✍️ Living La Vida Artística
Or, Can Living the Writer’s Life Make You a Better Writer?
I get the impression Terry lived the Artist’s Life long before he became a novelist. This non-practising engineer and political consultant woke up one day and decided to feed his inner artist by writing his first novel at age 45. Seemingly the things that drew him to engineering – curiosity and the desire to make something out of nothing – were the same things that drew him to writing. After all, what is engineering but applied creativity?
It also ignited Terry’s passion for the literary world. In a recent post, he describes his love of Paris in the 1920s when Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the gang drank coffee and wine in cafés, boxed each other, and got up to various other hijinks. Oh, and they wrote on occasion, too. Terry started to collect writing memorabilia such as an Underwood typewriter, author photos, and typewriter key cufflinks with his initials. He says that these things all help him feel like a writer.
After the success of his first novel, he started living the Artist’s Life in other ways – often as the star. Invitations to book fairs and conferences and workshops. Getting tweeted at by Margaret Atwood. Vamping for the camera with Will Ferguson and Cheryl Strayed. Introducing John Irving at book launches.
It’s important to underline that he did most of this while he was a part-time writer. Terry only quit his day job less than a year ago, so for the first 18-odd years and eight novels, he was the literary equivalent of a Weekend Warrior. Not unusual for a Canadian novelist! Regardless, he became part of that literary world he immersed himself in.
As some of you may have guessed, I’m talking about Terry Fallis, two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and author of the wildly fabulous The Best Laid Plans. And maybe my hero when it comes to living the writer’s life.
The Artist’s Life and the Artist
Full disclosure: Terry and I have known each other for about 12 years and he’s been a huge inspiration to me. In fact, he was a big part the reason I started writing my first novel way back when... I don’t know for sure, but I suspect I was the first to sign up to his Substack newsletter, Terry Fallis – A Novel Journey, which I highly recommend!
A post of his late last year was partially the inspiration for this post, though I’ve been kicking around this idea for a while now. (I have the same affinity to Paris in the 20s and even have the same Underwood on my bookshelf as Terry does, so I’ve lived it too...)
The question that occurred to me is simple: Does “living the artist’s life” make you a better writer or is it just another distraction from getting to the real work? I believe yes, it can help. Absolutely! (Or I wouldn’t be writing this post… lol)
Living the writer’s life:
Keeps You Inspired – I find reading about or watching videos about other writers and their work to be very inspiring. I think part of it, as it is for many people, is that need to somehow “decode” the secret of their success so that I can cash in too. But it’s more than that. Sometimes, we see ourselves reflected in these other artists. Their little quirks and – most especially – their stated fears can be similar to our own, which helps us believe we are on the right path. (Sometimes it’s the same ancient typewriter on a similar bookshelf...)
Keeps You Connected – It’s been said a million times: writing is a lonely business. The problem is, this loneliness can intensify feelings of imposter syndrome, “why bother” syndrome, and a boatload of other negative feelings we’ve talked about (and have yet to talk about). On the other hand, connecting with a group of other writers gives a sense of camaraderie. Reading about or living vicariously through another writer’s life doesn’t make as strong a connection as getting together socially or banding together with other writers for a workshop. But it does create some sense of connection and helps make us feel part of the writing tradition.
Keeps You in a Writing Frame of Mind – We’ve talked about the importance of being in a writing frame of mind before, and how rituals help writers like Stephen King get the brain ready for writing. Living the Artist’s Life, even part time, can help with that, too. It helps you immerse yourself in the writing world so that the act of writing itself can be less scary. It also helps you feel more like a “real” writer, which many of us struggle with at times.
Keeps Your Creative Well Filled – Writing is, of course, the ultimate expression of being a writer. It’s also an expression and activity that spends creative energy. At some point, you have to stop and refill the well. Living the artist’s life is another way to express yourself as writer (at least internally) that fills up the creative well rather than draining it.
Ways to Live the Artist’s Life
Living the Life of an Artist doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. We can be Weekend Warriors of the artistic world (Weekend Wordiers?) instead. The focus of course has to remain on writing. But we can also immerse ourselves in the writing world in other ways, such as:
Finding out the history of writers (Terry Fallis’ “A Novel Journey” on Substack is a great read)
Watching documentaries on writers/artists/creatives
Making literary pilgrimages (such as to Paris, which I and I’m sure Terry highly recommend)
Getting together with other writers for workshops, readings, or just to socialize over coffee or wine
Reading newsletters like this one
Research – for your next novel, short story, CNF, or for whatever
So instead of going from one set of white water rapids to another in a plastic dingy, go café hopping along the Left Bank. Instead of scrolling through Facebook, read about how other writers like Terry Fallis live and feel about their writing lives. Instead of binging Bridgerton (again), watch “Everything is Copy” – a loose bio-pic on When Harry Met Sally writer Nora Ephron.
These excursions, both physical and in the mind, will be interesting in their own right. But most importantly, it’s an easy way for you to immerse yourself in the writing world so you’re that much more likely to want to write something of your own.
Key Takeaway: Living the artist’s life or writer’s life can be fun in itself, but most importantly it helps you become more comfortable as a writer. It’s a way of feeling connected with the larger writing world. Living the writer’s life fills up your creative well and helps you get into a writing frame of mind.
Over to You: Do You Live La Vida Artística?
Have you done any literary pilgrimages, watched documentaries on writers, or otherwise delved into the writing world? What’s worked best for you? Let us know in the comments below!
In the meantime, I resisted the urge to post a Ricky Martin video, and instead I leave you with a TEDx Talk from Melanie Norris on being an artist. Her key takeaway: “Every day, I show up. Every day, I try.” (At about the 2:50 mark.) Although she’s a visual artist, it’s a universal message for all creatives that really resonated with me.
Until next time, keep trying too – and keep writing with wild abandon!
email me if you get lost.