Sunday, April 15, 2007

Benchmarks v. Creativity | Art v. Science

Steven King once said anyone who takes more than two years to write a book is just dicking around. Dang. Apparently I'm dicking around, and I don't even have a dick.

I wave my freak flag of snivelling self-defence: I actually only took one year to write my book. Then I realised it was teh suxxors. And then, rather stuffing it under the bed, I fixed it. That has taken another year, and I also obtained gainful employ in that year, which cut down on my writing time woefully.

I actually agree with Mr. King's statement as far as genre fiction goes. I think a person who is focused on telling a story in an engaging fashion should be able to get it on the page in that time frame. It comes down to knowing what the hell you're doing with your story and having a work ethic that is going to serve you well if you're trying to make a living at writing.

However, for literary fiction, where the writer is trying to craft a work of art and is experimenting with form, I'll cut them more slack in terms of how long it takes. The author may not know what the hell they're doing, but they'll figure it out - like a scientist right on the edge of a new discovery. When you're riding seat-of-your-pants, a bit of flailing around is to be expected.

As for the work ethic argument, literary writers are paid in copies and teeny-tiny amounts of money. They're doing it for love, so no matter how fast or slow they produce pages, that's an awesome work ethic. I salute them whole-heartedly.

There's more than one valid way of writing. Mr. King is an expert at what he does, but that doesn't mean doing it differently is wrong.

I'm going to go off on a related rant here. Feel free to back away slowly; I promise to be too busy frothing to notice your careful departure. :-D

I'm an artsy-fartsy soul myself, interested in drawing since childhood and writing since my teens, but I got my education in hard-core science and loved it just as fiercely as art.

People would rather pretend they're aloof than admit they're ignorant of the other person's field. Artists will sneer at scientists for puttering over their little bits of equations and ugly equipment; scientists will sneer at artists for not understanding the simplest facts of their universe.

The thing is, art is just as hard as science and science is just as creative as art.

Scientists have to use their imaginations to discover new principles. Like an artist, a scientist takes what they have (a set of known principles, rather than the art of previous generations) and either uses it to springboard themselves to a new understanding, or deconstructs everything that has gone before in order to reimagine it from the ground up. Scientists are intensely creative and imaginative people. They think up new concepts, new (and often insane) theories, they build new apparatuses to measure new quantities. Their brains are always picking away at problems, trying to see what they haven't seen in it before. It pisses me off when someone claims that science is close-minded. Yo: They think this shit up! How else do you define "using your imagination"?

Artists are not featherweights who pull things out of the air. They work their mental and physical asses off. Painters do ray-tracing diagrams in their heads - far more sophisticated ones than scientists do. Sculptors have to understand materials often more subtly than someone building a piece of scientific apparatus. Writers need a clarity of thought and meaning just as acute as someone writing a clear scientific paper, but the writer has to use that clarity to communicate concepts far more complex and subtle. All artists forge into the unknown just as surely as a mathematician coming up with a way to solve a previously-unsolved equation. This is not easy stuff.

The fact is, everything human beings strive to do is amazing. Certain disciplines may not be your cup of tea - they may seem a stupid waste of time to your eyes - but remember that your aptitudes frame your opinions. If you're more into the arts than the sciences, you're going to find science painful and boring. If you're more into science, you'll find art incomprehensible and frivolous.

There's more than one way to do things and more than one sort of thing worth doing. Don't pretend to be cool when you're really incompetent; human beings are amazing and do all kinds of fantastic stuff. The fact of you not understanding it doesn't mean it isn't an incredible endeavour for someone to devote their life to.

Pageloads since 01/01/2009: