Read the first part of this series here.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend my first writing conference. Having never been to one before, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I ended up gleaning a lot of great advice from the experienced writers, editors, and publishers who were gathered there.
One moment that particularly stuck out to me was during a panel discussion, when one of the writers dropped a comment that has been on my mind ever since. He referred to the work of writing as being a creative “long obedience in the same direction” (which is a quote from Nietzsche but has also been popularized by author Eugene Peterson).
I think I picked up on the comment because I’d been coming to the gradual realization of how truly vocational and unglamorous the creative life can be. I’m not saying it’s miserable–it’s just that the reality is a lot different than the starry-eyed literary visions of my youth (“I’m going to hide up in an attic, write some poems, and then people will know that I am SIGNIFICANT!”).
But as those naive longings have faded into a more realistic picture, I have started to appreciate the idea that the creative life truly is a “long obedience in the same direction.” In a way, that actually makes it more attainable, if you have the self-discipline and drive to persevere. It also takes a whole lot of pressure off of an artist to “make it big” in one burst of genius, one book, one album.
In this vein, I appreciate what musician Dave Barnes said in an episode of Nick Flora’s Who Writes This Stuff podcast. They were talking about the challenges of their respective careers as indie artists, and Dave made a comment about how “a lot of the great careers are gradual careers.” He pointed out that it’s easy to get jealous of other artists who rise meteorically, but the fact is that many of these careers are truly meteoric, and these artists fizzle and fade. Better to be the artists slowly but steadily toiling at their craft and building a fan base on the long-standing quality of their art.
It would seem then, for all the rabbits (hehe) in the creative game, it is still the tortoise who tends to win in the end.
Chris currently teaches writing and literature to community college students in Massachusetts. He is the author of six books of poetry, and can probably be found reading a book, drinking chai, and wearing flannel. In 2018 he and his wife Jen co-founded The Poetry Pub, an online community for poets. He enjoys walking in the woods, hanging out in coffee shops, and poking around used bookstores.