Art vs. Craft (Writing Theory Thursday)

One of the hardest things in the world to balance as a writer (other than time – that one’s a killer) is the tension between art and craft.

By art I mean authenticity, rawness, real-ness.

By craft I mean skill, polish, and style.

The truth is that they shouldn’t be in tension, shouldn’t be in conflict.  A writer needs both.  Even a writer whose only goal is to entertain his readers needs both skill and a genuine sense of fun, suspense, fear, etc.

For a writer who’s still entertaining thoughts of inspiring, questioning, or broadening the minds of her readers, the two both have to be there.  It’s simply non-negotiable.

It’s also a lot easier said than done.  Regardless of whether that tension “should” exist, it does.  It is very hard to focus on specific tasks and sub-skills (like character voice or sensory input or short sentences) while simultaneously “writing in your own blood” (to paraphrase Nietzsche).

I don’t really have an answer, here.  Looking at my own work, I think it may be a matter of keeping that tension alive, forcing yourself to be honest and vulnerable while you write.  Eventually, if you write enough and identify areas that need improvement, your writing will improve.

Craft requires practice, and focused practice.  And that’s not necessarily easy to do.  It requires us to master our authorial egos, recognize that this particular book or story may not ever shake the foundations of the literary world, honestly assess what we’re doing wrong, and try to do better the next time.

But all this is for naught if we lose our honesty, vulnerability, and conviction along the way.  “What good is it if a man gains the whole world, but loses his soul?” Jesus of Nazareth famously said.  I might add, “What good is it if an author gains technical skill and financial support, but loses his voice?”

A little update

I’m making progress toward having actual inventory.  I put “Peace? I Hate the Word” up on Kindle and Smashwords.  I’m following Dean Wesley Smith’s advice and pricing it at $2.99, even though I feel a little odd about selling a novelette for that much (it outgrew “short story” status, reaching 7,600 words).  To make a long story short, there’s an ugly trend of indie authors devaluing their own work, and I refuse to participate.

In writing, “value” means the quality of the experience, not the number of words per dollar charged.  A 200,000 word novel priced at 99 cents may be a great value, or it may be 200,000 words of your life you’ll never get back.  I’ve gladly paid over $10 for e-books that were quite short: The Lost World of Genesis One by John H. Walton is one example.

Another is A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz.  I got it on sale for 99 cents, but it was worth far more.  Temporary sales are good for promotion, but how do you put a book on sale when you’re starting at 99 cents?

Anyway, I’ve put “Peace? I Hate the Word” up, and I’m working on another Cassa short story.  This one’s a prequel, taking place twenty years earlier, when Cruhuer Merengo and Giuseppe Fiorentino first inherited their titles as heads of their respective houses.  It has similar themes, but approaches them from a different perspective.  I’m calling it “All Men Are Wolves.”

I know the “challenge goal” of one short story a week isn’t going to happen, but I knew that from the beginning.  I’m just glad to be making forward progress.  I’m using the short stories as workshops to improve specific aspects of my writing craft: sentence structure, character voice, proactive protagonists, and a balance of excitement with non-glorification of violence.

So, what do you think about e-book prices, especially indie prices?   And for those of you who are also writers, are there any specific aspects of your writing you’re working on improving?