I think about writing a lot, as most writers probably do. Lately, I’ve felt the need to get some of these thoughts out of my head, and so I’ve decided to let them out here. It’s been a while since I’ve read any writing guidebooks, but what I remember will probably form a good reference point.
I used to puzzle over whether writing was an art, a skill, or a craft. Now, I think it’s all of the above. In addition to having natural talent, a painter must also be a master of technique.
I’m still not sure how a writer really learns technique. Some of it seems to be just by osmosis. I’m guessing that’s why so many of those guidebooks tell you to read. One trouble with this otherwise sound advice is that it’s so easy to encounter and inadvertently absorb bad writing.
Right now, I perceive the solution to be a kind of perpetual studenthood. It’s a necessity for almost any professional, I suspect. William Osler emphasized the need to continuously learn and be proficient in one’s work to a class of graduating medical students. I think that writers need to think of themselves as professionals as well as artists.
There really is a lot writers need to know. Beyond the basics of grammar and spelling, there are such further complexities as usage, organization, and rhetoric. There are techniques of narration, exposition, dialogue, characterization… a whole host of skills that can be put to use by both fiction and non-fiction writers. If one is a technical, medical, or science writer, there is also the issue of readability.
Once all of those skills are mastered, there is still the content to worry about. An advertising copywriter needs to know his product, a science writer needs to understand his discipline, and a novelist needs to know human nature.
At some point, writing changes from a hobby to a job. The difference between the two is pretty remarkable. I’ve known for a long time that writing is work. I think I’m only just beginning to get a sense of how much work there really is. It’s a terrifying prospect and a huge challenge.
I always did have trouble saying no to a challenge.