January 18, 2011

"Find ways to be unemployed, doing nothing, finding enough time on your hands, after you've met your basic needs, to wander into unknown realms of thought and imagination."

"You can't do it when you're busy working like everyone else, collecting a paycheck, keeping regular hours, depending on the goodwill and collegiality of customers, coworkers, bosses — if you choose employment in academia, it's no different, you still have clients and bosses to please. Avoid this gentle poison by figuring out ways you can mock the system by taking from it what it needs to give you to maintain your writing, and give it nothing back in return."

From Anis Shivani's "New Rules for Writers," specifically, Rule #4: "Seek Unemployment."

ADDED: I had a link to a book of Shivani's before. The link is corrected. There's a whole, very interesting article to read!

AND: Thanks to Instapundit for linking — "ADVICE TO WRITERS: Go John Galt?" — and getting me to notice my bad link. Perhaps the trend of the comments will change with the whole context of the quote and the cue from Glenn to think in Randian terms.

83 comments:

Moose said...

Wow.

Can I specify if I want to support lazy fucktards who spend all their time on the couch pretending to be writers? At least pretentious actors become waiters.

JAL said...

And no, the tax payers of America do not have any obligation, need. or desire to support this person.

Starve on your own, artist. Makes for better art.

Michaelangelo had a job.

traditionalguy said...

This is rebellion in disguise. An unfaithful person who rejects any covenant of duty in her relationships will govern her relationships with the notion that winning means giving little or nothing back in the exchange. She will never get out of the slavery trap she places herself into that way.

JAL said...

Wasn't it Nancy Pelosi who thought artists should get paid by the government for being?

Anna said...

Sounds good to me, as long as said writer doesn't take to hanging out exclusively with other writers or artists. Writers need to be grounded in reality and in the doings of "normal people". Whatever the other commentators say, not every needs to have a 9 to 5 jobs with a boss in order to be Doing Something With Their Lives.

Maguro said...

Don't tell me - Rule #5 is "Collect Unemployment".

lucid said...

There is a subculture of highly entitled, mostly younger folks who think themselves so special that the world should entertain them simply for the brilliance and beauty of their being.

Most of them are lefties, and most of them, I must say, are fairly pretty women.

And most of them will have a very bitter surprise ahead of them.

Scott M said...

Rule #4: "Seek Unemployment."

As a wannabe writer, hasn't his always been the case? I remember hearing Woody Allen's one and only stand up album in which he talks about getting hit up for doing a vodka ad (hysterical, by the way). He mentions that he needed outside work to free himself up creatively. That always stuck with me.

I certainly know it's exceptionally hard to keep even a basic writing schedule with four kids, a wife and both of us with a full time job.

The Crack Emcee said...

"Find ways to be unemployed, doing nothing, finding enough time on your hands, after you've met your basic needs, to wander into unknown realms of thought and imagination."

AKA Big Pimpin'. Or, as my sister said, find a fat girl and let her take care of you.

Meade said...

"You don't have to be job-locked."

holdfast said...

@JAL - that was my first thought too. More bums on the dole - just "artistic bums" now.

Now make me a latte!

Paddy O said...

Anna, amen to that. Especially the first bit (but also the second).

Of course, some might say that the best is to be employed and doing nothing. That's why everyone wants a government job nowadays.

Paddy O said...

I also, though, think that any writer who stays unemployed solely by living off the government is a sham and shame. There's a creativity involved, even if that means picking up the occasional odd job (or seasonal work) that sparks creative output.

No artist should be paid by the government, whether for their art or so they can "do" art.

Kevin said...

Rule #5 Demand Money From The State!

You're an artiste - employed losers should pay to support you!

Kevin said...

"There is a subculture of highly entitled, mostly younger folks who think themselves so special that the world should entertain them simply for the brilliance and beauty of their being.

Most of them are lefties, and most of them, I must say, are fairly pretty women.

And most of them will have a very bitter surprise ahead of them."

Nah, if they are pretty women, they will just devise an alternative method of being supported...

Scott M said...

No artist should be paid by the government, whether for their art or so they can "do" art.

HOWARD JOHNSON IS RIGHT!!!

deborah said...

You need to have something to write about. Michener didn't begin writing until he was 40. I shudder to think what someone with this mindset would produce. There's a lot of claptrap and tediousness out there.

MadisonMan said...

Why can't an artist turn interactions with other people into art?

