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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 04:44 am (UTC)
But we can't always get inspiration, and my point was that some people need to realize that inspiration isn't necessarily always going to be at your beck and call. If it is, great, more power to you--but realistically, there are times when inspiration leaves us, and... I think, with practice, if we do at least try to write regularly to hone our brain matter around the writing area, then we won't be crippled.

Yes, this is all true -- but it's a lot like work, and if writing is the thing you do that is not work (i.e. you're not paid for it, and you don't want to make a living at it), there's no real reason to do the work if you are not in the right frame of mine.

If you want to write for a living, everything you say is not only true, but necessary, imho. But not everyone will have your goals or your reason for doing the work and flexing that particular set of muscles -- nor is it a bad thing, if they don't.

If, otoh, they are all talking to you about wanting to make a living as a professional writer, then yes. But if they're not, it's probably not really helpful to what they are trying to do.
Mar. 29th, 2008 04:56 am (UTC)
To the last, yes, they are. They come to me asking for help about it, so I try to supply what I can, I guess. But everyone's different, so.

In the above, I was going on a spiel mostly about the people that I know that do want to be professional writers. I should have specified, haha. XD

You're right, though, about if it's not professionally, it's not a big deal. But isn't it weird sometimes to see someone with that much talent and be supremely good at writing, and they don't want to ever try to publish anything? o_o;; It boggles my brain, but I guess whatever floats your boat.

I wasn't trying to say that my way is the way that it's meant to be done, though. D: I'm sorry if it came off that way. I know that everyone works the way they do, I guess I was just trying to say what works for me in terms of this whole writing business?

Bwah, I'm sleepy, I'm probably not making much sense. :)
Mar. 29th, 2008 05:02 am (UTC)
You're right, though, about if it's not professionally, it's not a big
deal. But isn't it weird sometimes to see someone with that much talent
and be supremely good at writing, and they don't want to ever try to
publish anything? o_o;; It boggles my brain, but I guess whatever floats
your boat.

One of the best writers I knew in University just stopped writing. It made me weep. I asked him about it at one point and he smiled and shrugged. "I have nothing I really want to say." Just that. So... I guess, yes, it boggles my brain, but more in a selfish way -- I wanted him to write because I liked to read his writing, and I liked the way he looked at the universe, because it was so different from the way I could. I felt it as a loss, as a reader.

And yes, if people are asking you for advice, because they want to write professionally it's an entirely different thing; I wasn't certain, because you seemed to be talking about fanfic writers, many of whom do want to write professionally for a living, but many of whom don't.
Mar. 29th, 2008 05:11 am (UTC)
Really? D: What a shame! My friend(s) haven't stopped writing (yet), they just don't want to do anything with it. The others, though, I just try to be as encouraging I can, I guess. Still, how can you feel you have nothing to say to the world when you write so extraordinarily? D: !

Yeah, this is all starting to get emoticon happy on my end.

What was amazing to me was that there was this really popular fanfic writer in the Harry Potter fandom that get recently published and is now a best seller in teen fic. That gave me a bit of hope. I tend to work more on fanfic these days than I do originals, but lately I'm getting out of the fanfic thing and getting more serious on my originals. Fanfic's not going to pay the bills, as fun as it is to write it.