Ever since 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 everything wrong.
Irish Firebrands is not a bestseller, but that does not mean the naysayers are correct, because there are so many 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.
It 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.
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.
Writing, 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.
But 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”).
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.)