Writing: Is it a Science or an Art?

I always considered it an art. I used to scoff at creative writing courses. I used to think (for some reason) that if you had to take a class about structuring your plot you weren’t really a writer. True writing was inspired, but also came through lots and lots of practice.

There is some truth to that. But I have also learned that storytelling is complex and if you study it you can find patterns and tools for what works best. Some people have natural instincts about plot development, dialogue, and character arcs. But even the best of us fall into our own traps of biases and inexperience. Maybe I could learn it all on my own through trial and error…but it might take me fifty years. Why not jump ahead right now by learning from other people’s experiences and making my writing the best it can be?

But if any of you are familiar with me at all you’ll know that I still like to emphasize the art of writing. I know that I have a lot to learn and have great respect for learning the mechanics of writing. However, some of the best aspects of writing cannot be taught in a class. Some of the best writing goes outside of the box, breaks the rules, and still succeeds for reasons unknown. For the plot, characters, themes, style, and tone to all interact and take the reader on an impactful journey there is a sense in which the writer needs true inspiration. At this point it has become art, not science. You can teach someone all the intricacies of painting (perspective, shading, color mixing), but there is that extra factor of emotion and following the inspiration of color, shape, and meaning that is undefinable.

How does this apply to my life right now?

I am working on two series. One series I have outlined cleanly in advance (something I never thought I’d do!). I wrote the first draft in this series in record time because I knew where the plot was going and what I needed to get there as confidently as I know where a train is going.

The other series is the complete opposite. I have written the first two novels. I did not have an outline for either. Both went through half a dozen major plot changes and revisions. And I doubt whether I’ll be able to outline the third. These books are much more about discovery. They are about communicating themes and emotions and trying to find the right action and plot to fit that. Someone is probably itching to tell me how wrong that is. But I love these books in their own way. They are far more intimate to me than the second series. These characters didn’t reveal themselves to me until I put them in different situations. And then they shocked me. They took control of the story and took me on quite a journey. And it was confusing and messy, and I often got it wrong. But when I got it right I saw how much I had grown.

So I am learning to appreciate this duality about writing: the control vs. the discovery, the logical and ordered vs. the organic and chaotic. Here’s hoping that someday I strike the perfect balance between the two!

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