Art or Craft?

I love to write.  To let the words flow out and hopefully spin a bit of magic as they fly.  It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  What lands on the paper, to me at least, is art.   A whole lot of dreaming in a big, mushy, colourful heap.

The thing is, although it is perfectly formed in my mind’s eye, it invariably doesn’t come out exactly right.  It often has skewed points of view, crappy grammar, and a passive voice.  But I know that somewhere inside the clunk, is a story that sings.  That is just waiting to be polished up and released to the world.

More than anything I want to be able to put together prose that is so great you can’t see any of the cosmetic flaws, because of the story itself.  Bearing that in mind, I figure there are two ways to approach this:

1. Pretend your story will stand on merit alone, and trust others to be able to see its shining virtues.

I lived in this place for an embarrassing length of time.  That’s not to say it’s a bad place; especially if you are writing for the sheer joy of it and don’t have any aspirations to share your work.  But for me there always was that hope that someday, someone else would want to share my stories too.  The cold hard reality is, if people can’t see past the mistakes how will they truly see what you’re trying to say?

2. Roll up your sleeves and learn from the people who make it look so easy.

There are so many great resources for aspiring writers the hardest thing is not to get swamped and lose heart.  In my opinion balance is the key.  Keep a firm hold on why you want to write – the thing that drives your passion for words and makes you want to keep creating. This is the source of our art as writers.  But remember every time you miss the mark, you are one step closer if you learn something from it.  And this is where the craft is so important.

I recently submitted a piece of work for review in an online critique competition.  (Check out Beyond the Hourglass Bridge , I’m not-so-anonymous-now Entry 2).  I was somewhat devastated to realise I have a long way to go when it comes to the grammatical side of writing.  But I figure if someone is going to be good enough to give me the benefit of their skill, I will accept it gratefully. I can work on minimising the passive voice, and learn how to use commas and semicolons properly. The critiquers were also gracious in their positive feedback, and my fragile writer heart was able to accept this too and not crumple up in a defeated heap.

Another useful tool I’ve discovered lately was from Rachel Aaron, and I touched on this in an earlier blog.  If you love what you write, the words will flow.   Her blog-post was entitled How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day.  It took me a few tries to get my head around it.  The first time I was a bit too focussed on the word count.  I did get a whole heap of words down, but they weren’t quite right and I ended up scrapping most of it.  Obviously I hadn’t put enough time in figuring out where my scene needed to go.

I still felt Rachel was giving great advice, so I had a good long look at my POV character.  What she was really going through?  What did I love about her? How would she feel about the events playing out about her?  Once this clicked into place the story came alive, and I’m much happier with the scene.

I’m so far from where I need to be, but at least I’m moving closer all the time.

To finish with a quote from the Lord of the Rings:

‘But where shall I find courage?’ asked Frodo. ‘That is what I chiefly need.’

‘Courage is found in unlikely places,’ said Gildor. ‘Be of good hope!’

Sometimes we could all do with a troop of wandering wild elves to give us a bit of encouragement.  Happy writing!

How do you find the balance between following your story and learning the finer points of the writer’s craft?

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2 thoughts on “Art or Craft?

  1. For me it took years of writing blind and getting critiqued. When I couldn’t fix the problems that kept cropping up, I finally started studying the craft. Life got easier after that.

    My experience so far is that, while problems always crop up, there is always a way to fix them that fits with my story… sometimes the inspiration just takes time.

    As for grammar, etc: I think in fiction there’s more leeway, especially in first person POV. People don’t always talk in grammatically correct sentences, so it’s a matter of recognising your character’s voice – and picking the difference between quirks of voice, and stuff I just can’t be bothered to learn enough about to fix… *cough*

    1. Yes I am starting to realise it will never be perfect. But perhaps better.

      You’re right about the leeway too. I’m trying to hit the balance between giving myself freedom and hoping one day this stuff we study will just come out without having to think too hard. (There is a reason I’m Dreaming of Other Realms…)

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