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?”

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