The idea: A 4-week blog series in which nine (9) writers give their views on nine (9) different writing process guides. For more details, visit here.
This week’s topic: Writers as Artists: How do you define yourself as a writer? Are genre writers artists?
The contest: Join in the fun by blogging about the week’s topic on your own site. Be sure to post the link in this thread for a chance to win a free book! More details here.
The writers and their guides: Click on any of the writer’s names below to view their blog.
Stephanie Jenkins: Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel
*A few of our bloggers couldn’t get their books in time, but they are offering their insights on this week’s topic. Next week they’ll pick up the discussion on their guides.
“Art comes from the place where you dream. Art comes from your unconscious; it comes from the white-hot center of you.”
There are few gray areas in Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream. He has definitive ideas on writers and the writing process. Love it or hate it, this book forces you to define your personal writing process. Every page shouts for you to get off the fence and decide who you will be as a writer. I highly recommend this book and believe writers can gain insight into their work by reading it. Over the next few weeks, I will share what I loved about. Having said that, I have to admit the first chapter provoked me, starting with this comment:
“You must…have the highest aspirations for yourselves as writers—the desire to create works of fiction that will endure, that reflect and articulate the deepest truth about the human condition.”
My comment in my book’s margins: Huh.
This idea is so enormous and abstract – the idea of the human condition – that I wonder at anyone’s ability to define it, let alone set out to tell the truth about it. My aspiration has always been to touch someone with my writing. You know that moment when someone tells you that your book reached inside of them and played over their guts like fingertips thrumming guitar strings? That’s what I want. A moment of connection. A thrum of understanding. As a reader, the books I hold in highest regard are those that sparked a moment of kinship that I can return to again and again – that is the standard I will hold myself to as a writer. Charles Dickens, Nora Roberts, and JK Rowling all rank within this category for me.
Butler does not consider genre writers to be artists. There are writers who are artists – who aspire to that lofty human condition truth-telling – and then there is everybody else. The main distinction is that artists access the world through their senses, and intellectuals understand the world through thought. Also, while a genre piece inspires you to “fill in the blanks” with yourself, a work of art inspires you to “leave yourself.” Butler believes:
“Fiction, inescapably, is the art form of human yearning.”
When I read this, a light bulb went off. I suddenly understood why my novel had come so easily when I struggled to write a work that meant something to me. The idea for my story was born the minute I dreamed up my MC – a girl who yearns to belong to someone. To share a thrum of understanding with someone, if you will. Butler admits that genre writers “have never forgotten this necessity of the character’s yearning.”
Now, my book is a young adult urban fantasy, which would fall into genre fiction. My negative reaction to Butler’s ideas stems from this idea that by his definition I am not an artist. Oh, I beg to differ!
I was lost in that “white-hot center” of me during the time I wrote my novel. I don’t know that I’ve written something that will endure, and I don’t believe every genre book is a work of art. But are they nonexclusive? I wonder if Butler’s ideas don’t conflict somewhat. After all, if I were to begin to describe the human condition, I would begin with human yearning.
What do you think?