In Defense of the ‘Easy Way Out’

24 Mar

by Biljana Likic

~~

Writing has often been described as an insatiable need; the writer has a feeling so immense they feel incomplete until it’s transferred onto paper. That, I’ve been told, is the reason so many people dedicate their lives to writing. It’s like an addiction. And it’s extremely potent; I know quite a few people that would feel like they had no purpose if they couldn’t write.

I think that’s fantastic. As a victim to this need, I can vouch for others that sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than reaching the point in your story where you finally get to write the scene that sparked it all. Because that’s often how it starts: some part of your piece whinges and whines in your head, wanting out. It could be a whole scene, or it could be a repeated motif, or sometimes just a powerful sentence that you want to see in print. It’s something you feel is so important for others to know, that you’d be genuinely disappointed if you couldn’t tell them.

It’s actually quite poetic.

The problem is, writing, along with other professions like acting, film-making, and even visual artistry, has a bit of a bad rep. It’s becoming the ‘easy way out’. People are becoming actors or writers so they can take a fast road to fame. Stuff is being done quickly and shoddily just for the income. Hardly anybody cares about the art anymore.

That was the argument my friends had the other night, when we, (like all normal teens,) were talking about art and its purposes. More specifically, we were talking about bad art; things you wonder how they were ever made, or who was convinced to shell out that much money. One of my friends has become so disenchanted with Hollywood that she said she wouldn’t care if all the actors were replaced by holograms, because at least that way they’d be of better service to the community; you know, if they were out building houses or fixing broken electricity poles.

I disagreed. Heavily. Can you imagine life without human music? Without real people acting on stage or film? With pictures and drawings that were only computer-generated? Granted, I’m not doing her argument much justice; she was only arguing this for the bad art. But it’s generally only bad if you do it for the money—and sometimes not even.

I do think that some people, writers included, are ridiculously overpaid in what they do. In some parts of the music scene, a few presses of a button is considered a song, and as soon as it’s declared so, the cash starts flowing in provided it’s catchy. George Clooney just has to appear in a movie and it’s a success. But think about it; if the purpose of the art is to entertain, hasn’t that been accomplished? Even when the movie is rip-roaringly bad you can watch it to laugh at it. I’d call that entertainment. So really, even the bad art can be good.

The biggest problem I had with her side was that she was suggesting that all this was the easy road, even when the art is good, just because there’s less studying involved and you don’t have to worry about math, or whatever.

Yes, some people go into showbiz or publishing because they think it’s less work (and they are in for a nasty surprise), and sometimes they’re even convinced that that’s all they could ever do (which I always thought was utter bull; if you know how to put away a file, you know how to be a secretary). That’s when the art can be bad; when there’s no heart in it. Others though do it for the authentic feeling of accomplishment, of the total liberation, however momentary, when one is in the act of reliving and recounting a story through sheer expression of real human emotion. It’s something utterly inexplicable. And not everybody can do it. I will be the first to tell you that. I’ll stand right beside all the teachers and leaders and famous people who try to be friendly and encouraging, saying “Everybody’s an artist,” and tell you that No, not everybody is an artist, because not everybody cares, and not everybody can do it. I’m not trying to be mean, or vicious, or pompous or whatever; I really do believe this. Just the fact that I had that conversation with my friends proved this. I found myself defending Date Movie, for crying out loud, because yeah although that movie is a piece of crap, somebody somewhere found it hilarious, and just because you and I can’t see the merit in it, or have a severe difference in taste, doesn’t mean that we can shoot it down. The quality of art is completely subjective.

So if you want to be a writer, and you write because you need to write, do it. And the next time somebody tells you that your life’s work is pulp fiction, or not deep enough, or won’t do well with critics because it’s only funny and not heart-wrenching and tear-jerking, tell them, very politely, to eff-off.

