I have played a lot of roles in my life. Editor. Historian. Spokesperson. PR flack. Small (very small) business owner. But of all my roles, none has been as challenging as the one I have created for myself now—artist in the digital age.
I didn’t start thinking of myself as an artist until fairly recently. In fact, I winced when I read on my website the other day, “Tim does not consider himself a ‘creative writer.'” When I wrote that, I must have meant, “I don’t write fiction.” Which is mostly true.
But I have always written creatively, though mostly for myself or my family. I have filled dozens of journals over the past 40 years, some of them including poetry. I have also been a creative writer professionally, finding clever ways to make the most technical things interesting for nontechnical people. The audience of “nontechnical people” definitely includes me, which makes me good at it.
In the past few years I have become more intentional in writing poetry, and now songs. And the more I have done it, the more natural it has become. A couple of lines, a beat, or a rhythm come to me, and I sit down and let it flow. The first draft may take half an hour, tops, followed by some worrying over particular words or where to put punctuation, but really, it comes easily to me.
In a way, it’s laziness. I can deliver ideas more quickly, easily, clearly, and efficiently through a couple of stanzas, scribbled down in the heat of that creative moment, than I could in painfully wrought paragraphs.
But in the old days, writing was frustrating and lonely because the only way to get it out there was to get it published. The constant torrent of rejection led some writers to depression and worse. Today, writing is frustrating and lonely because getting “published” is easy, but it doesn’t guarantee feedback, likes, shares, trending, going viral, or any kind of clout—let alone income. This is the challenge of being an artist, literary or otherwise, in the digital age.
What we must do in today’s world—and maybe this is no revelation to anyone who generates any kind of art but me—is that the best reason to do it is for yourself. That’s it. Maybe your parents or spouse or kids will appreciate it, but beyond that … just put your wings on it, close your eyes, plug your nose, and let it go.