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Art, Craft, and process. A small rant.

Elsewhere on the internet, some discussion about art vs. craft.

Bruce Bethke on talent vs. craft

I understand that there are people, like me, who want to write novels for a living. This makes sense to me, because obviously, that's what I do, and I like to think of myself as reasonably sensible (comments about the accuracy of this should be offered with very careful consideration. I'm just saying). Bethke's post makes sense in that context. If you have deadlines and you have bills and you need to meet the former to pay the latter, you need to be able to bridge the chasm between your inspiration and your ability to intellectually bulldoze your way through the murk. You need to be able to write when you do not feel like it because if you have enough days of not feeling like it, you will miss your deadlines and people will be Very Unhappy about it. You need to be able to storm the fortress of ideas and starve them out by lobbing things at said fortress at every miserable and conceivable opportunity.

Does this mean I've never missed a deadline? Well, no. As it happens, I have missed deadlines, often because the books are longer than I thought they would be. I'm getting better about that, honest.

But at the same point in time?

I don't think that the only writing, or the only writing that counts, is the narrow wedge in which I work. We all write; not all of us write for publication. People who don't write for publication often still write for an audience; their audience appreciates their work. It's a perfectly valid choice, and I don't think it's a waste of time (especially since I read a lot of writing that isn't, and I enjoy it, and well, I enjoy it.)

Some of us who do write for publication don't make a living from it. Does that mean the books that are published are somehow innately less valuable? No. Oddly enough, when I pick up a book, I don't know what the advance paid for it was, I don't know what the print run was, and I don't know where it debuted on bestseller lists because -- as a reader -- I simply do not care. I realize this all sounds incredibly selfish, but I just want to read the book.

Does it mean that, if you can't produce to schedule, the work you've done in the past doesn't count? No. Does it mean that the authors who are never, ever going to be fast writers are somehow innately less serious about their work? Not remotely; sometimes they are way more serious about the work itself, because the need-to-eat will often cause us to send books out the door that we'd sit on and obsess about perfecting otherwise. (I send a book out the window when I cannot stand the sight of it. Seriously. I want it to be someone else's problem for a while.)

There is no value judgement in anything I'm saying here. What I'm saying is what I always say, but, you know, slightly differently. Authors need to figure out what they need to do write their stories, and frequently they need to figure this out for every individual novel. If what an author needs, if an author's process requires, that spark of inspiration, it's part of their process, and as we all know, process differs greatly between writers.

It doesn't make them less of a writer, although to be fair, that is not quite what Bethke is saying -- I just feel the need to state this very clearly at this particular time. It makes it hard to make a living writing, but writing is not just about making a living. A lot of what I say or I think about writing has, at its base, the whole writing-as-career paradigm, because they're my thoughts, and that's what I try to do. But it is certainly not the only valid approach to writing, even for publication; it's certainly not the only reason to write.

And the fact that you can't produce thousands of words a day, on cue, does not invalidate the writing you've done in the past. It doesn't make it less beautiful, or less true, it doesn't diminish the value of the story that you've already told, and told well.

Just as no two writers have the same process for finishing, and often one writer won't have the same process for more than a couple of books, no two writers have exactly the same reasons, if they can even detail them at all.

And I think Bethke misses that particular boat, in that particular post. I think he fails to understand the difference in process, because it is clearly so unlike his own.


Mar. 29th, 2008 04:06 am (UTC)
:( I know. And I try to tell them things that help me, but we're all different, and in the end my suggestions are of no use. I guess everyone has to find their own way to grasping onto that achievement?