If you are a writer, if you are an artist, what you do will have merit. Not everybody will like it, but then again people are built for arguments and criticism anyways. Anyone can say, “That book sucks.” Not anyone can write it. You don’t know who it can change, who it can touch, whatever their age, gender, or literary preference may be, because at the end of the day, even the dime-novels are still worth the dime. You might not be out discovering the cure to the latest flu strain, but you will still be improving somebody’s quality of life, no matter how briefly. And that is the purpose of art.

So take that, math and science. We’re needed as much as you are.

I end with a quote from Tom Stoppard’s brilliant play, Arcadia.

“[Don’t] confuse progress with perfectibility. A great poet is always timely. A great philosopher is an urgent need. There’s no rush for Isaac Newton. We were quite happy with Aristotle’s cosmos. Personally, I preferred it. Fifty-five crystal spheres geared to God’s crankshaft is my idea of a satisfying universe. I can’t think of anything more trivial than the speed of light. Quarks, quasars – big bangs, black holes – who gives a shit? How did you people con us out of all that status? All that money? And why are you so pleased with yourselves? [sic] If knowledge isn’t self-knowledge it isn’t doing much, mate. Is the universe expanding? Is it contracting? Is it standing on one leg and singing ‘When Father Painted the Parlour’? Leave me out. I can expand my universe without you. ‘She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies, and all that’s best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes.’ There you are, he wrote it after coming home from a party.”

Try getting a computer to write that.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s in her final year of high school, waiting and waiting to graduate, finish university, and finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here, and check out her work on her FictionPress account.

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24 Responses to “In Defense of the ‘Easy Way Out’”

  1. Mac_V March 24, 2010 at 10:53 AM #

    I completely agree. When I tell people I want to be a writer I either get some weak encouragement or I get this look like, “yeah, good luck with that.” It’s one of the reason’s I love this website so much. You all understand that need to write and you are all working towards that goal so much. So even when I’m discouraged by those people who think my job is the “easy way out,” all I have to do is come here and remember how hard you all are working– how much effort and feeling we are all putting into our novels– and it reminds me that I’m doing what I love and I’m working my butt off at it.

    Thanks for the encouragement and some very, very true words. 🙂

    Mac

    • Biljana March 24, 2010 at 12:24 PM #

      I’m so glad you see this blog that way. That’s exactly what we’re striving for. Keep trying and keep working because it’s bound to turn into something good.

    • svonnah March 24, 2010 at 2:40 PM #

      Writing IS tough, and we’re so glad to be here to get you encouraged again when the world discourages you!

  2. kate March 24, 2010 at 11:15 AM #

    i very much agree with you. art is so *not* the easy road, and it is certainly not the sure route to anything. i like both the artsy and the more math/science parts of the world (both of which have their beauty); and really, my passion (and what i’m best at) is probably in the realm of the arts. but when, late in college, i was deciding what to do with my future, the unsure prospect of the arts was part of the motivation for me to go into science (which is also an unsure prospect, but may be more sure than the arts). and there’s a part of me that is sad that my primary realm is not that of the arts. so props to you all who have the courage and talent to follow your passion to bring beauty and art to the world.

    • Biljana March 24, 2010 at 12:38 PM #

      I understand completely why some people hesitate to go into the arts. In all fairness to some situations, some people just can’t afford. I feel so lucky that so far, I can.

      Also, I think if you really have a passion for something, it can never really leave you. I mean you’re reading this blog, aren’t you? 🙂

      • kate March 24, 2010 at 1:33 PM #

        it would be awfully depressing if passion could be so easily extinguished! and, i entertain daydreams of being a female michael graziano (professor of neuroscience; novelist) in the future.

  3. lepipette March 24, 2010 at 12:20 PM #

    On the topic of “learned” skills.
    [Alongside authors not having them – I’m extremely tired of the negligence of the arts in favour of the sciences. Just like food, you need a well rounded intellectual diet to have proper persepective.]

    If you write science fiction, you learn science, at the very least conceptually. Writing pushes the boundaries of possibility, but you base it on actuality.

