Writing as an art form

Posted: September 12, 2012 in Art, Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

This post is not for writers. Writers understand what I’m talking about. This is for Average Joe who thinks writing a book is easy. Maybe he’ll never read this post, but I have to write it anyway. For the sake of my own sanity.

Some background: I’m not a professional writer, nor am I a professional editor. However, I do both. On a daily basis. I call myself a writer and I call myself an editor, but nine times out of ten, I don’t get paid for it. I think I’m pretty good at my job, but – as with anything – I could be better. Even in the past year I have far exceeded even my own expectations and write news stories and columns for a website, as well as edit for the same site. I even have a copyediting gig of my own that pays me, although work tends to be sporadic.

Still. If you put me up against Average Joe, I know what I’m talking about. When I freelance as an editor, I come across all sorts of writing. Money in my pocket is, well…money in my pocket, so I take what I can get. This means that “all sorts of writing” mostly translates to “bad writing.”

People who don’t know how to properly use semi-colons.

People who don’t know how to form dialogue.

People who don’t know what a comma is or think it should be placed between every other word.

These things all annoy the crap out of me. But what’s worse is the person who thinks that writing is easy. They think you just pick out some words and throw them on a page. Tell a story, slap a title at the top, and ship it off to agents and editors like it’s the next Harry Potter.

Um, no.

That’s why I said that this post is not for writers. You guys understand this. You know that literal blood, literal sweat, and literal tears go into writing a book. The time it takes to complete one when you’re first starting out is astronomical. I claim my writing “career” began in the fourth grade, but the only novel I ever finished was started in 2008. That was four years ago. It’s undergone about three revisions over the last few years and it’s still not done. And it won’t be for a while.

There are some powerhouses out there like Rick Riordan who write two books a year. That’s pretty fast, but still. Imagine working on only TWO projects in one year. You find an idea, your write it down, you tweak it, send it off, and move onto something new. That’s a heck of a turnaround time for what we do, but that’s still only two projects in a whole entire year.

And then people come up to me and say, “Yeah, I wrote a book. I’m just going to have someone edit it and then I’ll publish it.” And they self-publish and sell three copies and they have no idea why. It’s because copyediting isn’t enough. Correct punctuation and grammar isn’t enough. You need to have three-dimensional characters. You need an enticing story. A convincing villain.

You need to be an artist.

The page is our canvas. Words are our paint. The image that unfolds before us holds just as much beauty and emotion as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus or as much horror and tragedy as Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes.

Anyone can come up with a cardstock character. But can you make them flawed, yet relatable? Can you give them strength without turning them into a robot? Can you give them a purpose to their actions? Can you make us love them?

Anyone can create a villain. But can you make them so terrifying we have trouble sleeping at night? Can you make them believable and realistic? Can you make them evil, yet human?

Not everyone can. It’s something all writers have trouble doing, even NYTBS authors. But hey, we can’t all be Michelangelo from the get-go, right?

And you know what? That’s fine. It’s better than fine, actually. There was already someone named Michelangelo that went down in the history books. There’s no point in trying to follow the same exact path. That makes you a tracer, not a painter.

So, for Average Joe I say this:

Writing is an art form. It’s hard. And no, not everyone can do it. Can you write a book? Yeah, probably. And hey, good on you for getting 60,000 words down on paper. A lot of people can’t even do that. But can you write a good book? That’s up to you. Just because the book is finished and you made a shiny cover for it in Photoshop doesn’t mean that you understand this concept of writing as art. You may be a writer, but you’re not an artist.

What do you think? Am I totally off my rocker, or is this like music to your ears? I’m sure most of you have come across someone who thinks sitting in front of your computer all day and typing is just about the easiest thing in the world. What kind of response did that get from you?

  1. realityenchanted says:

    Semi-colons are extinct now, or are they still on the endangered punctuation list?
    Incidentally, my blog headline carries a description along the lines of painting with writing. I hope that makes me an artist -at least, for thinking up such a concept. Or does that only make me a good marketer or fraudster?
    Sadly, writing comes easy to me. I have to admit to needing a little nudge to move my fingers at times.

    • Karen Rought says:

      They’re still on the endangered list, though I always discourage people from using them. You need a certain style of writing to pull them off I think.

      Writing is difficult and at times we all need a good little nudge. Keep plugging away though, that’s the best you can do!

  2. amygabb says:

    Music to my ears!!! Thank God.

  3. Julie Glover says:

    I thought you might throw out a “Can I get a witness?” at some point, and I was willing to raise my hands and yell, “Amen!” Well put, Karen.

  4. EM Castellan says:

    I was a bit worried at the start of your post because I still get confused with proper punctuation (I’ve been told I’m not good with using commas) and I thought “Oh my, Karen is telling me I’m not a writer” :S The I read the rest of the post and I agreed with everything, so I guess it means I’m still a writer… 🙂

    • Karen Rought says:

      If it makes you feel any better, I try to avoid use semi-colons whenever possible. They’re hard! Even commas trip me up sometimes. But those are things that you can learn. The artistry takes a different part of the brain, and I think you’ve got that covered. 😉

    • Karen Rought says:

      That was wonderful! Thank you for taking the time to write that in response to this. I hope you do get a chance to write a book some day. I agree that you should never let yourself by pushed around by other people, but you should never hold yourself back either!

  5. Literal sweat, literal tears…Oh, yeah. Literal blood…Um, no. 😉 But I admire the poetic symmetry. Semi-colons are literary dowager queens–too pretentious for my tastes.

    • Karen Rought says:

      Hey, I’ve definitely put my fair share of blood into some of my stories! I’m not exactly graceful in my feet and trumping around in the woods has definitely led to some injuries sustained all for the purpose of “research.”

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