Let me say that this Anis Shivani is so not a person I want one of my kids to marry.

bagoh20 said...

I meet these writers every day. They ask me for change. I tell them to get a job. I was wrong. From now on I'll respond "Write a novel.

Ann Althouse said...

He doesn't say: Collect unemployment compensation.

He's saying that an artist should work enough to support himself but make it a priority to have free time. Take your time. Time is all you have.

Youngblood said...

She starts out with the assumption that a writer should desire to "mock the system" without offering anything in return.

Scott M said...

He's saying that an artist should work enough to support himself but make it a priority to have free time. Take your time. Time is all you have

Exactly. This is what I believe Woody Allen was talking about. Making enough doing a one-off so that he would be freed up to work on what he chose.

There is a danger with free time, though. It takes discipline not to piss it away. Never before in the history of man have we been surrounded by so many piss-away targets before.

Youngblood said...

Oh! I read the name as Anais! That apparently should have been he!

Matthias said...

Heh. That sounds like it was written with a delicious sneer of derision by Ayn Rand herself.

PaulV said...

Good art can only be created by unhappy starving artist. No dole.

JAL said...

"Find ways to be unemployed, doing nothing, finding enough time on your hands,
after you've met your basic needs,
to wander into unknown realms of thought and imagination."

"You can't do it when you're busy working like everyone else, collecting a paycheck, keeping regular hours,
depending on the goodwill and collegiality of customers, coworkers, bosses — if you choose employment in academia, it's no different, you still have clients and bosses to please.

Avoid this gentle poison by figuring out ways you can mock the system by taking from it what it needs to give you to maintain your writing, and give it nothing back in return."

From each according to his ability {fools} to each according to his need.

Sounds like this person is operating on “From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.”

I know, I know. I really am just being contrarian. Partly to neede the Prof.

Paddy O said...

"He's saying that an artist should work enough to support himself but make it a priority to have free time. Take your time. Time is all you have."

I agree with this.

Might even say I live this.

This is pretty much what Thoreau was after too.

lucid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lucid said...

"You can't do it when you're busy working like everyone else, collecting a paycheck, keeping regular hours, depending on the goodwill and collegiality of customers, coworkers, bosses — if you choose employment in academia, it's no different, you still have clients and bosses to please. Avoid this gentle poison by figuring out ways you can mock the system by taking from it what it needs to give you to maintain your writing, and give it nothing back in return."

Ann's restatement of what she says Shevani is saying has a very different sense, feeling, and tone than the above excerpt, which emphasizes "mock[ing] the system," "unemployment," and "taking..and giv[ing} nothing back in return."

Doesn't sound like it is just about protecting your time. William Carlos Williams worked full time as a pediatrician, Wendell Berry as a farmer, Wallace Stevens as an insurance executive.

AllenS said...

Take your time. Time is all you have.

Well, then, wait until you've retired from your steady job. You'll have all kinds of time to perfect your art.

Wendy Kloiber said...

This advice goes to the heart of what's wrong with the Tiger Mother's path to achievement.

Idle time is key to quality thought. So is intellectual privacy.

Michael said...

Yeah, you wouldn't want to be the kind of writer who, like, had a job. Like T.S. Eliot or Wallace Stevens. Yuch.

bagoh20 said...

If you have a powerful quality mind, you won't need to stop walking to chew gum. If you do need to, I don't want to read what you have on your mind.

Youngblood said...

"He's saying that an artist should work enough to support himself but make it a priority to have free time. Take your time. Time is all you have."

His last sentence makes a mockery of your interpretation though, doesn't it?

I agree that it's difficult to write when working. It's not impossible, but it's very difficult. Of course, depending on the kind of writing done, working can inspire or provide material, so it has its advantages to.

Paddy O said...

Of course, JK Rowling was on unemployment in Scotland when she wrote Harry Potter.

That seemed to have received some positive reviews and decent book sales.

jr565 said...

I actually agree with this. Being a creative person oreally requires a tremendous amount of energy. The processs itself saps a lot out of you. And if you spend a lot of your time doing the 9 to 5 grind you will not have the energy to also be as creative as you'd like.
That's not to say that you should become unemployed and live on the states dime. Only that the more time you get to work on your craft, the better, so find jobs that provide sustenance while still leaving you with enough energy to create.

The Drill SGT said...

Ann Althouse said...
He doesn't say: Collect unemployment compensation.


