This week’s post is something slightly different. It is a continued celebration of the Creative Spirit with Shannon O’Hara, a writer and friend. She shares her experience embracing the arts and the obstacles that can come with it. May your spirit be filled with creative inspiration. 🙂
As long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. It’d been something I’d fantasized about since I began my first “novel” at age ten. Yet up until two and a half years ago I held jobs in marketing or consulting. Although I enjoyed my work and its relative security, it wasn’t fulfilling. I dreamed about writing, but I told myself it’d be easier later, after I had kids or retired or won the lottery. Finally I stopped making excuses and decided if I was going to become an author I had to take action. I knew I needed the structure of a course so I began researching creative writing programs.
Telling people I was going back to school was easy. By that point, I’d been working for four years so it was a natural time to take a break. The difficult part was clarifying my degree would be in fiction, not business, a distinction frequently met with blank stares and silence. Occasionally, someone would say, “You mean you want to be like (fill in the name of a famous author) and get drunk all the time?” It’s a reaction I still get when I say what I do. Many people assume creative types aren’t serious, and that all writers are like Hunter S. Thompson or Ernest Hemingway. In reality, being a writer requires enormous discipline, motivation, and hard work. Most authors dedicate countless hours, months, and years researching, writing, and re-writing before they have a finished product. It’s even harder in the beginning when you’re juggling many other responsibilities. Like most aspiring writers, I don’t just write; I also hold a part-time job, teach, and work as a freelance proofreader.
Working in the arts is extraordinarily rewarding but it does take some adjusting. In my previous jobs, I’d been part of a team. As a writer, I’m completely on my own. It was a tough transition to go from a collegial atmosphere of meetings to one where I spend my days alone in front of my computer. There’s also less financial stability, as I no longer have set paychecks or an employer-sponsored 401k plan.
Yet I can’t overemphasize the benefits. Not only am I doing what I love, I have more control over my life. Instead of answering to a boss or a client, I assign my workload and can pursue projects simply because I find them interesting. Plus, writing gives me infinitely more flexibility. I set my own deadlines and choose when and where I want to work. On top of all of this, I’m creating something of beauty. Through my writing, I’m contributing my opinions and hopefully influencing the world for the better. Even at the end of a bad day, I feel a far greater sense of purpose than I ever did working just for a paycheck. Making art is rewarding. There’s nothing I’d rather do.
When I decided to pursue writing, I knew I needed to temporarily extract myself from my old life. I felt the best way to accomplish this was through a change of scenery. I loved living in New York. I was close to my friends and family and the city itself had so much to offer. Yet, I knew I wouldn’t find the time to write with so many distractions. As a result, I decided to apply to European universities. Everyone doesn’t have to make such a drastic move, but it was right for me. I’d always wanted to live abroad and it seemed like the perfect time to do so.
I now live in a tiny, medieval village on the coast of Scotland. Not only is this romantic setting inspirational and conducive to writing, it’s shown me the nuances of my own culture. My novel takes place in upstate New York, yet I understand that region far better now than I did during the four years I spent there as an undergraduate. After living in the UK, I can more easily separate things that are American from things that are universal. As an artist, I think one of the best things you can do is live outside of your own culture, even if only for a short time. It provides you with a sense of perspective you simply won’t get otherwise. When you leave behind what you know and interact with people from different backgrounds and ways of life, you’ll learn things about yourself and the human experience. As a result, both you and your work will become that much richer.