    If you write historical fiction, you study history down to the way they hold things. You study the linguistics of their syntax. You study the philosophy of the time period.

    If you write epic fantasy, you grasp myths and recreate them as something accessible. You learn weather systems, political structures, religion, geography, etcetera.

    If you’re a writer, just period, you’re a student in human personality and character.

    And those are just a few examples. To write is to be a renaissance wo/man. You must be well versed in everything to present a believable extension of reality. Before new idea can be born, old ideas must be recognized.

    That’s why I think art is so beautiful. It isn’t only birth. It’s rebirth. Change grasped and controlled.

    At least, ‘real’ art is.
    For me, that’s the difference. Real art is newborn interpretation.
    ‘Bad’ art is overused imitation.

    • Biljana March 24, 2010 at 12:35 PM #

      Well said. Some of the smartest people I know are writers. That play that I quoted, Arcadia, is the most brilliant piece of work I’ve ever read or studied. There’s nothing Stoppard leaves out. It’s genius

      That’s why I think both bad and good art is important though, because if I had nothing to compare it to, I would take it for granted. Good stuff stands out because it’s exceptional. You can’t have exceptional without the ordinary.
      Also, it’s a great way to ease into the good stuff. I was telling my friend, when I just started listening to classic rock, I thought ACDC was amazing. Then I found Led Zeppelin. Totally changed my opinion. ACDC, in my eyes, can’t compare.

    • svonnah March 24, 2010 at 2:41 PM #

      “If you’re a writer, just period, you’re a student in human personality and character.”

      Yes, that’s it exactly.

    • Vanessa March 24, 2010 at 8:36 PM #

      Those are some GREAT words to live by… BRILLIANT!
      And it’s so true

  4. Jennifer March 24, 2010 at 12:38 PM #

    ” Anyone can say, “That book sucks.” Not anyone can write it.”

    If I could get that bronzed in a plaque, I would nail it to the wall above my desk.

    • Biljana March 24, 2010 at 12:39 PM #

      Hahaha maybe we should start making merchandise :P.

      I’m glad you were able to connect to it :).

      • Vanessa March 24, 2010 at 8:35 PM #

        LOL Biljana, we should totally start making merch! ahahahahaha

        but that IS one awesome quote!

  5. Samantha W March 24, 2010 at 1:29 PM #

    Art, the east way out? Honestly I’ve never worked so hard in my life until I started working on my Fine Arts degree. I think it often looks like the easy way out because when we’re in grade school, it’s usually about the effort, and thus so long as student look like they’re putting effort into a project (regardless of how little they actually try), they are often awarded with a decent grade. Thus art=easy. Until you get into the real world XD.

    • Biljana March 24, 2010 at 8:16 PM #

      Hahaha that’s so true! I never thought about that. Art (music, drama and writing specifically) has always played an intense part in my life, and they’re the cause of too many daily stresses for me to count. And I’m still in *high school*. I can’t imagine how hard it’d be in university. Good luck with it :).

  6. Bookflower March 24, 2010 at 3:01 PM #

    I’ve always felt torn between the sciences and the arts. Until a couple of years ago, I believed, truly believed, that I wanted to study eng lit, but then I did a 180, and now I’m on my way to studying physics.
    I have such a pasion for the written word and for writing it. And yet, I share that passion with physics. I want to spend my life doing scierntific research, and you something? The thought of that excites me. And, in some ways, I think that’s where my natural talent lies.
    But, I feel so sad that I’m never going to study Eng Lit in the way I’ve always dreamt of. I’m scared I’ll never fulfill my dreams of writing a book worthy of publishing.
    A while ago, I was rather insulted when someone asked me how I didn’t think it was a waste of time writing when I could be researching the cure for cancer or something.
    I have to decide to tomorrow, finally, whether I’m going to give up studying Eng Lit. I only took it this year because I couldn’t bear not taking it, but I have to drop something, and my other subjects are rather more essential if I want a career in science.
    So yeah, I’ve always torn between the two. Far too people can understand that I love both subjects, and that it upsets me that I’m going to have to leave the study of one behind. I still wonder if I’m doing the right thing, but in a way, I’m too scared about the future to go into the arts.

