Monday, January 26, 2009

The Craft of Writing

We talk about writing as an art and so it is, but writing also has much that seems to indicate that it is a craft. I think that is part of why slush piles are so large. There are many stores that sell various things that people like to use to decorate the walls of their homes. Usually, they are shaped like hearts with flowers and strawberries painted on them or something like that. They often have a lot of hot glue holding things together. I have a pig shaped checker board that I did when I was in high school. There’s nothing wrong with that, if you like that sort of thing, but if you buy one this week, there will be one just like it on the shelf next week to take its place. There’s nothing hard about creating this kind of stuff and many people enjoy it as a hobby, like others enjoy putting together jigsaw puzzles. That is an example of a craft. It doesn’t take any special skills to run a hot glue gun.

Compare that to what it takes to make cement bird baths. Once you have a mold, anyone can do the work, but creating a mold isn’t easy. Someone has to do the work of carving either wood or wax and then using that to create the form they will use to pour the cement into. Even if you see one you like, it isn’t easy to go home and reproduce it. You don’t see nearly as many people creating cement bird baths as you see creating pigs with flowers on their rump. It takes something special to create a bird bath.

It doesn’t take a special skill to write a book. If you can write a letter, you can write a book, so people are quick to say, “I can do that!” They don’t have to practice for ten years, like a musician does. They don’t have to learn to carve. It simply doesn’t take the same dedication to be a writer that it takes to do other arts.

There are such things as natural talent and the goodness of all art is subjective, but the need to develop the skills required helps to narrow the field. With writing, there is little to discourage anyone from putting something on paper and submitting it to someone. Whereas the bird bath artist can see before the mold is complete that the wings of the birds are too short or the jug the kid is holding isn’t round, the writer sees words on paper and will have words on paper. He compares these words to that of a favorite author and decides that they are good. In fact, they may be very much like those of another author and they will fail to stand out from the crowd. He may have perfected his craft and learned to reproduce the work of others, but he had not yet learned to produce something special.