Embracing Our Art

As with prior posts at the Better Novel Project that helped me analyze Irish Firebrands, I found this one to be very interesting. But I’ve also noticed something else: that ever since I began my blog in December, 2012, depending on which writers’ website or blogsite I consult, I learn that I’ve either done everything right to be a best-selling author, or that I’ve done it all wrong.

Irish Firebrands is not a bestseller, but that does not mean the naysayers are correct, because obviously there are bestsellers that have all the “wrong” characteristics. What this does indicate, is the absolute primacy of the unpredictable subjectivity of the marketplace, which voids both viewpoints.

Basket_1It also negates the “craft of writing” advice that’s offered to authors, purportedly as a means to ensure their success. This is because the product of all Craft is tangible objects that can be evaluated objectively, no matter what physical form they take; whereas the product of all Art is intangible communication, which must be evaluated subjectively, no matter what physical form represents it. Therefore:

If we learn a Craft, and do it “right,” there will always be a market for what we produce.

But….

If we learn an Art, and do it “right,” there is no guarantee that there will ever be a market for anything we produce.

Thus, all of the evidence shows that Writing is an Art, and not a Craft.

Beethoven_opus_101_manuscriptWriting, like Music, is an Art of pure communication. The physical forms that Writing and Music can take – words or notes on paper or electronic pages, or an audible recording embedded in a physical medium – bear no resemblance to the communication that occurs in their reader’s or listener’s head and heart.

LindisfarneFol27rIncipitMattBut Writing is the ultimate Art. Unlike Music, which, despite its vast influence on human thought and emotion, requires special knowledge and ability to read its notation and produce its sound, written communication can be produced by any literate person. This means Writing is the most powerful of the Arts.

No wonder so much is done in an effort to subjugate Authors, by propagation of the falsehood that books are the product of a Craft that can be learned, but which cannot be sold, unless their quality and merchantability are first validated by gatekeepers, who will subsequently assign a value to them, and release them to the marketplace in the gatekeepers’ own good time, and on their own terms.

I report this to warn that, as Artists, we cannot afford to pin our hopes of success to the subjectivity of communication. For the Artist who is an Author, the knowledge that one writes well must, of necessity, be its own reward.

I say this not to deter anyone from becoming a Writer (for it took me all of 30 years to understand that Writing is my calling), nor to discourage Authors whose works have not yet found their audience (because I am among their number, which is Legion). But as E. B. White wrote at the end of The Elements of Style:

“Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar” (quoting an anonymous “elderly practitioner”).

and

The whole duty of a writer is to please and satisfy himself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one.

Moreover, in Art, whether it’s Drawing (which includes Painting), Sculpting, Acting, Dancing, Music and Writing, the only failure is when the Artist abandons the highest purpose of Artistic creativity: to communicate to human beings their intimate connection to the First Creator.

Authors as Artists must embrace the nature of their Art, whatever lies before them in the short term. We can learn how to do this, from Artists in other genres. Here’s an example: the song that has become the unofficial anthem of Actors. (Please listen to the whole song.)

5 Comments

Filed under Art, Music, Uncategorized, Writing

Warning! Grammar Police Checkpoint Ahead!

We’re ready to examine Rule #2 of The 7 Reasonable Rules of Writing: Good grammar. Notice that I said good. You’ll recall that the ideal communication goal for spelling may be perfection, but that we settle for excellence, because of Murphy’s law. However, good grammar is sufficient to achieve the goal of our Art, which is communication.

PSCprenticehallWriters who have difficulty communicating on real or virtual paper would be well-advised to consult some specialists. They include dictionaries (use an old one and a newer one), and grammar books. These are two from my reference library.

The grammars you use don’t have to be the most current editions. Anything that was published before or during your lifetime will work; but in order to learn what has stood the test of time, and will help you communicate best with the largest number of readers, consult only general grammars that were published at least 20 years ago, and cross-reference with your reasonably new dictionary, to verify current usage.

