in that he or she feels the need to share what they’ve learned in life with as large an audience as possible.
  • The Prover. This writer decides they can surely write a better book than the one they just finished, so they decide to prove it. Oh, and make a lot of money in the end.
  • The Artist. Some might call this kind of writer a Purist, because they write for the pure love of writing. Most likely they discovered their love for writing at a very young age. They’re happiest when they’re writing and in fact they can’t not write.

This month my book club read a book about an artist: My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. It’s a compelling book, and I say that not because I came away feeling refreshed or uplifted, because I didn’t. It wasn’t a happy book—but then, as the book itself claims, the world isn’t a pretty place. I may not totally agree with that, and because of that mindset my favorite books to both read and write are like the pretty flower pictures the artist character in this book cannot limit himself to creating.

But what I really found compelling in the book was the question of how far an artist could—or should—allow his art to take him. How much would I be willing to sacrifice in order to write? How focused can a person allow himself to be when it comes to his art?

For some, their art must share a spot with making a more profitable living, or at least a living wage. The term starving artist evolved for a reason, after all. For me, it’s impossible to be as devoted to my art as someone without a family, and in particular a family with a special needs child. My art has been more of an escape for me, a place I can go that I can control—at least so far as my characters allow that sort of thing.

But if circumstances were different, if I didn’t have a family or a special needs child, and if, without this family I had no financial worries (i.e. without a husband who takes care of me) would I be the kind of artist who served that art above all things, the way the character Asher Lev did? Would I be compelled to share whatever I had to say, whether or not it offended others, made me question my faith, in fact hurt people I loved and even myself?

I know there are many ways to offend others, and I can’t say my writing—or my life—won’t offend someone somewhere along the way. But for the most part, I’d say my faith and my art profoundly mesh. My values, serving my family, also mesh. Reading a book where the character must make a choice—either his art or his family and the community that goes with it—made me very grateful I don’t have to make such a choice. My decision to serve my family instead of my art, when necessary, is an easy one even as it might bring its own frustrations. But if it were an either/or decision? Oh, my, that would be much harder.

Something to think about, anyway . . . how much would you be willing to sacrifice in order to serve that part of you that you find most fulfilling? How would you do it and at the same time balance selflessness with selfishness?

See what reading a good book can do? That, to me, is the mark of a successful book. One that made me think. :-) For my complete review of Chaim Potok’s My Name Is Asher Lev, click here.


  1. says

    I sometimes think that I don’t honor that need for art enough and I end up bored. I do what is required, which takes me to the brink of what I’m capable of, but then instead of pushing myself on further, I pull back and let the art escape all together. It’s tough to know how far to allow myself to be extended and frightening when I have pushed myself too far beyond my breaking point with the have-tos, neglecting the want-tos so long I almost forget what they are.
    Thank you for the reminder that both need to explored and cherished.

    PS I think another good sign of a book is when people hate characters. I love when people get so upset over fictional characters that they have grudges against them, whether its for a character flaw or they way they treat another member of the cast.

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