The Detroit Women Writers (as it was then known–now the Detroit Working Writers, including men) used to run a conference at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. At one conference, I was tasked with picking up Elmore Leonard at his home and driving him to the conference to be the keynote speaker after lunch. Irascible at the best of times, drink didn’t improve him and that day, he was definitely drunk. It was 11:30 a.m. He sobered up over the rubber chicken lunch (no alcohol on campus) and gave a suitable keynote address in the Donald and Jan O’Dowd Hall (known as Dowdy Hall, aptly at the time). The hall was a semicircular gray room, no windows, tiered, and contained seats with those dropdown attached desks. Not inspiring. I don’t remember the speech, but I do remember the Q&A aftermath. One student (Oakland U. students could attend our conference for free) raised his hand and asked: “What do you do about writer’s block?”
Leonard was furious, shaking. He gripped the dais and leaned forward. The student shrank back in his seat. Leonard shouted, “Writer’s block? Writer’s block? You either want to write or you don’t.”
This has stayed with me over the years, partly because of its drama, but also because, despite the questionable delivery, Leonard’s right. You either want to write or you don’t. You either want to paint or you don’t. You either want to follow a passion or you don’t. His point, that we pursue what we want to do is a critical life lesson. A life in art is hard because, for most of us, it remains a sideline until we can earn enough money to make it a business. And how many of us actually achieve that? So we’re back to basics. We either love what we do or we don’t. A life in art means a love of art and we can only have that life with enough love, enough passion, and enough determination to see it through.