Is writing fiction more of an art (an innate talent) or a craft to be mastered? Which is more important for a writer to possess- creative talent, or the ability to construct structurally competent manuscripts?
I know, the optimal answer is “both”. But from what I have observed, there is a tremendous amount of emphasis on the “Rules” of becoming a successful writer, and very little emphasis on being successfully creative, that is, creating a work of art with words. What makes a story memorable is the intangible- the premise, the plot, the characters, the theme, the imagery, and the setting of the story. The technical framework of grammar and composition, punctuation and structure, should ideally be so well done as to be invisible to the reader.
I ask this question because it is easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of “The Rules” of writing when you are working on mastering the craft, and what’s worse, much of it is contradictory. There are tons of books, videos, and blog posts on nearly every aspect of writing, be it a novel, short story, screenplay or script. Just search “Rules For Writers” and see what comes up!
I did, and I also searched “Rules For Artists”. There were a few books, some blog posts that were outdated. A few of the articles I found were technical, some were anecdotal.
“Rules for Musicians” turned up even less, except for a Musician’s Union rules post. With the exception of learning to read music, and specific instructions on playing various instruments, there are no overall “Rules” on how music should be created.
“Rules for Dancers“- a studio had their rules listed, things like what to wear or not to wear to class. (There was also an article on Rules For Strip Club dancers, but I opted not to read that one). Another blog post on dancing recommended things like “Dance to the Beat” (ohhhhh….that’s how they do it), and “Be comfortable”. Who knew?
Is writing the one art form where structure is tremendously more important than creativity?
The question of “Art VS. Craft” in regards to writing has been discussed probably as long as writers have been trying to turn the images in their heads into letters on the page. Michael A. Stelzner’s Blog, Writing White Papers, covered this topic. Guest blogger Sharon Hurley Hall examined writing from both the art and the craft sides, after taking a seminar on the arts where writing was considered something akin to a “Poor Relation”, the implication being it was not “really” an art form.
Another blog post, this one from Yotzeret Publishing, takes the view that though fiction writing is an art, the act of publishing (or pursuing publication) is a business, and that is how it differs from other art forms, such as painting, sculpting, etc.
“Painters and sculptors and potters don’t submit their work to galleries with the expectation that the gallery owners will come back and say, “We’d love to display your art, but you’ll need to make some revisions with an editor first.”
One that really struck me though, and seemed to answer my original question of which was more important, art or craft, was this blog post at Write To Done. Entitled “The Art Vs. Craft Gap- A Writer’s Paradox”. It was a guest post by none other than Larry Brooks, author of Story Engineering, as well as several popular thriller novels. To quote:
“The art resides in the design, the craft resides in the execution.”
He compared two houses, one a tract house in a crowded neighborhood, the other on the cover of Architectural Digest.
‘At the design stage, both houses are nothing more than the sum of a bunch of concepts and ideas, just like a novel. To simply stand upright against a stiff wind – the metaphoric equivalent of getting published in the case of a novel – there must be solid ideas and concepts in play which are executed with a sufficient level of craftsmanship.
But the essence of the truly artistic house is the originality, energy and beauty of the form and shape of the structure. Without something exciting, fresh and thought-provoking, you risk your story being perceive as yet another tract house in a neighborhood full of mediocrity.’
I brought up this question of Art VS. Craft because, like many of you, I get frustrated. I have been seriously studying the Craft of Writing for many years now. I have read numerous Craft books; taken classes, seminars, webinars; saved every blog post with How-To Tips; networked and critiqued; read countless novels; beta-read for other authors; wrote three completed manuscripts and have several partials in progress.
When will I be ready? Is learning the mechanics of the craft enough, or is there some elusive Artistic Quality that must be present? If so, how does one develop that?
What I do know is this- the Artist in me won’t let me quit, no matter how long it takes to master The Craft.
How about you? How much emphasis do you place on artistic ability in writing? On honing your craft skills? What do you consider to be the right balance?