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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Writing: Skill or Art?

Recently, I read a comment by the wife of a very prominent SF/F writer who has now become a writer in her own right. She said something to the effect that she decided to write when she realized that "writing was more of a learned skill than an art."

I say: WHAT???

While writing requires a great deal of learning and skill, I still tend to believe it is much more an art form than a skill. I admit, I was a little insulted by this woman's viewpoint. For her, it might work to learn the "skill" of writing because with her last name, the book contracts are thick on the ground, but for an unknown, there has to be something to differentiate our writing from the thousands of other manuscripts. There has to be some spark of creativity that catches an editor's eye.

Am I wrong?

Was Shakespeare merely a technician and not a bona fide artist? Tolkein? Tolstoy? I tell you, her comment REALLY hit me the wrong way.

Eager to hear what others think...

Bianca D'Arc
Come over to The D'Arc Side... www.biancadarc.com
PS - I'll be starting to post "The Craft" entries on my blog starting in a few weeks, so look for the writing kittens! I just borrowed the graphic for today, since it fit so nicely. ;-)


Anonymous said...

Hi, Monica! Julia (escondita) here. Great topic...

Without reading her piece, I can't judge what her general tone was, but I think I know what she means. My response is...you're both right, to some extent. With anything that requires some combination of physical and/or mental effort, combined with individual creativity, there's a need for talent AND developed (practiced) skill. A great deal of either talent or learned skill can, to some extent, compensate for a lack of the other, though. For example, there is a very popular author who has made beaucoup millions on his books over the past 30 years or so. I never read him anymore, not just because I really don't enjoy some of what his content, but because I feel he started with a huge amount of raw talent and has (in essence) betrayed his gift by not striving to perfect his art (practice, honing his skills, "exercise"), and has gone for sensationalism, shock value, and churning out quantity, not quality... "flash", instead of substance. That probably sounds incredibly snotty, but yeah, I hold people to differing standards of performance sometimes. On the flip side, sometimes people start with a smaller "gift", but through diligence and practice (skill, as opposed to inherent talent) develop it into something really special. Years ago, I worked with a choral director who put a guy into our ensemble when none of us thought he should be there. He could read music (nominally), but his tone was AWFUL...grating, to say the least, and he could barely match pitch--sometimes. We were horrified. But Don proved us all wrong. He took some voice lessons on the side, practiced and practiced for hours...and turned himself into a top notch tenor. Whenever I think of talent vs. learned skill (and sheer determination), I think of him.

I think people like Shakespeare, or Beethoven, or any other hugely gifted artist, come along maybe once in a a few centuries...or a millenium. But there are many, many more out there who provide a lot of enjoyment with smaller talents, that may be greatly amplified (or NOT), depending on their level of commitment.

*steps off soapbox, and toddles off to clean the kitchen*

*sticking head back in*
Hope you've been "practicing" a lot lately--we want more books, woman! LOL

Bianca D'Arc said...

Well, Julia, you've made me re-think my insult. Perhaps you're right. ;-) Thanks for the explanation and the insight!

escondita said...

"some of what his content"
*blush* Wow, that was embarrassing.

Hey, I only speak from my experience; mileages may vary ;-) . But if I truly gave you something new to consider...well, great! I'm gratified that you didn't just think I was being a pompous schmuck! LOL

And I was serious about your writing, woman...get back to it! *cracks cyberwhip*

Julia/ escondita

Carolan Ivey said...

I believe that the basic mechanics of clear, concise writing can be taught. It's one of the building blocks of civilization, IMO.

It's how an individual person puts those words together that elevates writing to an art form.

I can be taught how to load paint onto a brush and move it around on the canvas to make a recognizable picture - but in no way would I consider myself an artist when it comes to painting! :)