Writing as...Art

Thursday, October 16, 2014

It is still my dream to publish this novel manuscript.
I was sixteen years old when I first turned my gaze towards publication.  Bright-eyed and ambitious, I walked into the Christian International Retail Show in the summer before my senior year, ready to sales pitch my book proposal to whoever would listen.  Black Roses, my interracial historical romance set in Charleston 1904, is still my greatest work and I was immensely proud of the finished manuscript after the multiple revisions it had endured.  I was convinced that my message was needed in the Bible Belt since I'm a firm believer that Christians should be at the forefront of cultural change and artistic trends.

But the responses I heard from people in the industry were both discouraging and rather frustrating.

"We would never carry a book like that."  

"We don't touch controversial issues."  

"Go write an Amish fiction novel and we'll consider you."

I went away confused and vexed — how was I supposed to reconcile my art with the industry?  Should I write what I wanted or what I knew would sell?  

I desperately want to be able to do both.  This is because I believe that for a true artist, writing is both art and work.  But ultimately, the balance between the two spectrums is a dichotomy that requires a choice.  To what extent are you writing for yourself, for the sake of the art and expression, and to what extent are you writing for the market? Are you vocationally motivated or artistically driven?

This is my first installment in a series that I'll be completing over a few weeks called "Writing As" — I will be exploring the complexities of the field and what it means to pursue this wholeheartedly.  What does it mean that writing is an art form?

Art itself is difficult to define.  It's the expression of creativity, the application of imagination, the production of human craftsmanship.  It's engrained in our very nature, for creativity is part of the human psyche.  We were intended to create by nature, for we are made in the image of the Creator who is the greatest artisan.  Art is usually something that moves us emotionally and it often evokes a visceral, powerful response from those who observe it.

When I think of art, I usually think of paintings — or of my sister Haley who is one of the best artists I know.  ;)  But I also think of music, fashion, graphic design and, of course, literature.
Writing is, quite literally, painting word pictures.  

Stories require great imagination and precise use of language that is both emotive and evocative.  J. K. Rowling, Tolkien and Suzanne Collins each built entire worlds from words.  Shakespeare wrote the most beautiful sonnets the world has ever seen.  Words are powerful and when combined, they spark the imagination and creativity of the observer.  In a way, writing is an art form for the writer and a means of artistic inspiration for the reader.

Writing is transformative. 

Art itself is transformation.  It moves us.  It causes us to let go.  Any art, especially literature, is itself a metaphor.  It is a symbolic representation of something we see, experience or understand.  I know that I am personally changed and influenced by what I write and by what I read — I am both an active participant and a passive spectator to the power of the words, depending on which side of the words I'm on.

Writing is a reflection of you.

Gustave Flaubert, the French author of Madame Bovary, said, "The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe."  Your words are an extension of your innermost thoughts.  How can we compromise our own ideals and desires because of societal expectations?

If the world pressures me to write what I do not agree with, what I do not feel, then what kind of artist would I be if I lower my standards?  I will not submit.  With a spirit of unreconciled determination, I will make my writing first and foremost an art form.  This doesn't mean that I won't work on marketing, that I don't spend hours researching literary trends, that I shouldn't keep up with bestsellers lists, publication sales or publication strategies.  I work thoroughly on my marketing plans and I study the industry because I care about my platform — but ultimately if I have to choose, I choose art.

Before anything else, write for yourself.

Most of the best writers the world has ever known wrote for themselves before anyone else.  The ideal should be to find something that reflects you artistically which will also resonate with the market.  Be aware of publication trends and make marketability a priority, but don't lose sight of the why behind what you do.

Do you agree?
How can we balance writing as art and work?


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  1. We are so very afraid of the word 'art' especially when it comes to writing. We have convinced ourselves that it cannot be commercial or popular and be considered 'literary,' that there is some divide between the two. This is unfortunate. And it's simply not true.

    Art simply implies that the author/creator respects his audience enough to revise a text until it shines, to struggle for their words, so to speak, to take time with each line until all excess and unnecessary baggage is purged away. This is not easy. Why should it be? Greatness never is. Neither is being in love (and the reference is not as outrageous as it might appear). It takes time. It takes discipline. It takes cultivation and patience. It takes developing a good ear (and all writing is aural, not visual. We 'hear' it. That is what most uninformed writers miss.) It demands a love of language. It demands feeding off the genius of that language, to 'hear' the many voices, the shapes they take, the volume, the dynamic, the emotional penetration.

    That's art. And THAT will sell. Trust me, people do know the difference. Your article makes my very point. It is well executed, well thought out, and has a polish that makes your delivery seem almost effortless. That's artful to me. It says you took the time to care about me, the reader. You sold me.

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful and thorough post. I'm glad that you agree. Writing is an art form we work for — which is what makes it so beautiful and so worthwhile.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. Great post! I definitely believe that you need to do what's on your heart. It's a passion for a reason. Hollywood wouldn't touch the "God's Not Dead" film, but it made millions. If these Christian filmmakers sold only what they believed would sell, I'm sure many lives would never have been touched and the impact it had/has would never have taken place.

    So, essentially, we should do what we want whether it sells or not because the world needs it and, if it's supposed to happen, it will.

    And I love that you said writing is painting with words. <3 So beautiful. ^_^

    1. Thanks for sharing, Rana! I agree with you that we should always stand true to our convictions before anything else. And you're right — if it's supposed to happen, it will. :)

  3. Brilliant post! I agree with everything you said: sure, I want to be published someday, but first and foremost, I write for me.
    Little sidenote, I'd love to read Black Roses whenever you get it published. Because I'm sure that day will come :)

    Alexa S. Winters

    1. Thanks Alexa! It's always important to have our priorities in order when it comes to our art - I'm so glad you feel the same! Best of luck to you as you continue to work on your writing as well :)