Tansy Rayner Roberts is a phenom. Winner of the George Turner prize, author of the Creature Court trilogy (HarperCollins Voyager) and short story collection Love and Romanpunk (Twelfth Planet Press). Bloggerer at http://tansyrr.com and http://ripping-ozzie-reads.com/, Twitterer at @tansyrr, Galactic Suburbia podcaster, reviewerer of works at http://aussiespecficinfocus.wordpress.com/ and http://lastshortstory.livejournal.com/, AND she runs a doll craft business, makes fabric art, raises her two daughters and can type really fast, not to mention I’m pretty sure she’s also a Doctor of something or other historical and she probably solves crimes in her spare time. Frankly, I think she died ten years ago and was replaced by a robot.
Far too often, writers get bogged down in the art vs. craft divide, as if those who prefer one term are automatically elitist geniuses, and the others are hard-working plebs. One lot wave their hands and expect their work to magically appear with a swish of their keyboard, while the others are so obsessed with wordcount that they wind up typing gobbledegook and extra gratuitous sex scenes or descriptive paragraphs just so they can hit their day’s quota.
I know all these people. I have been all these people, at varying points in my career. Most writers have.
It does interest me, though, the hang ups so many of us have over one word or another – it’s like that sticky divide between ‘author’ and ‘writer’. We all have our own personal, occasionally quite emotional definitions of certain words that relate to our career. The words we embrace, the words we disassociate ourselves from with flappy hands, and the words we’re totally not ready for yet. (at least in English we have the privilege of several words to describe people who write – in Swedish there’s only one, which is most closely translated as ‘author’ so if you don’t feel ready to hang that particular word around your own neck, you don’t get a label at all)
I get very impatient with the idea of writing as Art, in the same way I get impatient with the idea of muses – too often it seems to suggest a romantic, film montage sort of life, where inspiration strikes, something moves THROUGH the writer who types manically for 24 hours and suddenly the work is done.
But that says more about my own preconceptions about Art in itself than it does about the (straw) writers who call themselves Artists, Darling. Do all novelists eye visual artists suspiciously and mutter about how long it takes to fill a canvas vs. how long it takes to produce a novel? Are we also affected by the film montage view of reality, where we think all it takes is flourishing a paint brush or squishing our hands into wet clay, and magically the work is done, sitting on plinths, being peered at by New York critics?
When I peel back the layers of assumptions that pop culture has apparently taught me about artists, and remember the people I actually know in reality who work as artists, or as craftspeople (or, just as commonly, both at once and more besides) I recall that art is in fact largely about using and utilising techniques. It’s about practicing, and improving, and while there are elements involving inspiration and all that fancy stuff, there’s also a lot of bloody hard work. So actually, there’s not that much difference between art and craft at all, as a useful metaphor. Except maybe artists get paid more, while craftspeople get paid more often. But not always.
Likewise, it doesn’t matter whether a writer (or an author) thinks of themselves as someone who produces art or craft. They’re all just words, and writers know better than anyone that they can make words mean anything they want. We use them to trick ourselves into feeling better (or worse) about our work, into writing more (or not writing at all) and into feeling like the writer/artist/person we want to be. There are so many elements of a writing career that the writer themselves has no control over. But what we can control are our working methods, our goals, the techniques we work on to improve our art or craft or just plain writing, and the way we present ourselves to the world.
If we didn’t have our little quirks, our pet metaphors and endless different methods of talking about ourselves, we’d probably dissolve into puddles of paranoia and panic about this unstable, rocky industry we have pinned our hopes on. We’d be no fun at dinner parties. We might never leave the house.
The kind of artist a writer most resembles is a con-artist. But trust me, that’s a good thing.