Questions you are unlikely to ever hear:
- How close to the edge of the canvas can I apply acrylic paint?
- If I’m sculpting the bust of Zeus, at what moment should I work on his nose?
- Is it okay to drum the body of an acoustic guitar with my fingers rather than pluck the strings?
Painting. Sculpture. Music. Three of the myriad art forms where practitioners typically acquire some degree of training, and then step away from that training to develop their own style.
Questions you can fully expect to hear:
- In a 90-page screenplay, on what page should the inciting incident occur?
- In a poem, should I complete a thought within a line or break it up into two or more lines?
- Can I describe more than one character’s point-of-view within a scene in my novel?
Every day, billions of people across the planet write. Post-It notes. Shopping lists. Emails. Love letters. And perhaps because of this ubiquity—perhaps because writing is rivaled only by speech as a form of expression—the world tends to view writing in a different category from all of the other arts, assuming people see it as an art form at all.
Obviously, there are better writers and worse writers, but more often than not, that reality is viewed as difference in skill, not art or craftsmanship. It is as though the world believes that if we all applied ourselves a little more, we could all write a great novel or play.
If asked, I am confident few would think that the only difference between them and Mozart, Yo-Yo Ma or the guy playing bassoon in the subway (my friend Jeff Burke) was time in.
Certainly, most acknowledge the greatness of Shakespeare, Dickens, Moliere, Hemingway (forgive my Western bias), but those are seen as rare exceptions to the norm.
People will buy paintings on the roadside. You will sometimes stop and listen to a musician in the park. But how many of us will stop and buy a novel or collection of poems anywhere other than the bookstore or online?
And sadly, this sense that pretty much anyone can be a writer pervades the writing community itself in insidious ways, and is particularly debilitating to new writer artists timidly trying to develop their craft.
Unlike almost any other art form, to my eye, writers get hung up in the right way to do things, as suggested by the questions above. As an example, this post was prompted by similar questions raised by a novelist blogger I follow.
It is okay to emulate aspects of others’ writings, to follow certain conventions of grammar and syntax. But at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself why you write; because it is a passion within you or to please the universe?
“Write the way you want to write,” was my advice to her questions on acceptable style (my italics). “As your colleagues suggested, this is just your style and will either be liked or not liked by your readers.”
“Never be afraid to be yourself…your readers will respect that in you,” I concluded, “and anyone who doesn’t is frankly not your reader.”
No one questions the difference between the skill of painting a house and the art of painting a landscape. Why should the same not be true for writing a Tweet and writing a poem?
Writing is an Art Form, to answer the title question, and you—the writer—are an Artist.
Learn from those who have come before and who practice now, but be brave and divine your own path.