The last sentence below seems to be the summary statement



4. Seek Unemployment. This goes back to our Franklinian endowment, our desperate impulse to occupy ourselves with practical stuff, feeling useful, needed, employed like everyone else. This is the death of writing. Find ways to be unemployed, doing nothing, finding enough time on your hands, after you've met your basic needs, to wander into unknown realms of thought and imagination. You can't do it when you're busy working like everyone else, collecting a paycheck, keeping regular hours, depending on the goodwill and collegiality of customers, coworkers, bosses--if you choose employment in academia, it's no different, you still have clients and bosses to please. Avoid this gentle poison by figuring out ways you can mock the system by taking from it what it needs to give you to maintain your writing, and give it nothing back in return.

Comrade X said...

It's called the J K Rowling plan, where the work product created on the dole somehow belongs to the creator not the benefactors.

Comrade X said...

or what Paddy O said

Michael said...

It has been my experience with writers, and I have known a number of published poets and novelists, that they write. They do not let the necessity of providing for themselves or their families prevent their writing. They write at night, they write early in the morning, they write on their breaks. Now bad writers require a lot of free time, a lot of creative time. Because they do not have the will. Louis Auchincloss wrote lots of books while practicing law full time. Now the really super dooper creative guys will say that Louis was not a great writer, not the kind of writer they aspire to be. Because, in the end, they aspire. They do not write. Because, here it comes, they have nothing to say.

rhhardin said...

I'd agree with taking time off, but for reading, not writing.

chickelit said...

*applauds*

ricpic said...

Take Your Time

He thought he'd find the deeper meaning
By withdrawing from the mundane strife;
But reading the pattern on the ceiling
Added all but naught to his life.

Alex said...

Most of them are lefties, and most of them, I must say, are fairly pretty women.

I would 100% of them are lefties. So far I've not encountered a single under 30 artist who isn't a raging lefty.

Alex said...

Avoid this gentle poison by figuring out ways you can mock the system by taking from it what it needs to give you to maintain your writing, and give it nothing back in return.

Isn't this moral parasitism? Do they think they'll get such a cushy writing "job" under a Communist regime after they've bled the capitalist one dry? Remember, the first people lined up against the wall by Stalin were intellectuals.

ricpic said...

Take Your Time

He thought he'd find the deeper meaning
By withdrawing from the mundane strife;
But reading the pattern on the ceiling
Added aught but naught to his life.

Alex said...

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

There are downsides to months of total isolation for "creativity". Like going insane.

Youngblood said...

"There are downsides to months of total isolation for 'creativity'. Like going insane."

How in the hell is that a downside?!

EDH said...

Beanie: In other words, forget all the normal rules that apply to both college and society, because this is a very big idea, my friends. We are talking about a non-exclusive, egalitarian brotherhood where community status and more importantly, age, have no bearing whatsoever.

Yeah? From the guy who probably won't get in.

Jerry: I go to school here.

Beanie: Okay.

Jerry: What sort of actual association will you have with the university?

Beanie: Well, legally speaking there will be a loose affiliation. But, we will give nothing back to the academic community. As well as provide no public service of any kind. This much I promise you.

ricpic said...

Take Your Time

He thought he'd find the deeper meaning
By withdrawing from the mundane strife;
But reading the pattern on the ceiling
Yielded aught but naught about life.

Christy said...

I thought the way bring home a paycheck and still have plenty of time for creative thought and writing was to work for the government.

Penny said...

Althouse said, "He's saying that an artist should work enough to support himself but make it a priority to have free time. Take your time. Time is all you have."

Actually, Althouse, Shivan said this:

"What it *the system* wants from you is your time--your only irreplaceable commodity, the only thing you can't ever get back."

ricpic said...

Take Your Time

He thought he'd find the deeper meaning
By withdrawing from the mundane strife;
But reading the pattern on the ceiling
Yielded nothing, a wasted life.

Retriever said...

And what about one's duty to support one's family? Many of us write on breaks, in lunch hours, late at night, but work day jobs for the sake of spouses and children we love. Most work can be honorable if done honestly and for love. It is loathsome arrogance to pretend that art can only be produced by adolescent garret dwellers pondering themselves. Engagement with others, dedication to causes and people besides oneself teach one more than gazing in the mirror ever will.

edutcher said...

It's one thing to take time to write a book, but I just spent a couple of minutes trying to think of any writer worth the mention who used his/her art as an excuse to be lazy. Most got their inspiration from what they did and wrote in their spare time (people like the Bronte sisters are a special category, of course).

