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Creativity and the Recession

November 2, 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much the recession is affecting the creative writer. It’s hard to get creative when you need to cobble together several jobs just to make ends meet . . . or worse, spend all your time trying to get a day job. Anxiety is not always a friend to creativity. Even those who have some degree of job security are often increasingly pressed these days to work harder and longer as colleagues’ jobs are eliminated, either through attrition or layoff. The writer who used to write during his lunch break is no more; there is no lunch break.

In the July-August issue of Mother Jones, writers Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery call it the “speedup” — an “old-school phrase” that they say gives form to an increasing trend. “We’d hear from creative professionals in what seemed to be dream jobs who were crumbling under ever-expanding to-do lists. . .who shame-facedly whispered that no matter how hard they tried to keep up with the extra hours and extra tasks, they just couldn’t hold it together.” 

Lately, my life is more along these lines since recessionary pressures forced me to take on a full time job in addition to my part time gigs as a writing teacher and professional writer. I’ve learned new skills in the process and become more efficient at planning my time. I’m still writing when I can.

I like to think of all that Charles Dickens accomplished in the way of writing, pushed on by the monetary pressure of his needy relatives. Or Edgar Allen Poe. Necessity can indeed be the mother of invention.

But such pressure doesn’t always leave much room for letting the creative pot simmer or carving out the chunks of time it takes to produce something big and worthy. Yet, the need to express our creativity – whether through writing, art, or music – can be a basic need for some of us. Without it, our lives feel flat. And we can make the present atmosphere work for us if we think . . . well . . . creatively.

One friend lost her job in the pharmaceutical industry and has been unemployed for over a year but she’s painting regularly and doing some of her finest work. Another just got an MA degree in English and can’t find a job so is forced to move in with a relative until she gets back on her feet, but she’ll still be writing . . . maybe about the very situation she finds herself in. Another underemployed writer I know has been writing protest signs for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Now there’s a worthy use of one’s writing talent if ever there was one!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 3, 2011 12:09 AM

    What a great post! I never thought of economic needs as spurring on my creative drive, but it’s true that some writers have produced their greatest work this way. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. November 3, 2011 7:28 AM

    I agree with Emilie. It’s a great post. It’s nice to think that something good will come from these hard times.

  3. Marielena permalink
    November 6, 2011 10:02 AM

    Thanks for this wonderful, well-written post, Gretchen. I could relate! When I worked full-time at a very busy job I had to carve out periods of time for my creative writing. That would happen usually in the evenings or first thing in morning. With family members who have lost jobs during this recession, I know how painful it is, but as you stated so beautifully, it can be a time of re-framing our creativity and using our writing in ways we may never have suspected!

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