I’m writing this up in my hotel room at the SCBWI conference. I just heard an amazing keynote speech by Bruce Coville, who was in part saying what I said in my blog post last week about influence and never knowing how your actions will affect others. Only he said it in a more articulate and developed way and threw in several musical theater references for good measure.
He also gave many tips for writers, and something he said jarred a useful insight loose in my brain. He talked about the importance of art, craft, and business sense. All in one speech. I’ve been thinking about each of these subjects a great deal, and you’ve seen some of the results of that thinking here on this blog. But the speech gave me some much needed cohesion.
Sometimes I feel like art has become something of a dirty word among many writers. If we’re serious about writing (and oh, are we ever serious), then we discuss craft a great deal. Sometimes we even bite the bullet and talk about business and the industry in ways that are more thoughtful than reactionary and more intelligent than just following the herd. (Sometimes we freak out instead.) We can be inspirational within certain boundaries. But art. Yes, art is a loaded word.
When we hear others speak about art, perhaps we imagine the dilettante artist who never actually writes anything. Or perhaps we think about those who start with a message and try to slap their audience in the face with it. Or perhaps we think of something inaccessible, like the serialist movement in music that I was talking about on Tuesday. The starving artist comes to mind, the irresponsible flake who needs to be talked down from the ledge by the long-suffering editor, the tortured soul who has a room filled with crumpled pieces of paper (see the recent movie Limitless, in which the writer portrayed has nothing to do with reality whatsoever).
And yet, this is not how art needs to be, and this is not how we must define ourselves as artists. Art doesn’t have to mean any of these things. Instead, it is an essential leg in the tripod of the writer.
Here’s how the system works: A good grasp of craft means that we produce sellable and marketable works, which helps our business. It also means that we have the tools at our disposable to create art that works, that really does evoke emotion and help us see the world differently. Craft is essential.
A good grasp of business means that we can get our work out into the world. This facilitates its purpose as art to communicate. It’s also always nice to avoid being screwed and to get paid for our work, which helps us continue both our craft and our art.
An acceptance of our work as art keeps us inspired. It encourages us to keep improving our craft so that we can achieve more through our words, and it challenges us to learn the business side so that we can achieve greater impact.
Lose touch with the business aspect and we cannot support ourselves or get our work out into the world. Lose touch with the craft aspect and we cannot write well enough to be effective. Lose touch with our work as art and we flirt with a sense of futility and forget to take risks.
I tend to neglect the art aspect that reminds me of my purpose and pour all my energy into craft and business. This choice, I tell myself, makes me a serious writer.
But I am wrong. My best work doesn’t happen when I only have two of my cornerstones. It takes place when I remember all three and dare to write bigger. It takes place when I accept that I am a businesswoman, a craftsperson, AND an artist.