Saturday, September 26, 2009

Writing: Craft or Art?

Students wonder how they can become good writers. I tell them that writing is a developed skill, like speaking a foreign language. Writing well requires practice, practice, practice!

I have about 15 years experience teaching foreign language and every year one or two students excell beyond my expectations. They are the ones who want to speak the language. They are motivated to apprehend the idiom at a level that surpasses most students. Often they exhibit intuition about the language. For example, I have a student whose intuitive sense of how the Spanish language works made it possible for him recently to apply the subjunctive mood to a situation he has never learned. He speaks well - that is his developed craft, but he also handles the language in a beautiful way - that is the art.

So how does one write well? Practice! Write! Re-write! All good writers write everyday. That is how we develop our craft. The art of writing involves skill first and second, an intuitive sense of words, mood, cadence. I'm not sure that this can be taught.


poetreader said...

I like this, but I'd add a prerequisite to it all. First and foremost a writer must have something to say. What one sees or hears or thinks or feels is the very substance of a piece of writing, whether poetry, or fiction, or nonfiction. Research, observation, and contemplation come first, and ordinarily require much more time and effort than the writing itself. Actually, elegantly written nothing is still nothing.

Once one has something to say, then it becomes important to say it well. There are forms, techniques, and "tricks" of writing that can be learned, rather easily (if one is willing to put in the effort and the practice), and there is also the more intuitive grasp of the language, its beauties and its power. This can't really be taught, but it can be learned -- by reading, by listening, by writing and listening to one's own sounds. As with good music, exposure to good writing sharpens the ear, opens the mind in appreciation, and enriches one's own creativity.


Alice C. Linsley said...

"Actually, elegantly written nothing is still nothing."

So true! Thanks, Ed.