Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Words Putting Order in Right

As my confidence in what I am writing swings more wildly than a yo-yo clutching a bottle of vodka, I take an increasing interest in the blogs of agents and publishers; my two favourite being How Publishing Really Works and BubbleCow.

Jane of HPRW has posted on a Queryfail Day: a day-long Twitterfest. It's purpose was to advise writers why so many submissions fail.

I have followed some of the links in Jane's post and I am amazed at how stupid, arrogant, naive - add your favourite pejorative - wannabe writers appear to be.

The difficulty with writing is that too many people believe they are capable of becoming writers. Of course, it is possible for anyone to write; however, the ability to stab the correct keys on a keyboard to assemble a sentence that is grammatically sound does not make an individual a writer.

Writing is an art in the same sense as painting is an art.

Again, anyone can make marks on a blank canvas but unless you have a feel for form, colour, texture, shape, balance, and line, you can spend the rest of your life daubing canvases but you will never be an artist. Great writers are sensitive to the colour, texture, shape and structure of the written word. They understand the possibilities of what can be achieved on the page and how it may be achieved.

Writing is also a craft. I believe you never stop learning as a writer and anyone who wishes to become one must approach his or her task in all humility. The material we deal with, words, are infinitely subtle in the effects they can realise; however, they are also very fragile objects, their precise meaning protean and elusive. (If you don't believe the latter claim, I invite you to read the Oxford English Dictionary, which apart from being a volume of definitions may also be understood as a history of words and the change in their meaning over the years.)

Our intuitive understanding of words is that they point directly to the object, i.e. when I write 'rock', it sums up a transcendental image, one which we all understand, of the thing 'rock'.

Of course, it does no such thing. Excluding the possibility I could be referring to the motion of rocking, the seaside stick of rock, or rock and roll, but am referring to the geological rock, my elder brother, a former teacher of geology, would then ask me to refine my reference; did I mean igneous, sedimentary or the metamorphic, and further did I mean granite, basalt, sandstone, limestone, et cetera.

When I employ the word 'rock' all I do, in fact, is point you, not to what the object is, but to what the object is not. Remaining within the geological field, by using 'rock' the reader will understand I do not mean pebble, sand, gravel, sediment, etc.

The word is a single brushstroke on the page that gives the vaguest impression of what the reader is looking at. The craft of writing is first to learn and understand the techniques one must employ to create the pictures one hopes to create. The art of writing can only be realised once one has mastered the craft.

Returning to the topic of this post, those who astound me most are individuals who are, first, so misguided as to think themselves writers, second, confuse the notion of writer as being someone who is an ill-disciplined creative firebrand, an individual who, therefore, doesn't have to follow the rules. Consequently, they cannot be bothered to read the guidelines for submission, or any of the advice readily available on the Internet, and then are surprised their manuscripts never get read.


Jon M said...

I love the notion that we never stop learning as writers, right up my street that is.

Don't knock those who refuse to follow submissions guidelines, they just make room for those of us who do! ;-)

Caroline said...

One of the great French artists (when they had them!)said 'One dies an apprentice'. Another had this to say: 'Without craft there is no inspiration'.
If only the French took note of this today!
I'm annoyed by people who say I have 'a gift'! This negates a lifetime of effort and learning, including, as you say, the rules.
I usually reply that, no, not a gift, a great interest perhaps- and then lots of hard work.

DOT said...

For a three book deal man, Jon, I obviously agree with every sentiment you have to express. :)

Caroline - I do agree with you. I think for gift one can substitute desire. Those who are hungry and willing to work and work develop a 'gift'.

I just noticed I wrote, 'The craft of writing is first to learn and understand the techniques one must employ to create the pictures one hopes to create.' Clumsy or what!