    • Biljana March 24, 2010 at 3:23 PM #

      I think the passion people feel for science can definitely be as strong as a passion for literature. Passion is passion. If you have more than one, and they’re different, you might have to make the tough choice of choosing. In some ways you’re lucky though because writing is a passion that can be interdisciplinary, you can use your scientific knowledge to write a sci-fi book or something.

      And I *hate* when people talk about writing as if it’s trivial. That’s bull. But…if you had to choose, I would say go with physics. Once again, you’re lucky that you have a passion for both, which means your wants in life don’t get short-changed as much by having to choose (I would think). Go with what you feel comfortable with. You don’t need people to teach you to read, but science isn’t so forgiving. Worse comes to worst, you’ll be reading classics on your own and have less time to write. And while that sucks, it’s better than losing it completely, whch is what might happen, I imagine, if you dropped physics.

      Good luck.

  7. Jenn March 24, 2010 at 7:35 PM #

    Great article, there’s not much I can add that hasn’t already been said in the comments. I like how you discussed the need to write I know I’d go crazy if I was stuck somewhere unable to write for a while 🙂

    • Biljana March 24, 2010 at 8:17 PM #

      Thanks for the comment, either way, and I’m glad you liked it. It’s always encouraging to read these, even if they’re just to acknowledge that the article’s been read :).

  8. cgwriter March 26, 2010 at 4:40 PM #

    Ha. I read this a few days ago… and the thought of art as an “easy way out” was both amusing and slightly offensive.

    I think you guys will find this article really interesting; it’s called Creativity and What Blocks It. http://deoxy.org/creative.htm

    It sort of fits in with the idea of being told your writing isn’t good enough; it blames that completely inaccurate crap for peoples’ difficulties with creativity and expression.

    Great job Biljana… couldn’t have written this better myself. And I LOVE that quote that everyone is mentioning… “Anyone can say, ‘That book sucks.’ Not anyone can write it.” You should write one of those writers’ manual-type books!

    • Biljana March 26, 2010 at 10:50 PM #

      “An extension of Morris’s experiment involved rewarding the chimpanzees for producing their paintings. Very soon their work began to degenerate until they produced the bare minimum that would satisfy the experimenter.”

      That is fascinating. Thanks for the link. I found myself nodding as I read haha. There’s a lot of truth in it. One thing my mom just *loves* to say is that school are educating us not to be individuals, but to be a good tax-payers.

      I’m glad you liked the article :). I’m so flattered by all the uproar over that quote :P.

      • cgwriter March 27, 2010 at 8:32 AM #

        Haha, of course! It was a very well written article. Glad you found the link interesting.

  9. Maybelle March 29, 2010 at 11:13 AM #

    Interesting… I’m so glad you brought this up! I definitely think that writing, and any form of art, is a craft that takes time, skill, critical thinking, and patience. Especially with crafting a novel… there’s so much you have to consider if you want to do it well. For instance, there are ways to illuminate your characters, to liven up the plot, and improve the grammar that goes into effective writing. I always think that it’s like researching and writing a good essay – everything should be logical and well-constructed, and taken to the next level with imagination and artistic license. And the sheer joy of throwing oneself into an alternate reality, into the modes and mindsets of different characters… there’s nothing that can be compared to that. Thanks for bringing this up 😉

    • Biljana March 29, 2010 at 8:47 PM #

      No problem, thanks for reading. Everything you’ve said is so completely valid. I think a lot of people believe writing a novel is just writing something that has an overarching plot, and then the editor does the rest. I’m sure that happens sometimes (grrrr rep ruiners) but I like to think that most authors try harder.

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