Sunday, June 6, 2010

What Have You Done For Your Art?

Jean-Michel Basquiat, "Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump"


House painter.

Graveyard Courier.

Any of these jobs sound familiar? If you're a writer, I'd bet at least one. I'd also bet that, as a writer, you've said least one of the following lines to explain why.

"It's temporary." Or...

"I'm just working this gig to make contacts in the industry". And my personal favorite...

"It pays the bills and leaves me time to write."

Load of crap!

Art is never free, and someone always has to pay the bills.

Unless you're a young Quentin Tarantino sitting behind the counter at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, working a near-minimum-wage job so you can make contacts is like the alcoholic bartender who drinks his mistakes to help him perfect his craft.

So I'll ask the question again. What have you done for your art? I'll tell you what I did for mine.

I quit.

First, I quit my low-pay, make-no-contacts night job. I traded it in for a real job. A day job.

I hated it. I got over it. I mean, even Bukowski had a real job. And I'm pretty sure he wasn't making industry contacts while sorting mail for the U.S. Postal Service.

Next, I quit my art. That’s if you count writing two unsold screenplays as art. Months passed. I forgot about writing. I moved on. The job was now my art. The job was now my life. It got to the point where not only did I believe that what I had done was right — I also began to believe it was good.

But like some of us know, writing is a lot like herpes. You can ignore it, but just when you think it's forgotten about you, WHAM! It's back, worse than ever. Something buried so deep inside you doesn't go away just because you lie to yourself, and say it isn't there.

Brendan Behan, the Irish playwright and poet, once explained that he was, "...a drinker with a writing problem". And he was right. I've never heard of a twelve-step program for writing.

Writing is hard. You have to be harder.

Since we're on a theme, years ago, a friend told me about someone close to her who was an alcoholic. He was also a Roman Catholic priest. Now at first glance you might think, "Okay, Isn't A.A. all about turning your addiction over to some Higher Power to get you clean and sober?" At least that's what I thought at first. Until my friend explained to me that, as a Roman Catholic priest, her friend was bound by vows to administer AND RECEIVE the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

With wine.

Every single day.

She explained that from his perspective, Holy Communion was the way he was brought into communion with God. It was a non-negotiable. Every day, sometimes several times a day, this man would submit himself to that which he believed could both kill him, and make him stronger.

Now, I wasn't a Roman Catholic or an alcoholic, but I think I got her point. How crazy do you have to be to willingly do something that you know you can't live with, and can't live without?

I'm writing again.

Copyright © 2010 Bill Friday


  1. nice post, Bill. I just posted a link to it on

    I will check back often to see your progress.

  2. Welcome back, Bill. It's good to see you.

  3. Strangely inspiring. I dabble in writing myself but don't plan on "quiting my day job". Can't we have both?

  4. I did not want to be a barista or a house painter while pursuing writing on the side, which is why I became a reporter. I saw it as a means to pay my bills and do what I like doing best. But after awhile I realized that it still failed to satisfy my writing bug, which is why I'm blogging now :)

  5. I never considered my writing as "art" humm interesting thought

  6. Beautiful stuff my friend! I'm now off to flog myself with my keyboard, and run myself through with my own pen.

    "After two-and-one-half bottles that have not strengthened my saddened heart walking from this drunken darkness toward the bedroom thinking of Humsun who ate his own flesh to gain time to write I trundle into the other room feeling like an old man a hellfish in the night swimming upward sideways down."

  7. Since I am a writer and discovered the love it only 19 months ago at the age of 38 - I am still working as an interior designer until someone actually pays me to write.
    Have a couple of scripts out there, working on my movie review blog everyday and trying to get my book published. A whole new world that is strange but exciting at the same time. Great post!


  8. Warning: I'm about to become a stickler for the details.

    In the mid-90's the priest at our parish was a recovering alcoholic, and he drank grape juice instead of wine during mass. Wine is just wine until it is blessed, and then it becomes sacramental. This makes it no better than grape juice. Perhaps they've begun to allow this switch since the conversation your friend had with the priest, or perhaps he was just pulling her chain.

    The point of your article still stands. "How crazy do you have to be to willingly do something that you know you can't live with, and can't live without?" Writing is that thing for me too.

    1. Oh those wacky sacramental rule changes! Yes, this was something from the early 80's so, as a career Protestant, all I can say is... beats the hell out of me!

      But as a pair of "can't live without" writers, we both know what it means to have to continue to do something that puts us in a place where there is no good solution but to do it with our whole heart.

      Thanks for the comment.

  9. Absolutely love Irish writers and their (and your) angst. This article exemplifies the fact that we do struggle and sometimes sacrifice and in the end must give in or give up that which we love.My hope is that you will always write. I say this quite selfishly because you increase us all by just being.