14 February 2017

Do You Do Artist Dates?

“The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore
something that interests you.” Julia Cameron

An artist date is permission to play. Every week, you are supposed to explore something that makes you smile.

When I first heard about them, I was excited, but I circled around the idea cautiously, like an animal scenting something new. What is this thing called play? Am I allowed to indulge in it, or do I have to spend every waking moment working as a doctor, a writer, and a mother?

For me, because I live in the country, one of the barriers is physically getting to something that interests me. It takes me an hour to drive to Montreal, 1.5 hours to drive to Ottawa, and more if there’s snow or traffic.

And yet, it’s almost always worth it.

I think this is why writers love conferences. You go from isolation to a collective army of smart, funny people who love the same things you do (reading, writing, and Riesling). You can get some of the same vibe online, but it’s not as fun as in person.

Steve Steinbock & Melissa Yi at Bloody Words 2014
“It’s Brigadoon!” said Steve Steinbock, of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, who suggested I come to Bloody Words, the former Canadian crime conference.

“Huh? What’s Brigadoon?”

He explained that it’s a town that materializes out of nowhere, and then it’s gone. “Brigadoon!”

“Brigadoon,” I repeated, still a bit confused, but enjoying his enthusiasm.

Another barrier for me is that I hate spending money. I went to Left Coast Crime last year, felt guilty about spending money, and quizzed other authors in attendance if they felt guilty, too. The answer: no, with the unspoken corollary of "Why are you wasting your time here worrying about it?" Stacy Allen was kind enough to answer in detail. She said something to the effect of, “You have a gift. Everyone here has a gift. It’s a crime not to use it.”
With thanks to Lisa de Nikolits for the photo!

I just spent a long, long weekend in Toronto. The main goal was speaking at OLA, the Ontario Library Association superconference, through Crime Writers of Canada, on the Friday. I spent my two minutes explaining the genesis of Stockholm Syndrome (chasing after an escaped prisoner, as I explained in my interview with CBC Radio's Robyn Bresnahan here), connected with new readers, learned of literary conferences in Renfrew and Kingston, met James Wigmore, an author who’s a retired forensic toxicologist, and Judy Penz Sheluk invited me to post on her blog.

I stayed extra-long so that I could sing in a mass choir with MILCK, my favourite new singer--a brave, talented, risk-taker whom I'd like to emulate in many ways.

How about you? Do you do artist dates? Do you spend money on your art, and on your writing career?


  1. My husband who has made a second career about writing soccer _ hardly a shoo in in the USA- always said one has to invest in oneself. That is excellent advice.

  2. I'm a big fan of conferences and community too--and without the guilt, I should add! But this idea of artist dates is an interesting one, though I'm not sure I entirely understand.... Does this mean like actually going *out* somewhere--a museum, a movie, etc.--on your own? Or is that idea of "exploration" more figurative: Here's a book I've heard a lot about, so I'm going to read it.... But we do that anyway, so I'm thinking the former.

    Like you, though, we've got day job and writing career and parenting--so not sure where to find the time each week! And if we had a "date night," I'd rather take it with my wife than on my own!

  3. The expense of investing in one's writing career is counterbalanced by the tax-deductability of those expenses. (At least it is in the U.S.) Of course, one must have the money to spend in the first place, and there have been many years where investing in my writing career took second place to paying for life's necessities.

  4. Yes, I spend money on conferences and such, and yes, I often feel guilty about it. It helps that my husband is always supportive and tells me not to worry about the expense, and it's comforting to think of the expense as an "investment." But when I spend hundreds of dollars on a conference and sell three books, it doesn't always feel like a smart investment. Of course, it's wonderful to spend time with fellow writers, chat with readers, and learn from panels and presentations. And there's always the chance that a conference will lead to a new opportunity. Probably, most writers struggle with these issues, weighing costs against benefits--and for most of us, guilt is probably part of the process.

  5. @Janice, this reminds me of an article summary I read, that mothers working doesn't show an effect on their kids, but *guilt* about working or not does have an effect. So the best thing is to do it and not feel guilty! Your husband is smart.

  6. @Art, Julia Cameron says to go alone, but I choose to do it alone or with someone else, depending. And yes, she means actually getting out of the house instead of reading. 'Course, my view is that rules are meant to be broken, as long as no one gets hurt, so YMMV.

  7. @Michael, absolutely, on both counts. I would be too stressed if I went into debt, but once you're on the profit side, you do want to deduct everything.

  8. B.K., it's true, the money often doesn't work out on the surface. I spent a good deal of Bloody Words silently calculating how much I was spending. It's an unpleasant way to live. I bet you're right that most of us struggle with guilt and don't think about the intrinsic value of our work.

    When I flew down to SciFest-LA, I ended up speaking to actor Tucker Smallwood:

    Tucker Smallwood: Only five percent of SAG members make enough money to pay into the pension and get health insurance. This is not a good industry if you want to play the odds. This is something you do because you can’t not do it. Artists don’t get to choose.
    What does failure mean to you?

    Me: Well, what if I write something, and nobody likes it?

    Tucker: So it’s not commercial. Is that a failure?

    Me: Well, no.

    Tucker: If you wrote something worthwhile, something you believe in, then it has intrinsic value. If I get to interpret something, illuminate a scene in a way that no one else has done before me, then that’s a success.

    I learned a lot from Tucker and other actors: http://melissayuaninnes.com/magic-words-money-and-the-roswell-award-at-sci-fest-la-city-of-angels-day-3/

    Good luck to all of us, and Happy Valentine's Day!


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