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Arts and Crafts

A few months ago (as of this writing), I came across a concept that had a lot of resonance for me. In essence the quote was, “You wouldn’t trust a guy off the street who came into an operating room, said ‘I want to be a surgeon’ and picked up a scalpel to start cutting the patient.” The writer was making a broad analogy to self-published authors who simply write a book and stick it up on a website for sale. For me, it was specifically the scalpel that caught my attention.

What is a writer’s scalpel? For that matter, what are their cannulas, curettes, bone saws, forceps, clamps, nerve hooks, lythotomes, trephines, needles and speculums? Well, it’s not a difficult analogy to figure out. We’re talking about how writers use words. Here’s something from my long list of informative quotes, in this case from Oscar Wilde:

“I’ve spent most of the day putting in a comma, and the rest of the day taking it out.”

This isn’t about comma usage! Ceci n’est pas une virgule! It’s about knowing what a comma does to the meaning of a sentence. Writing is about putting words on a page. Conscious writing—the kind I recommend—is about deciding which words, in which order, best serve your story.

The kind of writer who types something out, gives it a once-over, hands it to a proofreader to clean up the prose, and pops it up online for sale is the same kind of person who says “I want to be a surgeon” and walks off the street and into that operating room to start cutting. Scary. And they are going to fail miserably. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the patient will not survive the operation.

No craft exists that doesn’t require a profound knowledge of the tools in order to be successful. You don’t just sit down with some clay and a potter’s wheel and create a Ming vase. You don’t just grab paints, a canvas, oil, brushes, and an easel, and dash off a Mona Lisa.

What about self-taught artists, you ask? Don’t confuse the art with the craft, I respond. I’m not talking about some artists’ ability to create works of art without having studied composition, perspective, and other elements of the art involved. I’m talking about knowing how to use the tools effectively. Art can be self-realized. The craft cannot. Some may pick up the craft more quickly than others, but in the end, all artists have to mess around with the brushes, the canvas type, the proper mix of colors, where to set the easel, and the myriad other elements that comprise the mechanics of creation.

Looking for more tips? Here’s what’s up so far. More to come!

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