Henry Miller wrote pornography for a dollar a page, because he had to pay rent and buy food. All the while, he was working on Tropic of Cancer, which was one of the 20th century’s great novels. He was in his forties when it was published, and much older when the US censors finally allowed its publication in his home country.
I think about this often, not because I think I’m Henry Miller or that the writing I do will be culturally significant, but because it’s a reminder that even the most talented people struggle. For those of us who are significantly less brilliant, it’s probably going to be harder.
People ask me what I want from my writing, and I honestly don’t know. I enjoy the challenge, putting the words together in surpring ways, and I like the feedback from people who read what I’ve done. I just wish I had some story idea burning to get out, some driving force compelling me forward. Instead, I dabble here and tinker there, writing a poem and then a story and then a movie review. Unlike Henry Miller, I am fairly comfortable, so there’s nothing holding my feet to the fire.
Is the romanticized struggling artist a myth? Probably. Struggling isn’t as beautiful without the success story at the end. What if Miller died in a gutter outside a Parisian whorehouse without finishing his masterpiece? No one would say, He really devoted himself to art. They’d say, What a waste. Creating art isn’t easy, sure, but it’s not the pain that makes something art.
Miller wrote with the same passion he brought to everything he did, from ping-pong to warercolors to fucking. It’s that passion, more than the pain, that elevates a work above its contemporaries. I hope I can find the perfect subject to throw myself into, to shoot for art rather than hobby. And then, when I finally find that subject and write with that passion, I can retire to ping-pong, watercolors, and fucking. Or whichever of those activities requires the least eyesight.