The closest I got was BHO, and he probably got most of his material from the small c communist.

Paddy O said...

but for reading, not writing.

This is it.

If you take time off for writing, the time off should be for absorbing and for honing, more than even for writing.

"Louis Auchincloss wrote lots of books while practicing law full time."

There's examples for every approach under the sun. Jack London, for instance, focused solely on writing when he decided to be a writer, and wrote all manner of stuff, for all kinds of reasons, plugging away with absolute focus.

"Most work can be honorable if done honestly and for love."

I very much agree

"Engagement with others, dedication to causes and people besides oneself teach one more than gazing in the mirror ever will."

I'm not sure that this is either accomplished in every vocation, or that this is impossible while making sure to work for money as a secondary or tertiary goal. One has more time to engage others and dedicate to people and causes without dedicating oneself to a job one might hate and would cause distractions. Especially in the US where a good many employers aren't happy with just doing the least amount of work for the basic roles of the job. Those jobs that are, such as retail, insist on haphazard schedules.

So, a person has to do what works best for their goals... but I totally agree that having a family shifts the responsibility always in that direction.

Kevin said...

God, Portland is full of these types - "creatives", who never seem to create anything significant, who manage to get on food stamps and public assistance, and who are of course oh-so-superior to working stiffs.

I've suggested punitive taxes on Pabst Blue Ribbon and fixie bicycles, but the city government seems to think that attracting these types to Portland constitutes an "economic development strategy".

Paddy O said...

"any writer worth the mention who used his/her art as an excuse to be lazy."

I think any writer worth the mention probably worked harder when they didn't have a paying vocation to fall back on. Because they knew that if they wanted to survive they needed to work hard enough to stand out and do something worth noticing.

Paddy O said...

Portland is full of these types - "creatives"

Portland is the place where the dreams of the 90s can still be pursued!

ricpic said...

What the hell's wrong with the system?! That would be a real aha moment for all the withits. They might actually stop ass-uming.

Class factotum said...

Of course, JK Rowling was on unemployment in Scotland when she wrote Harry Potter.

Did she pay back the money she got once she hit the big time the way the Russell Crowe character did in "Cinderella Man?"?

Richard Fagin said...

"....figuring out ways you can mock the system by taking from it what it needs to give you to maintain your writing, and give it nothing back in return."


Sounds like a direct trip to skid row. I'd rather figure out better ways to give people what they need and have them happy to give me lots of money to do it.

Paul Brinkley said...

There could be hidden truth in Shivani's words. Try to be idle, and you'll soon find idle in all its beige glory, sitting around, nothing to look at, nothing to do, no company but yourself. You don't have to seek unemployment; unemployment will find you on its own.

You don't have to be officially unemployed to find this creative time. I've dug ditches for hours; you can think a lot while doing repetitive labor. See Joel Spolsky writing about his time in a bakery for an example. You can be creatively unemployed without being financially unemployed.

It's also possible to be both creatively and financially unemployed. If you don't work a 9-5, but watch soap operas all day and get caught up in the characters, then a movie in which you cheer at explosions, then read a book to see who committed the murder, then your creativity is distracted; you're engaged in scripted events that someone else created. They can be useful fertilizer, but only if you then spend time imagining what-ifs or pondering the science - finding periods of time between instants where you're mentally engaged in someone else's creations, coming up with creations of your own. And in Shivani's case, converting that imagination into text that others could engage in.

But again, it's easy to find time like that in a lot of 9-5s that involve unskilled labor, and even in some skilled ones.

Retriever said...

Paddy O., I think that it can redeem a job one hates if one does it for the sake of people one loves. One is happy to receive a paycheck that feeds the family. Also, harder to hate any work these days when good jobs are so scarce.

Bob_R said...

I have not read the book, so I don't know any more than the quoted passage, but I think that it is possible that he is advocating something that I (and many other commenters) could support. He could be saying don't take on a family, debt, obligations. Live a frugal, abstemious life. Choose seasonal work that gives you long stretches of time off to write. Monks and nuns are not parasites and writers don't have to be either.

Awesome said...

Anne's retiring!!!!

Pogo said...

Please, whoever you are, you writers seeking to develop your craft whilst unemployed, stop.

No one will ever want to read your drivel. No one. Ever. Better to be like Tom Wolfe's 'greatest artist ever' who died while drawing his masterpiece on a cafe napkin with a waterbrush.

