The Art and Graft of Writing

What is it about writing that makes us view it differently from the other arts? So many people are convinced they can write a book worthy of publishing, whereas hardly any would think they could exhibit their paintings in a gallery, or play the piano at the Albert Hall. It’s obvious that to reach a level of expertise in these endeavours requires training, hundreds if not thousands of hours of practice. It’s hard to be self-deluded when our fingers touch the keys of a piano, but all too possible when they make contact with a computer keyboard.

I suppose the first reason for this is that we can all write and we do write in one capacity or another practically every day. Perhaps this seems equivalent to the practice sessions we would need to undertake if we wanted to paint or play an instrument. It certainly counts for something, but it won’t be enough to turn us into authors.

A second reason for self-delusion, I think, is that while a lot of people like to write, not so many like to edit. It’s easier to convince yourself that the story you’ve so admirably put down on paper is perfect than to revise it again and again to ensure that it is. Personally I find the blank page far more daunting than polishing words I’ve already written, but by the time I was on the final, umpteenth edit of Far Out I didn’t want to read the book ever again.

Another reason for self-delusion is the dream of becoming a bona fide author. For some this dream might include the imagined delights of fame and fortune, but for others it’s simply the satisfaction of having a book on the shelf with their name on the cover. It takes considerable time and effort to write a book, never mind hone it, so even those with a sneaking suspicion that the end result isn’t up to scratch might decide there’s nothing to lose by submitting it to a publisher. And when that fails, it’s tempting to self-publish on Amazon just to see what happens, rather than admit the book needs more work.

Tolstoy took years to complete his epic War and Peace, at more than half a million words it’s around five times the length of an average novel. His wife wrote out his revised manuscripts by hand up to seven times. If we write purely for ourselves then whatever ends up on the page can stay just the way it is, untouched. But to write for others, for it to be good enough for them to spend their time on, let alone their money, takes commitment. Writing may be an art, but like everything else in life to do it well takes hard graft. And although we’ll never reach perfection, we should at least try.

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Categories: On Writing | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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