Nowadays the term “starving artist” seems like it’s no longer applicable to an artist’s way of life – at least not mine. Take Hemingway and the lost generation for example. Back in those days, writers spent all their time working on their latest masterpiece, sacrificing materialistic objects such as tickets to plays, and/or dining out at restaurants, and instead lived on a minimum expense, eating canned food and bread if it meant that they could dedicate every waking minute to their art and craft.
Unfortunately, I, along with other writers I know, have to juggle more than one job in order to carve out little time to write each day. This particular year in general happens to be a rather busy one for me. And it seems like every time I’m finally able to sit down and get back to work on my projects, right as I’m deep in thought with the words flowing, bells from my alarm start chiming and it’s time to shower and get to my other job, my paying job.
Having to force myself to stop writing is highly frustrating and I find myself feeling discouraged and resentful that there’s never enough time in a day.
When I was an undergrad student, I used to visit the JFK library, specifically the Hemingway archive, which holds all of Hemingway’s journals and manuscripts. Back then, I only had the first draft of The Pace of Nature written, and I was feeling a little insecure about work-shopping parts of the story in my creative writing class. Simultaneously, I was taking another class on Hemingway, and on weekends, I would drive three hours + to Boston to research different versions of Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises for a mid-term paper. While flipping through Hemingway’s journals and manuscripts, I remember being taken aback when noticing all his corrections and crossed-out sentences, all the small notes Hemingway had written on the corners of the pages, all the X’d out paragraphs and spelling mishaps. As I kept reading and flipping through pages of Hem’s manuscripts, I felt the weight of my own insecurities rise off my shoulders. Hemingway, like me is/was a human being. It was a relief to see that his journals and pages had resembled the same markings of my own. I left the library that day ready and willing to share my story with my class. Hemingway had given me the confidence I needed to move ahead with my goals.
When thinking back to the term “starving artist” I am reminded that each generation of writers will have their own struggles. I can’t imagine how the lost generation must have felt when sitting down to write burdened with fear and anxiety not knowing where their next paycheck would come from.
It is in these moments when I am feeling let down by my short and limited writing schedule that I return back to Hemingway. I open A Moveable Feast, Hem’s memoir where he writes about his time in Paris and goes into specifics about his own writing process. Hemingway has always been my guide and source of strength. And when going back to my source, and re- reading my favorite passages, I am reminded that as long as I keep moving and writing, no matter how little the time I have, I am making progress. I will eventually get where I need to be.
Here are some of my favorite passages from A Moveable Feast.
“But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.”
“I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything, I hoped; listening I hoped” and I would read so that I would not think about my work and make myself important to do it.”
“I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”