True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance. ~ Alexander Pope
In my other life, I’m a teacher. I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard and answered this question: Is teaching a science or an art? If you’re a teacher, you’re nodding your head right now. Been there. Done that.
My answer has always been both.
You see, the very best teachers are those that are creative and have a natural gifting and talent for teaching. But— and this is a big but, no pun intended— they have also studied the science of teaching. They’ve learned the best practices and methodologies and know how to implement them in the classroom. They also know when to disregard those so-called best practices and do what comes naturally to them.
I bet you can mentally tick off a list of teachers who perform their duties with skill and excellence, but there is no pizazz, no oomph, no I-can’t-wait-to-see-what-Mr. Ducky-will-do-today kind of eagerness from their pupils.
Then there are teachers who can make even the most tedious assignments and boring subjects exciting—images of Miss Frizzle from the Magic School Bus spring to mind—but those teachers have no classroom management or organizational skills. They are perpetually behind on grading—if they grade anything at all. Gasp, say it isn’t so!
It’s the teachers that can do both that truly impact students’ lives and are remembered long after they leave the teaching arena.
I believe the same is true of writing; it’s science and art.
Give me a second to duck for cover. Okay, I’m safely ensconced behind my computer.
I can see your faces as I peek over the top of the monitor; the frowns of disapproval; the rolling eyes; the head shaking. The, What does she mean, writing is a science and an art? looks of astonishment. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Writing is pure creativity, the flow of imagination recorded on a page. There’s nothing scientific about it. Writing is a compulsion, an obsession even, and writers are the instrument for the words. The writer imparts the magic and artistry into prose.
Writing is an art. Period. End of discussion.
Nonetheless, I would argue writing is also a science. Isn’t that why we study writing so much? Telling versus showing. Plot and structure. Dynamic and believable characters. Tone and pacing. Do a quick search on Amazon and literally hundreds of books on how to write pop up. There’s a veritable smorgasbord of literature pertaining to writing. It’s not enough for a person to want to write, or even to have some degree of talent, if they don’t know how to write and the how is the intricate meshing of science and art.
Do I dare come out from behind my computer yet? No, not yet?
This guy has a PhD and he says writers are scientists so it must be true, right?
Writers are the true scientists of our age, of every age. ~Robert Maurer, PhD
Okay, safely hidden behind my computer, I’ll continue our … ah … discussion.
I don’t care how much you’ve studied writing, how proficient you are at mechanics, grammar, syntax, punctuation, organization, deep POV, telling versus showing—that’s the science bit—you’re writing will never have that extra something without the artistry element. It’s the difference between an okay read (maybe even every author’s nightmare … a boring read) and an I-can’t-put-this-book-down-it’s-so-amazing read.
Writing, like teaching, is both a science and art.
You have to have an innate gift for writing, and you hone it via techniques and guidelines. Talent and flair alone are not enough to create a fabulous piece of literature and conversely, mastery of and proficiency in writing techniques may get you an A on an essay, but it will never raise you to the ranks of a best-selling author.
In all likelihood, it won’t even get you published.
Trust me. As a teacher, contest judge, and editor, I’ve seen immaculate, pristine writing that was dry as white toast and just about as exciting. I’ve also seen fabulous story ideas that were so poorly written, they were nearly impossible to decipher. The first group has a firm grasp on the techniques and mechanics but lacks the level of talent needed to be a truly successful writer. The other group has some genuine artistic ability, in fact, in some cases, a great deal of talent. But their work is so unorganized and sloppy, so lacking in conventions and mechanics, it isn’t publishable. Unfortunately, it might never be.
Before I go, I’ll stop cowering behind my computer and will qualify my argument with this.
You can always learn the science part. I don’t believe the same can be said for talent and creativity—the artistry half. The truth is, though I’ve taken drawing classes, I am not artistic, and it wouldn’t matter how many techniques I learned, or how much I practiced, I will never be a great painter…or even a mediocre one.
Hey, I’m so unartistic, my first grade teacher made fun of my stick people. Really.
Of all those arts in which the wise excel, Nature’s chief masterpiece is writing well. ~Andre Breton