Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Writing as Art or Business

Every now and then, I'll see an Internet debate about whether or not writing should be treated as an art or a business. The answer to me seems obvious: if you're going to make writing your career, it should be both an art and a business. However, that's my answer, and I think every writer should decide for themselves if it makes more sense to treat writing as an art or as a business or as something else.

I think this is something not particular to writing. In every job you have to balance passion and the cold, hard facts of whatever field you're in. I couldn't tolerate the business aspects of academic research and public school teaching without losing the passion for either job, so I'm not in those careers. With the DDJ, I've found something that I can handle in both the business and art (passion) sense, I just don't overly enjoy it, so I'm considering this as a "fall-back" career should my number one choice not pan out.

With writing, I've found a career in which I can create a piece of art and then handle it as a product to sell without flinching. Perhaps this is because I don't see writing as merely art. Writing is just another interaction with the world and its inhabitants, a participation in the collective consciousness. If you want that world to see your interaction (i.e. get published), then you need to have at least some appreciation for the business of writing. However, it is possible to get so wrapped up in the business that you can't find the art, the passion anymore.

How to say this right? I knew I wanted to be a writer not after I had started my first novel, but after I had gone to my first critique group session. To take something I had created and discuss its merits and flaws in terms of things like plot arcs, character motivation, theme, sentence structure, etc., made something click inside me. It was such a joy to hear others get what I was trying to say, and it was a fun challenge to puzzle out how to improve something when they clearly didn't get what I was trying to say. I'll never forget the natural high I felt driving home after that first crit group session. It was pretty overwhelming. It confirmed everything I had felt as I was writing on my own, and provided a big, flashing neon sign that said, simply, "HOME."

I guess that's why I don't have a hard time thinking of anything I write both as art and as a product to sell. To me, the selling aspect is a part of the art. Or, rather, I don't see any huge distinction between writing as art and business. That being said, I can see how others make the distinction toward both extremes. It's gotta be hard to write in either case.

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