The Artist’s Journey in the Real World
I described in The War of Art the moment when my own artist’s journey began. It was in New York City. I was supporting myself driving a cab. I sat down one night in my sublet at 84th and York and tried for about two hours to write.
For the first time in nearly a decade of trying, the act pulled me together instead of breaking me apart.
I knew I had turned a corner.
I knew I would be all right.
But here’s the key question:
What happened after that?
Did I immediately achieve “success?” Did I instantly bang out a novel and sell it?
Here’s the real-world chronology:
I keep driving a cab.
Six months later I find a job in advertising.
I work for two years, save my money, quit, write a novel, can’t sell it.
In other words, I’m now four years into my artist’s journey with no money and no recognition to show for it.
I go back to advertising. Two more years. I quit again. Write another novel. Can’t sell this one either.
Eight years now.
I move to Los Angeles to try to write for the movies.
Four years, nine spec screenplays. Can’t sell any.
Thirteen years now.
My agent teams me with an established screenwriter/producer. I work for four years that way. For the first time, I’m actually paying the rent.
But, in artist’s journey terms, I still haven’t found my voice. I’m still not writing from my real center.
My writing partner and I split up.
I work as a solo writer for three more years.
Two or three scripts come out in my actual voice. But I can’t sell them.
I bail from screenwriting, try another novel.
So do #2, #3, #4, etc.
I’m supporting myself at last.
I’m writing from my real center.
Elapsed time from start of artist’s journey: twenty-one years.
(Not counting the eight years preceding that, before I turned the corner.)
The writer’s life—or the dancer’s or the filmmaker’s or the entrepreneur’s—is a lifetime commitment.
The artist’s journey lasts as long as we live.
It may take forever to pay off.
It may never pay off at all, at least not in dollars and cents. Maybe never in critical terms either.
This is the artist’s journey in the real world.
Can we sustain it? Can we keep it going in the face of adversity, of contempt, of rejection, or worse, of self-contempt and self-rejection?
Can we believe in our destiny when no one else does?
Can we take satisfaction in the process?
Can we believe in the journey itself?