Many young actors and playwrights ask me how they can make a living in the arts. What they’re really asking is how can they be famous NOW or in a big movie NOW or published NOW or produced on Broadway NOW. I don’t blame them for thinking this way, I’m dead sure I thought the same in high school. We are never shown the step by step path to get those things we covet, we are more often than not only shown the successes. And if we’re shown failure it’s something to laugh at, not learn from.
When asked, I try to skirt the question. Because I know they want a different answer than I have to give. I don’t know how to famous/movie/broadway NOW. I know how to get a temp job for nine years and live sparely. I didn’t have any “things’ (you know those things that are supposed to denote success) till well after 30. I know how to have a job and work on my craft at the same time. I wrote at lunch, I wrote on the subway to work and from, I wrote when it was 3:00 and I had nothing to do- that was the awesome aspect of being a temp/writer. Writing LOOKS like work and the best lesson I ever learned as a temp is that if you look like you’re working no one bothers you.
Young artists don’t want to hear: find a job that pays the bills, but live sparingly so that you don’t have to sell your soul for that job, and then spend every spare second on your art. The professional artist has tenacity and a stubborn will. That’s what really divides those who want to make a living at their art and those who want instant success.
I came across this great post listing a couple of ‘famous’ writers who also had day jobs. And this is just a smattering. If Kafka can get a day job so can you.