Specialty grammars, like this one, are helpful, too.lamb Book age will be an issue if you’re dealing extensively with historical matters that require usage from a specific period.

Also, note my use of the term, “consult.” Learn or review the rules that these books advocate, but the acid test is to choose the form of usage that suits your voice, category of writing (fiction or non-fiction), topic or genre, setting and character development.

The-Elements-of-StyleFor example, most writing gurus and gatekeepers swear by Strunk.* I can live with much of what he and his student, E. B. White, had to say – when I’m writing academic papers. It’s important to know that Strunk’s book was a rubric he wrote for students in his classes to follow: it details his own pet peeves and preferences about parts of speech and their usage. Making up rules is the prerogative of teachers, and obeying them is the responsibility of students: You must learn how to be a successful follower before you can assume the role of an effective leader.

Unfortunately, Strunk has been canonized by the gurus and gatekeepers, and his dicta and dogma are enthusiastically enforced by the Writing Art’s fifth column known as the Grammar Police – and largely misapplied. It’s kind of like the Framingham Heart Study: If you’re aged 30-62, it might be advisable to adopt recommendations based on the study’s findings, but if you’re an infant or an elderly person, your needs are very different to those of the study’s cohort.

Here’s an interesting take on why the diet and exercise regimen prescribed by Strunk & White may be bad for your writing health: http://chronicle.com/article/50-Years-of-Stupid-Grammar/25497

Strunk (with or without his partner in crime) can be a very helpful reference for non-fiction writers to consult, in order to achieve the appearance of correctness that’s so important to academia. If you’re writing for that audience, by all means, adhere to what Strunk himself called, “the little book.” It will fill that limited bill.

lesfindingcoverBut if your Art is Fiction, your writing voice is your best judge. If you’re not sure what your writing voice sounds like, this book may help.

So, if you’re past the stage of learning – and you’re not writing for the inhabitants of Planet Strunk – but you find that your writing voice has become unnaturally squeaky, gravelly, or you’ve developed literary laryngitis, then you need to break the prescriptive and proscriptive bonds of the Grammar Police. Just use grammar that communicates.

Balabolka

Download Balabolka

Occasionally, we all need to review the basics, especially when what we’ve written doesn’t seem to make sense. If you don’t have access to feedback from trusted and capable alpha and beta readers, read your writing aloud, and have it read aloud to you. If you don’t have a willing and able reader, send your writing through the Balabolka text-to-speech converter. Reading aloud usually clears up things.

floreySometimes, the best method to refresh your thinking is to diagram a few sentences. Wait! I heard you draw that deep breath! Before you start screaming, try this short, entertaining book.

The Author as an Artist communicates by painting pictures with words. Spelling and grammar make up the paint we use in our Art. The next time we revisit the Rules, we’ll talk about how the paint is applied.

* Before reading Strunk, first read the last 5 paragraphs of E. B. White’s Chapter V in the revised edition (pp. 69-71 in the Macmillan 1959/1962 paperback, twenty-fourth printing, 1971).

29 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Language, Literature, Novels, Uncategorized, Writing

Can Ya Hear Me, Now?

See the Sample Chapters menu for a special edition Audiobook chapter!

OriginalNipper

Original Nipper

His_Master's_Voice

Nipper Redux

There are probably easier ways of doing this, but they also probably cost a lot of money. Because this is a no-budget production, I have to do the best I can with freeware – and some wonderfully dedicated volunteer Beta readers!

Like Nipper’s portrait, this project is still subject to editing. Please send any suggestions that can help improve the playback, via the Guestbook & Feedback page, above.

I hope to have a longer preview at PureVolume, and perhaps publish the complete book at Podiobooks. Sorry, no ETA yet for the complete book, but we’re getting close!

Testing … testing … one, two, three …

5 Comments

Filed under Audiobooks, Fiction, Novels, Uncategorized, What I write