Venice is a labyrinthine landscape — narrow stone walkways twisting alongside jade green canals. On both the occasions in which I was fortunate enough to travel in Venice, I’ve felt a deep calm settle over me.
“I could live here,” I told my friend while we wound our way through the city. How easy it was to imagine a different kind of life while wandering around getting comfortably lost and spending my afternoons drinking Aperol Spritz and consuming copious amounts of pasta — a life in which I could spend my mornings writing in a apartment overlooking the water and my afternoons wandering the streets with a sketchbook, looking for some secret nook of the city to discover.
There is a romantic ideal of The Artist’s Life, the idea that writers, painters, or other creators live with more passion than other people. They may be housed in some grand dilapidated studio, creating their art simply for art’s sake — never mind money or the need for food or what anyone else thinks about it.
Some of this comes from the stories we tell about creators. Van Gogh painting what would later be recognized as masterpieces while impoverished and struggling with mental illness. Fitzgerald and Hemingway romping it up in Paris, drinking and partying while shaping their classic novels.
Even learning stories about the lives of modern writers can fill me with a sense of longing. When I recently listened to a podcast interview in which Neil Gaiman describes writing all his novels and stories out in notebooks with fountain pens, I couldn’t help thinking about how lovely that sounded. What a beautiful way to write a story. Maybe, I thought, I just need to buy some new notebooks and pens. Maybe this will help me be a Writer.
The Artist’s Life is an ideal that’s hard to live up to and sometimes it can feel like you’re not a “real” artist — especially when you’re trying to balance creative pursuits between work, family, friendship, and the plain need to rest. However, any life, whether in Venice or Paris or San Francisco, can quickly loose its romance under the obligations of daily life.
At the end of the day, there’s no one right way to be a writer, and every artist has to forge their own path through mundane trials or their own life. Some writers methodically put words down on the page every day. Some write more sporadically. Some use pen and ink, some stick to the computer screen.
The roads are many and varied. What’s yours?
Note: This article first appeared in my (semi)-monthly newsletter on the writing life. If you enjoyed reading it, please subscribe.