Embrace your entropy, and spare us your plodding narratives; the world could use one less book, especially yours.

madAsHell said...

God, Portland is full of these types - "creatives", who never seem to create anything significant

Yeah....I've seen them. I wanna know where they get the money for those hideous tattoo sleeves. I know they ain't cheap.

Methadras said...

Ann, what would you do without this blog?

MadisonMan said...

Did she pay back the money she got once she hit the big time the way the Russell Crowe character did in "Cinderella Man?"?

I'll guess that JKRowling has paid far more in taxes in the past decade than she ever received on the dole.

John Lynch said...

... no

Because writing should be employment, and because writing is work, and because you need to pay your way in the world whether you write or not.

Good writers should be able to sell their work. If you aren't good enough at writing for people to read it, or you aren't diligent enough to get published, or if you are just unlucky, you shouldn't be writing instead of working. You'll do yourself and the world much more good if you do something else.

Writers need to have a work ethic. If you can't handle an 8 to 5 job you aren't going to be able to handle the work of writing. It's about
self-discipline. That's life. Writing is not an escape from the realities of living.

Writing should NOT be the province of the independently wealthy, the trust-funders, and the slackers. These people aren't likely to be in touch with human nature, which is a requirement for good writing. They can have limited appeal to a certain class of people (which Althouse skewers here on a regular basis) but will leave people who work for a living shaking their head. Since that's most of the world, a writer shouldn't retreat into cloud cuckoo land if they actually want to say something.

Lastly, this reminds me of Abbie Hoffman.

John Lynch said...

I'll add this: writing itself doesn't take much time. Write a page a day and you have a novel in a year. If you can write effectively for 15 minutes, you have the time.

You do need to have time to write, but that's a matter of discipline, not economics.

The Musket said...

Sign me up -- I'll let someone support me while I study music, poetry and history -- oh, ya, my hubby already does that, lol

Paddy O said...

"Did she pay back the money she got once she hit the big time"

Well, I think she's pretty charitable, so there's that. There's also, more directly, the fact that I suspect the taxes she pays on £560 million more than makes up for the money the UK sent her.

Paddy O said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

You need to have something to write about. Michener didn't begin writing until he was 40.

Judging by the quality of the stuff Amazon Vine wants me to read and review, I would say that rule ended its relevance about 40 years ago. If I read novels, as I do for relaxation, I read military novels written by people like WEB Griffin or Steven Pressfield. Most of my reading is nonfiction and here I find about 25% well written.

I sure hope most of these writers have day jobs. I have one book on Amazon still selling after six years but that was a niche market, medical history.

Tim said...

As Robert Heinlein said (or maybe Jerry Pournelle, I forget) authors are basically competing for my beer money. If they don't want to compete, that is fine. I like beer pretty good too.

gutless said...

Free government cheese, the very foundation of the artistic community. Bree, yum.

Charlie Martin said...

I have to admit that for all that it's sort of over-stated, it's good advice. It's sure a helluva lot harder for me to get much writing done while I've got a day job as a senior engineer.

On the other hand, it's a lot more pleasant doing so on what I make as an engineer than what I made as a writer and editor.

MikeR said...

"What it wants from you is your time--your only irreplaceable commodity, the only thing you can't ever get back. Every minute spent teaching a student or hiring out your talents in any other way is an insult to your writing potential, and each such moment degrades you so that you can never attain greatness."
Wrong. Greatness requires focus, but it also require defocus. You will never get anything good done if you do not do other things as well. I saw that Richard Feynman said that he always taught a class; that without teaching at least one class, he could do his own science either.

MikeR said...

*couldn't do his own...

tree hugging sister said...

Lord, talk about over thinking things!

I wrote an entire bodice-ripper longhand in composition books during slow evenings, while working the 4:45-9 p.m. shift at our little local supermarket's tobacco shop. (The four paragraph plot treatment had a Harlequin Editor asking to see the manuscript 20 years later. Not bad for an at the time 20 year old's efforts!)

You find time to write if you're meant to. If you have to read the "Hand Book for Meanful Authorship", schmaybe you're not meant to.

Amartel said...

Unless you're Beethoven or of a similar genius (for real, not just in your own mind), then get a damn job. For your own good. An artist should be out in the world, know the world and the many perspectives in the world. Otherwise you're just posing and all you'll come up with is self-involved navel-gazing which is boring to everyone else. And explains the whole Portland thing.