“The artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal, but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning.” Kandinsky
Craft (I don’t like the word) is important for a writer, but it is not writing. I think if you love writing and you have something to say, you should be driven to perfect your technical skills simply because you want people to read your words. You’ve succeeded when your words serve your meaning rather than obscure it.
It takes a lot of discipline, it’s not easy, but it isn’t writing.
My piano teacher — Mr. Baer — said to me when I was, what, thirteen? “Martha, you have a lot of feeling for the music, but you don’t have technique.” In his thick German accent, he pronounced it, “Technic” and I think that’s closer to what he meant. Everyone has a technique (I had a sloppy one), but technical ability is something we have to develop. I ended up with a big book of exercises that I was supposed to practice to improve my skill. Music isn’t just feeling; there’s something behind it and I needed to develop it. I didn’t, for a number of reasons, but mainly because it took more discipline than I had at that point in my life, AND I already knew I was never going to play in front of audiences. I’d never even made it through a recital, I was so terrified. I got a lesson there, though, that I didn’t understand for years.
Martin of Gfenn was a long project — fourteen years all together. Ultimately, it was a lesson in the technical side of writing. If you’re curious, here is a post that tells you what happened. It was a case of “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Truman Capote came back from the dead (well, kind of) to teach me about style.
One woman — from Germany — whom I hoped would want to translate Martin of Gfenn to German, read (and translated) the first chapter then refused the project (though it would have been lucrative for both of us). She refused the project because she didn’t like the way I write. “I prefer Henry James,” she said, “and you don’t write like Henry James.” No, I don’t, and I don’t want to (shudder). But there’s no disputing personal taste.
Everyone has an axe to grind about writing. Proofreading is important, but bad proofreading (it’s inexcusable) doesn’t make a person a bad writer, just a careless and disrespectful one. Homonyms are booby traps. We’ve known since our first Dr. Seuss book that stories have a “narrative arc” and that characters need to be developed and in harmony with themselves. Yadda yadda. The thing is, you can know all this and still write shit. You need a little of that “pixie dust” — inspiration.
Painting: The Muses by Kandinsky