"I have to sacrifice something to form any good habit. There are some things I refuse to sacrifice; sleep isn’t one of them."
"You draw me, you hard-hearted adamant;
But yet you draw not iron, for my heart
Is true as steel; leave you your power to draw,
And I shall have no power to follow you."
Enough artists better than myself have explained the truism that artistic habits require sacrifice. I don't feel the need to explain it further. With few exceptions due to extreme circumstances, anyone who wants anything badly enough will make the sacrifices necessary to attain it—which is how I finish novels, but never manage to stick to an exercise regimen.
Wanting something badly is much of what makes novel-writing such a horrible experience. Now, it's perfectly possible to spend November splurging on wild plot points and indulging your own psyche, and come out with a NaNoWriMo win that was no more than moderately difficult to achieve. It's even possible to discover that you've got the makings of a sincerely good story at the end. I've done that. But that's not writing a novel, not as O'Connor means it; at best, it's writing a rough draft.
Three years after writing my first—trunk manuscript not counted—rough draft, I'm still revising out weak storytelling decisions, and yes, I actually have been sweeping a lot of my own hair off the floor. Though I've mostly been remembering to brush my teeth.
And now, I come up against the impossible.
I have tried and tried to come up with something worth saying about sacrifice and the desire to be an artist, and after putting in almost a full day of effort with no success whatsoever, must admit defeat. The problem, I think, is that the desperation with which I want to be an artist is the sort of thing I can't speak openly about; it runs parallel—rather too closely parallel, in fact—to the desperation for motherhood, which I have a hard time even mentioning. Both are too primal, and frankly, too embarrassing.
So, just speaking for my life at the everyday level: sacrificing for art is not usually difficult for me. Sacrificing art for things like sleep and food and family time—now that, I find challenging.
Not that I have no struggles, mind. Every time I click on someone's unfriendly political link on Facebook, I know I'm wasting emotional energy. Every time I go to choir practice, I know I'm prey once again to wanting too many things; there's no point stressing myself out about music when my voice is really just gone. Better to put my efforts into what I can still do.
But then, sometimes little things like that are what keep me human, and keep me from burning out. Which are important goals, even for an artist. After all, trying to become an artist is chasing stars in the worst kind of way. It's difficult to know whether you're any good, and nearly impossible to predict success. Like Shakespeare's Helena, you follow the desire of your heart into Oberon's wood, ignoring rebuffs, with no hope except that you might possibly be overheard by sympathetic magic—and no matter what you do, you're going to come out a fool, so best to be a human one.
Pursuing art is painful, and results are unpredictable. But as Masha pointed out, at least it's an act of hope.
"Forming a habit of art is an act of discipline, and an act of hope. I am working through my free hours in the hope that some thing I produce will have value. Not merely to me, but to someone reading it. Not that it will be loved and acclaimed, but that it will do good. It is a hope that is encouraged through correspondence, through discipline, and through repetition."
“People without hope not only don't write novels, but what is more to the point, they don't read them.”