Art and Craft

There’s a certain degree of mystery that accompanies the creative process. For any creative work, by which I mean work that makes something, creates something, there’s a process. Smithing. Painting. Music. I’ll mostly speak to writing here, because that’s what know how to do, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this applies to anyone who does creative work. (If it doesn’t, by the way, feel free to tell me I’m wrong!)

To make art, one must first learn craft.

The nuts and bolts of things. The processes. The components of the work, and how to put them together. All the little bits and pieces that make up the whole. I think that’s where the mystery comes in, because if you put me in front of an anvil and demanded a sword, I definitely wouldn’t be able to make one. If you put me on a piano bench — all right, I know how to play a little, but I’m not an artist there, because I don’t know all the things a pianist must know. If you handed me tubes of paint and put me in front of a canvas, and demanded a masterpiece, you’d be out of luck. Do I know what the finished product is like? Yes, I do, but I don’t have a clue as to how painters really do what they do.

You’d never expect to be able to walk into a forge with a lump of iron in your hand, with no prior knowledge of technique or equipment, and walk out with a blade that’s even serviceable, let alone fine. The same for playing music or painting. Why, then, would you expect to be able to write perfectly the first time you try? It’s not possible. Words as raw material are far more available than iron, or pianos — or even paint. They cost nothing. Everyone uses them, and one needs no specialized equipment to do so. But to use them well, you must understand the craft.

“How do I do this?” I hear people ask. “How do I do that?”

I can’t tell you. Nobody can. Nobody can tell you how to forge weapons; you must forge them, and make mistakes, and learn how it feels when you swing the hammer just right. Writing is not as physically or financially demanding as blacksmithing, but hear me when I say the learning of it is much the same. You must learn and practice your craft if you hope to master it. The only writing advice I really have is this:

Sit down and do it. If it doesn’t work, do it again.

2 thoughts on “Art and Craft

  1. There’s not any shame in being a beginner. There’s no shame in making mistakes as long as you grow and learn from it. This is really good advice for any craftsman, no matter what your medium.

  2. The only thing I’d add is to read lots of books on craft! This is how I started to learn and to even know what “bad writing” looked like. My first novel–the one written with zero craft knowledge–is atrocious. My second one–written only months after doing some blog reading– was still bad, but was a HUGE improvement.

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