"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Monday, February 25, 2008

Creative Economies

This morning I heard a terrific discussion on our public radio station about ways thriving arts and cultural enterprises can boost the local economy. And enrich the lives of local citizens. As a professional writer and very amateur musician whose friends are other writers, photographers, filmmakers, potters, painters, fiber artists, singers, and instrument players, this is an issue that interests me quite passionately. As a public official concerned about--and even responsible for--the economy of our state in general and the beleagured North Country in particular, I was riveted.

The success of the sorts of efforts being discussed require hard choices, careful planning, and lots of community support.

When the show concluded, I started to analyse my own creative economy--hard to resist for this homebound, self-absorbed, inwardly-focussed being who constantly wrestles with notions of material success and artistic fulfillment. I suspect the most crucial priorities shift in my career is much on my mind now because my birthday is looming. It's not even one of those milestone birthdays, but it's definitely a marker of the passage of time since I changed direction. And I'm acutely aware that in the coming weeks I'll be leaving my forest for New York, the center of publishing and the place where my professional fate and future has always been determined.

Hard Choices

When I ended one phase (the most lucrative so far) of my writing career to start another, it wasn't because I felt burnt out or stifled. But concern that it might happen was a catalyst. Looking back, I know that following my instinct was the right thing for me. I suppose it was risky in some ways. To be crass, it was a risk I could afford to take, in the financial sense, and couldn't afford not to, in the creative sense.

On the night before I turned forty, I lay awake for hours, tossing and turning in a bed in the Waldorf Hotel, mulling my options. I'd seen my agent. I'd talked with my editor. Did I want to continue on the familiar structured path I was following? Or could I strike out on a different path, leading to some uncertain destination?

Careful Planning

I have to admit, there wasn't much to speak of.

When you're accustomed to seeing your work in print on a regular basis, not seeing your books in bookstores is an unwelcome prospect. I didn't know then what I know now (having just finished doing my '07 taxes), that the sub rights sales and foreign editions would provide an income. This could be dumb luck. I tend to view it as an affirmation that I Did The Right Thing, my reward for following that mysterious path.

How could I possibly imagine, much less plan, all that has happened since that long, sleepless night in the Waldorf? By not being bound by a legal contract to deliver X book on X date at X number of words, I've been able to do much more than I could have envisioned. Raise happy, healthy dogs. Build a beautiful new town library. Serve my parish and diocese and the wider church. Get (unexpectedly!) elected to state office. Forge new friendships. Revive and sustain old ones. Grow roses. Travel, travel, travel. Explore a variety of writing projects, fiction and non-. And be a slightly less crazy companion to my husband than when I lived under constant deadlines and pressures.

Community Support

It's always been there, from when I was a dewy-eyed twenty-something newlywed making her first serious (and ultimately successful) attempts to get a novel published. The Chap's faith in me and his endless supply of emotional support and whatever else is required, makes everything possible. My family believes in me, too, and I'm grateful. But they aren't the ones who experience the horrors of sharing a writer's life and space.


How I love the processes of reinvention and revision! I'll always be a work in progress. I embrace the mysteries of my profession. As impossible as it was to predict what would happen when I made my early submissions to publishers, what lies in store for my unfinished novel is even more unpredictable. I tell myself that dwelling too much on marketplace issues is premature. Time enough for that sort of evaluation when I'm in New York. The important thing is crafting the necessary words, sentences, paragraphs, pages to tell the story that grabbed my heart and mind so many years ago, and never quite let go.

Whatever happens, I mean to integrate what was best about the most productive phases of my career with the best of this less productive but joyously fulfilling phase.

Because that would be my definition of a good and sustainable creative economy.

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