How to Write Good
So to preface this blog a little background for those who don’t have it. I…am a writer
I’ve been writing since I was 7 years old. I wrote poems because my mom wrote poems. Writing was just a thing that happened in my house. I wrote my first play at 16 “A life without me” as a tribute to the brilliant Marty Moran’s “The Tricky Part”. My own, untrue attempt at the tragic autobiographical work. In college I wrote sketches and songs as part of “The Reality Show” which we performed on stage at Madison Square Garden for the entire incoming freshman class at NYU. Searching through my files I count something in the range of 300 sketches in four years.
After that I wrote for a show called political subversities which yielded another 50 or so political sketches. I’ve written a from the viewpoint of Medea. I wrote a Halloween seance show that has had a three year sold out run in new york city. YOU are reading this because I’ve co written 60 episodes of the scathing atheist with my co hosts Noah Lugeons, Heath Enwright, and Lucinda Lugeons, and 85 episodes of God Awful movies. Contained in that 220 plus hours of content are sketches, ads, news commentary, impressions, political wrap ups, monologues, and stories. I say none of this to brag or show off. If I’m being honest I find this list, this monologue, horrific, if someone else did it to me I’d assume they were about to tell me coffee’s for closers and try to sell me a timeshare.
However more than I’m horrified at the way some people will hear this list is the importance to me that before I hand out any advice I tell you the truth:
I am the second most prolific writer I’ve ever met and without question, whether for good or for ill, a working one. I’m not claiming to be good, in fact you might hate my writing. That’s fine.
I do know how to take the thoughts in my head and put them on paper, something that seems to be a problem for many people.
What I’m going to try to do over the next couple of blogs is teach you how I do it. I don’t fool myself into thinking anything I put down here will be especially revelatory. It will largely be composed of the best advice I’ve gotten, the content of the books i’ve read. Including The War of Art by steven pressfield The Artist’s way by julia cameron with all the wooey bullshit taken out, On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardener, and a sprinkling of my own biased experience. You’ve been warned.
Part 1 Are you an Artist:
So before we get down to the how, there is one question you need to ask yourself about being an artist and that…is WHY. Are you really an artist or are you an art hobbyists. It’s a question I’ve asked my friends, lovers, students, and mentees for the better part of the decade and I’m gonna skip to the good bit for you right now. Most people are the latter and almost everyone thinks they are the former.
American culture has taught us that everyone is an artist. The Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald famously called America “a nation of temporarily embarrassed millionaires”. I’ll go a step further : We’re a nation of temporarily embarrassed, pulitzer prize winning novelists, renaissance painters, and movie stars.
We are, largely because of the focus of our culture, and almost entirely because of tropes passed down through religion, obsessed in western culture with being famous and being an artist seems like a really good, really easy way to get famous.
But we are NOT all artists. In fact MOST of us are not artists. We are art hobbyists and what I want to argue to you now is that being an art hobbyist is entirely delightful and without shame.
Some of our greatest artists from all disciplines fabulous art hobbyists. An art hobbyist can be dedicated, talented, and brilliant. An art hobbyist will, I hope have something to gain from this series but they are not an artist.
The artist is someone who cannot help but make art. For whom a day job, an occupation, any other sort of identity is impossible. We all know It is possible to a good cook without being a chef, without opening a restaurant, yet so many of us are artistic good cooks trying to be a restaurateur
In my third year of school I had a great drama teacher, Ted Sluberski. He’s a director and acting coach and one of my favorite humans and on the first day of class he told us “If you can be anything but an actor…do it. If you have rich parents, a rich spouse, or if you could be happier doing anything else but acting do it.” And then he slyly added “Don’t be a hero, Johnny” Let me echo him now. Seriously. Be a hobbyist Be a delight. Write wonderful heartfelt poems that make your friends and family smile. Make beautiful paintings that sell for a couple hundred bucks now and then. Be the absolute shining light of the dance floor– but unless you burn for it. Unless you absofuckinglutely cannot do or be anything else: don’t be a writer, a painter, or a dancer. Be good at what you do, be happy in what you are.
I ran a toy demonstration company at F A O Schwartz for 7 years. I was good salesman myself but in that time I met some GREAT salesmen. I mean GREAT. Naturally gifted. People who walked out of that toy store every single day, no matter the season, with 200 bucks in their pocket. And yet, every one of them to a man or woman wanted to be– a fucking actor.
I watched them, struggle, some of them for years, to be something they weren’t. I watched them do bad non paying community theater pieces, tours of Guys and Dolls in Bayonne, New Jersey for a pittance, share underwear on disney cruise ships and not once did any of them turn into the fucking skid and just be a salesman. And they all would have been happier if they did. They’d have been richer, better loved, happier people but they insisted on lying to themselves about who and what they were. This essay is not to discourage anyone from being an artist. It is to encourage you to accept whatever on this earth you ARE. I’m by no means suggesting that the measure of whether or not you’re a real artist is sucess. Van Gogh only sold one painting but he was ALWAYS a painter. He couldn’t help but paint. Painting is what he was great at, burned for, needed to do. It was who he is and in SPITE of failure he embraced it.
And I want to point out, what you are doesn’t have to be a job. I have an ex girlfriend who loves to travel. More than anything in world she loves to go to new and exciting places– so she became an airline stewardess. She’s got boyfriends all over the world, she’s been everywhere, she’s got all the money she wants and she’s ecstatic because she knows who she is. She also writes bad poetry. She is not a poet.
And lest you think I’m hating on the hobbyist let me say I am a hobbyist magician. I’ve studied magic for 10 years. I give lectures TO other magicians about magic but I am absolutely without question a hobbyist. I don’t burn for magic. Don’t get me wrong. I can be delightful. When the time is right at dinner with friends. When everybody begs enough and I get the deck of cards out of my pocket that I always carry I’ll blow your head off. But it’s not, essentially, centrally, who I am. I know that about myself and if anything it allows me to love it more. Allows me to keep that part of myself fun and easy. When magic gets hard or boring because I know it’s my hobby I get to fucking stop. Its great. Admitting you’re a hobbyist isn’t a defeat, it’s a different kind of victory. It’s a freedom
Because here, in my opinion, is what art is. Art is the very core of who you are. It’s your being laid out every single day. If people hate it, you better believe they hate you. They hate the best part of you. Art is exhausting and demanding. Art is your own.
To be an artist means every time you sit down to write or paint or walk on stage to act you open a vein. You have to. It’s breathing. And if that’s true for you like it is for me, first off, my condolences– but you are an artist. Whether you succeed or fail, that’s who you are. And now let’s talk about how to survive it.
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