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March's FEATURED AUTHOR: Art vs. Craft...

March 23, 2011
Can you believe it's the end of March already? I can't. Where did it really go?? Anyway. This being a Wednesday in March, our Featured Author Sarah Pekkanen stops in to talk about writing... & whether it's an art or a craft. Read on!

Is writing an art or a craft?

I’m an author, but I’m not the slightest bit artistic. I don’t paint, dance, sing, or sculpt. My husband chooses the colors for the walls in our house, because if it were up to me, I’d pick Benjamin Moore’s Most Boring Beige. Don’t get me wrong; I love experiencing someone else’s art. I can appreciate Monet’s flowers and Picasso’s quirky lines and Georgia O’Keefe’s erotic flowers. And I love listening to music, anything from opera to Coldplay. I just can’t create it myself.

I don’t consider my writing art, either--it’s pure craft. Writing to me is messy, exhilarating, frustrating, joyful and depressing. The emotions all pile up on each other as I sit down at my keyboard, fighting for dominance like those swirling ping-pong balls at a televised lottery drawing. I never know which one is going to surface first.

It’s the steady, methodical side of my mind that takes control when I’m feeling frenzied and overwhelmed.

“Just write 1,000 words today,” it instructs me. A thousand words is four pages. It seems like a reasonable goal. But I’m not ready yet. First I re-read yesterday’s pages, backspacing over an ill-considered adverb and realizing a character needs one more telling detail to make him come alive. Then I try to drown out the voices in my head--they can be really mean, like a pack of middle-school girls--that tell me my prose is criminally bad, and that what I’m writing will never be published.

“Push on,” my methodical mind whispers reassuringly. “You can always fix it later.”

I get up to make a cup of tea, and think about folding a load of laundry. Sorting socks has never been so appealing. And I really need to exercise more--shouldn’t I go for a jog, then try to write?

But Craft won’t let me get away with procrastinating. It coaxes me back to the keyboard with its simple directive: Four pages. A thousand words. They don’t have to be beautiful. They really don’t even need to make sense. I just need to pin them down on paper, because if I give in to the excuses, my book will remain unwritten.

If I were an artist, I might depend on a muse. But what would I do if she started sleeping in--or worse, developed mononucleosis? What if her fairy dust suddenly lost its sparkle?

I used to think I'd write a book when I had more time. I imagined myself breezing into the perfect little coffee shop, where, after sipping a steaming espresso, I'd poise my fingers above my laptop's keyboard and watch as a flawless novel unfurled. I wouldn't write the whole thing in a single day, of course--it would probably take a few weeks. But as long as the conditions were just so, creative inspiration would emerge, almost like a separate entity, and I'd sit back and watch it go to work.

Huh. I've since learned writing, at least for me, doesn't work that way. I have to write when I'm exhausted. I have to write when I'm grumpy, when I'm bored with writing, and when I'm convinced I'm the worst writer in the entire world. I can't make writing too... precious, for lack of a better word (and I'm a writer; I really should have a better word), or I'll never get it done. It's the equivalent of a runner faithfully getting out there on freezing cold days, on rainy days when every passing car splatters a puddle's worth of water on her, and on days when her shin splints cry out for mercy. Sure, there will be days when she feels like she's flying; when the sun is gentle and so is the breeze, and she could run forever. Those golden days exist in writing, too, but I know I'll never stumble upon them unless I've done the gritty, painful training.

Craft is no-nonsense; it gets up at 7 a.m., yawning and stretching, then has a solid breakfast of scrambled eggs and black coffee before heading off to battle traffic and curse at the guy who makes a left-hand turn and forces everyone to miss the light. Craft isn’t fussy. No mean middle-school girl would try to mess with Craft’s mind. Craft shows up, gets the job done, then heads home to have a well-deserved Budweiser in front of the television.

Ooh...television. Maybe I should see what’s on before I write?

(Sounds of a struggle as Craft wrestles the remote control out of my hand).

Fine. Craft wins again. Now I’m off to tackle those 1,000 words of my next novel.

Sounds like you're on the right track, Sarah! At least in terms of what works for you getting your stories out. *grin* I cannot wait to see what craft comes up with next. Thank you so much for visiting us this month--I've enjoyed having you over, and hope you'll pop in again to say "hi" every so often! 

And just in case you missed it, check out Sarah's article in the Washington Post about the gender divide in children's books--and the resulting concern that boys are reading less...


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