There are many sides to writing. It can’t be confined. Some call it an art; some call it a science. So which is it?
Writing requires creativity and vision. You’ll need open eyes to look at the world, to see what it looks like on the face of it, to see what it looks like underneath, and to see what it looks like inside of yourself. An artist could sit in their yard for a lifetime and never run out of stories to write, because all around them everything they see has a thousand aspects, and a million ideas inside it. You need to be able to look at things from all these different angles. Sometimes, writing requires some degree of omnipotence to keep an eye on all the thoughts coming together—and sometimes you just pull back and let them flow into place.
Writing requires dimension and precision. You have to know what you’re writing about, and how; you need to understand the subject and how to effectively approach it and describe it. You need to know what you’re seeing and how to get it down on paper according to your vision, to use that vision to its fullest potential. You need to know how to produce an effect. A scientist could sit in their yard for a lifetime and never run out of subjects to categorize and monitor, because they could identify every tree and weed and bug and bird and spend the rest of their lives recording their lifecycles and the changes wrought in them by the seasons and the years.
The fact is, writing is both an art and a science. You’ll need balance—more than anything. You’ll need to know when to think and when to feel. You’ll need to understand when to let your tender, sentimental nature take over, and when to be cold and calculating. Give yourself over completely to the artist and you’ll end up with chaos—yield to the scientific side and you’ll end up with sterile, insipid chaff.
Basically, you have to be pretty schizophrenic. But it knew that, didn’t it, precious? Yesss . . . we knews it, precious, we did . . .
This is the part of you that was taught in schoolrooms to bleed literature dry of every nebulous interpretation of meaning that they can fabricate. This is the part that tends to function as a spellcheck while you’re writing, or critiques your plot, and probably it’s the one muttering, “This is crap, this is crap,” while you’re trying to write. If you’re experiencing writers’ block, you can count on it that the soulless, unfeeling scientist in you is to blame.
It can get be a hindrance at times, can’t it? Unfortunately, you still need it. Believe it or not, you do need a little logic and rationality when you’re writing, and the scientific part of you keeps that in check. By the traditional myth of brain lateralization, this would be the left brain; reason and critical thinking, all the technical and scientific aspects of the writing process.
You know when you’ve come to that exciting part, and a little voice is going, “Oh boy! oh boy! oh boy!” while you’re writing? Yup, this is that voice. And when you’re killing a character or letting them find true love at last, the artist is inside you, crying. This is the one that’s putting the scientist’s stores of knowledge to good use, hitting on unlikely combinations and putting them together like a jigsaw puzzle. This is the little genius in you, the one that flies into a frenzy and writes like mad when you finally break through that creative block. The artist is the one who appreciates the beauty in things.
Unlike the scientist, the artist isn’t taught. This part of you isn’t developed in the schoolroom, unless your mind is wandering from the lesson. Typically, this part is developed in the woods, or on a busy city street, or other places where you’re “alone,” that is, away from the distractions of your everyday life. The artist is an autodidact; it learns. Nobody can teach you to be an artist. Really, being an artist is something you’re born into. But I do believe that there’s an artist in all of us: it’s just developed sooner in some than others. If you can discover that part of yourself, open yourself to it, free the artist within and let them learn, let yourself dream, then you can learn any art you’re called to. Even if it’s not something traditionally viewed as an art—if you bring creativity into it, anthing can be an art.
How to Balance Them
If you’re up against writers’ block, a good way to get around it—and a good way, in general, to avoid it—is to stop thinking and start feeling; suppress the scientist, and let your artist free. Just write—let the scientist take over in revision.
At least, that’s what people say.
Me, I don’t believe in it. Sure, it works, but that’s not a solution—it’s avoiding the problem. It’s the easy way out, and for a lot of people, that’s great. So yeah, if you want the easy way out of it, there you go. More power to you. Off with you, go write something.
But you want to know the secret? I do have one up my sleeve here. I’ve already said that writing is both an art and a science; well, I can reduce it to just one word. Writing is a discipline.
That’s right. Being a writer is like being a Jedi. Or, you know, a master of the martial arts. You have to be in touch with the techniques; but also with the spirit of the thing. But above all else, writing is about balance. Letting the two sides take turns at dominance isn’t balance. Balance isn’t fifty-fifty, it’s hundred-hundred. Give free reign to both sides, give them both power and control, and let them work together. This can only be achieved through practice, determination, and discipline.
You’re just a writer. I am too, and I may not be a master, but I believe this: To become a master of my art, I have to become something higher than human, something that transcends the everyday. I have to become an artist, a free-thinker; I have to dare to look at the world in ways no one else will, ways they’ll tell me aren’t there. Sometimes, I have to look like a lunatic. But inside, I have to be a monk: I have to find a way to work with both my mind and heart.
What do you think? Am I a genius, a philosopher, an artist—or a lunatic?