The Craft And Art Of Writing

The craft of writing is just that, a craft that one learns. Now say I want to learn wood carving as a craft. I could just find any old knife and a block of wood and go to it. Wood carving is simply removing chips of wood from all the right places so that the three dimensional or two dimensional figure emerges. That is really all there is to it, just remove enough chips of wood from the right places and Viola, a masterpiece of sculpture emerges. Easy as pie, right? Well, maybe not. Any one who has tried his hand at carving figures an cutting in letters or designs knows it is far from easy. And it usually helps if one has a master carver to watch and ask questions about the process. Writing is really no different, it is a craft, and like sculpture is becomes an art in the right hands.

Like learning to correctly sharpen your knives, writing starts with the basics of the sentence, subject, verb, direct or indirect object. The funny thing is, we already know how to use our language abilities in the spoken language side of the house. It is that written side that perplexes and confuses our brains. Think about that for a minute. There are rules for the use of capital letters and punctuation. We are far more concerned with ambiguity in the written language as if such a thing was totally impossible when speaking one’s language. An example: “In the distance we saw the Sears Tower driving around Chicago.” When speaking there is an implied comma or an implied preposition that fills itself in. Our brains tend to fill in the blanks when we hear language. It is only when we see it that we become a little disoriented. Of course our hearing can deceive us. For a long time I though Dobbie Grey was singing these words in a pop song: “Give me the Beach Boys to ease my soul, I want to get lost in your rock and roll.” The real lyrics are: “Give me the beat boys to ease my soul, I want to get lost in your rock and roll.” There are a great many songs like that where the speech is not exactly enunciated clearly. I’m sure many of us remember John Lennon singing that “she’s got a chicken to ride.” I chalk it up to dyslexia of the ears.

Just as writing is a craft so is oration. It was Nathan Bedford Forrest who on more than one occasion remark: “Everything I see a piece of paper I am reminded of snakes slithering across its surface.” The man hated writing, perhaps that is why his orders were terse and concise. We usually don’t waste words on the things we hate. When I was a child in elementary school and even in secondary school, I hated writing. I would rather have had my teeth pulled. For me the idea of keeping a diary or journal seems absurd. I mean, what are you suppose to write in the damn things?In a community college communications class I have to keep a journal for the semester and I really hated it, When I reread what I wrote I can only say that I was full of myself. At the age of twenty five we all are. It would be when I became fifty that I would actually start writing in notebooks and later into journals. Well, I was still full of myself but in a more mature way. Now I write posts for my website. I refuse to say that I blog. Blogging is for those teenagers with nothing better to do that spit out some hundred or so characters of stupidity. No self respecting adult with an ounce of wit would ever conceive of writing such clap trap in public. I wish I was wrong, but alas, I’m not.

This is no “shout out” to my crew, please, kick me in the balls very hard if it is. There are a great many words, phrases and ideas I would love to unfriend and have die of loneliness. Yeah, like that will happen. Sometimes I wonder why the abuse of one’s native language shouldn’t be capital crime. Most children at the age of eight are competent speaks of their native language. But by the time they turn sixteen they seem to have lost such competency and by the time they are in their twenties their speech has turned almost into a foreign language. God preserve us in a mason jar. Yes, language changes and us old folk never believe it for the better. Imagine what Shakespeare’s great, great, grandfather would have said about Hamlet. “Couldn’t understand a bloody word of it.” In old English, of course. I shudder to think how one might rewrite Hamlet in the manner of rap and set it to Hip Hop music. Yo, mama! Yeah, a trash talking Hamlet, go figure. Here the writer’s craft turns into Velveeta.

Whether one is writing fiction or non fiction there is always a narrative, a story to be told. I remember the lessons on writing themes and essays. There is the thesis, the assertion that one would use at least three paragraphs to support and arrive at a valid conclusion in the fourth. This is the standard teaching from early public school through university levels. I have a physical anthropology professor who thought she was an English teacher of great skill in teaching composition. The woman loved essay questions. Now essay questions are great for testing the depth of one’s knowledge on a subject but grading such testing tends towards the subjective. Some individuals simply write better than others. “Your first sentence my grab their attention.” she would say. But you are the only one reading it and the purpose is not to amuse you but to give due diligence to my knowledge on this subject. So we state our suppositions then we give our facts that support our suppositions and expand on such facts and then arrive at the conclusion that our suppositions are correct. But if you want an entertaining essay, then one must treat the structure as a story being told. If I am writing non fiction for edification of others, then I must purge my lines of all extraneous verbiage, for it interferes with the thought process. When one writes a user manual we want just the facts, no jokes, no anecdotes, just the facts. Can you picture an instruction manual on operating a vehicle that starts our: “First put the key into the ignition switch. That reminds me of a funny experience I one had when I learned to drive…..” By the time he gets around to telling us to turn the key we are going to be really pissed at the waste of our time.

On the other hand, if one is writing a white paper about a new product or process, dry and boring turns the reader off faster than a light switch. One might use a few leading questions for effectiveness in opening up the though processes. Here writing is leading and not ordering the reader to take an active role. As you can see, assuming I haven’t bored you to tears, that I have provided a narrative, a story with some side steps that may or may not enhance my arguments. Well, it’s not like I’m writing for the masses. Illustrating our points is what good writing is about (it is so difficult not to end a sentence with a preposition). Too much illustration and people stop reading, too little and people stop reading. Let’s face it, we are all interesting, quick witted, and oh so knowledgeable, it’s just hard to convince others of those facts when we write. We hope that craft and art meet somewhere, at some point that the readers stays around to finish the article and has that feeling that his time was not wasted. You know, music is about the stories the composers are telling and being interpreted by the singer. Debussy hated development in musical composition. Yet his great symphony, La Mer, is on the boring side. He once made the mistake of asking Stravinsky what part of La Mer he enjoyed the best. Now we must inject that the symphony was suppose to represent the day in the life of the sea. Stravinsky replied: ” Three forty five.” Afternoon of a Faun is a very nice piece of music and doesn’t go on very long, otherwise you might easily become bored to death. We humans love development in the narrative, we crave it just as long as we get to the point on time. And I think that time is now. The craft of writing is illustration and coming to the point on time. The art of writing is how we do just that.


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