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 August, 2006


Writing Fiction - Art or Craft?

When writing fiction, is the writer a craftsman or something higher? If written fiction can bring readers to the highest levels of emotion, how indeed can it be less than visual design, musical composition, or other forms of expression? Is the presence of balance, unity, and contrast less operative in fiction than in other works? AuthorMe writers Ken Mulholland and Jane Musoke-Nteyafas address this question below. For further exploration in the field of aesthetic criticism, see Monroe C. Beardsley, Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism ( Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1958).

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Writing - Craft or Art?

Written by Kenneth Mulholland
l'Art pour l'art- Art for Art's sake.

'Poetry', said Charles Baudelaire, (1821-1867)  'has no other end but itself, and no poem is so great, so noble, so entirely worthy of the name as that which has been written simply for the pleasure of writing a poem.'

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, amongst many other comments, says of Art; 'Skill as the result of knowledge and practise. Human skill. Perfection of workmanship or execution as an object in itself.'

In the Middle ages; pertaining to writing: grammar, logic and rhetoric are all mentioned.
Of Craft, amongst other references, the Oxford notes, 'Intellectual power; skill; art; ability in planning and constructing, ingenuity, dexterity.'

So what are we to make of that?

Here are some brief words from Hendrik Willem Van Loon, author of 'The Arts Of Mankind,' first published in 1938, reprinted through to 1953.

'Then what is an artist? A painter is merely some one who says, "I think I see." A musician is a man or woman who says, "I think I hear."

The poet is a person who says, "I think this is the way I can best express my personal dreams in some sort of universal rhythm."

The novelist says, "Let me tell you a story as I imagined that it happened or might have happened."

Each artist in his or her own way is merely a sort of recording instrument. Whether their record means something to the rest of us or nothing at all is none of their concern.'

Then is that all there is? Just get about writing and pay no attention to anybody or anything else? Write what thou wilt?

I don't think it's all quite that simple.

Sure, we who choose to write, choose our subject matter and sure, to hell with those who don't like what we write. Yes? No? Both maybe.

We all want to write for ourselves as individuals and yet at times we are bound to work for others. Even popular, best-selling authors sing for their supper creating what The Market requires. So does that make their output Craft, or Art, considering the monetary returns? Do we value commercial success as Craft or Art?

'The cat sat on the mat.'

Six words.

They tell us a little story. They are not Art, but they are a part of a craft. This is the beginning of something called communication through the written word.

'I think. Therefore I am.'

Five words.

What do they convey?

They tell us that the writer is a sentient being in one simple, single statement. And they describe the idea of thought, of thinking, of the abstract.

'An angry man-there is my story: the bitter rancour of Achilles.'

'Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring, of woes unnumber'd, heav'nly Goddess sing!'

These are lines from modern translation and ancient text, and they speak to us with a mighty resonance. Why do they survive?

'Yorick! I do sing to you now, even now when you are dead and gone? Lackaday!'

A quote from Shakespeare? Nope! Just me. Alas poor Yorick, I didn't know him well at all. Yet the words of writers such as Shakespeare and... oh Chesterton, Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters and so many, many others, still hold places in modern literature. And they don't have to be what we might call 'Western Writers.'

Khalil Gibran is a significant example. Just read his beautiful work 'The Prophet,' and be uplifted through his sublime words.

Ancient Writings survive the long ages because of Humanity. Those that do not have not failed the test of Craft versus Art, but rather the test of changing times and changing tastes. This, I feel, is true of all literate civilisations, East and West. Of those ancient texts the most powerful are the writings that form the basis of various religions which still thrive today. Then there are the writings of History's Statesman, Politicians and Philosophers, Military Leaders, Historians themselves, Explorers and Scientists.

What makes any of their Writing Art?
Longevity? Revelation? Style? Historical values?

Perhaps none of the above, because not all are regarded as works of Art as such.

And yet The Koran (Qur'an) the Bible and The Torah are all revered, not only for their religious significance but for the magnificence of their form and structure, and the aesthetic beauty, wisdom, power and truths that they contain. Are these tomes to be elevated to Art? Or do they stand above even Art on some higher platform?

'The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.'

Gee I was going to say that, but some lyric-writer beat me to it quite a number of years ago.
And there we have it. The fundamental things do apply. Writing is always going to be a Craft, from the lowest shopping list or quickly dashed-off letter or the slave lists from the pyramids to the engineering-teams of the Roman roads to the aspiring writers of centuries gone by and right up to now.

So where does the answer lie?

It lies with The Passing Parade. That is, in essence, Humanity. It lies with current tastes and trends. In other words 'Art' itself is a liquid entity that is subject to the Here and Now, as well as the Yesterday and Tomorrow.

Literature to this day has been judged by our predecessors and our peers. They are the ones who decide what is or will be considered 'Art'.
Yet, in the coming years a New Humanity will arise to reconsider, to evaluate and to re-assign, based upon their knowledge and concepts and thinking as to the relevance of such past works in the world they go on to inhabit.

Can Writing become more than mere Craft? Only if it is assigned that position by those of the day. They are the ones capable of lifting it into the area of Art, and they, or those to follow, are responsible for so maintaining it.

Is 'Gone With The Wind,' art?

'Lord of the Rings?' 'Harry Potter?'

Are any of the works produced by writers in the last century Art? And what about the poets, Shelly, Keats? Do we consign them to the trash-bin of history?

Writing as Craft or Art?

If only The Passing Parade can be considered responsible Auditors and Critics, and their fanciful caprice is left to guide us, where are we drawn?

To this conclusion. Writing starts as Craft. From there it can escalate from the banal to the mediocre, to the passing fair. And then, perhaps to levels that might, might be considered artistically worthy.

Judged by its peers, at times unfairly, and by its public, at times unfairly, it has the potential to rise above all, to transcend and perhaps for short periods to attain that higher quality we term 'Art'.

However, be assured that accolade Art is never certain and can be removed at a moment, or a century's notice.

Writing will always begin as a Craft, yet it has the potential to reach further toward the illusive goal we know as Art.

To that end, should Writers strive.
















Is Writing an Art or a Craft?

By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas

The art versus craft debate is one which has been ongoing for a while now, but in order to determine if writing is a craft or an art, one has to first define them individually. Essentially they are more or less synonyms; however, there are very minute differences worth being mentioned. The word craft refers to the products of artistic production or creation which require a high degree of tacit knowledge and are highly technical and specialized.

Art is the conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements (words) in a manner which affects the sense of beauty. It is the high quality of conception or execution, as found in works of beauty, the concentration on a work’s aesthetic value.

Writing is a definitely always a craft, like sewing, knitting, painting or poetry, but is it always necessarily an art? It depends on the writer. All writers approach writing as a craft, following the universal standards of including must-haves like plots, dialogue and characters. There are rules and regulations to writing which make it a craft, and therefore give the craft definition a technical edge. With writing, there are techniques which have to be learnt and practiced in order for it to qualify as a craft and as writing, especially good writing.

Whereas we link craft together with technique, in the case of writing as an art, the focus is on the ability to affect the sense of beauty. It has to be of aesthetic value to qualify as an art. However the interpretation and substantiation of writing as an art is subjective. It is a matter of context depending on the audience. Some may perceive it as a craft and others as art, depending on their definition of what is essentially evokes their sense of beauty.

Two writers who invoke a sense of beauty in me with their writing are Nigerian Ben Okri and the controversial Sudanese-American Kola Boof. Apparently Ben Okri appeals to Jenny Turner of New Statesman & Society’s sense of beauty because she praises his The Famished Road with these simple words,

“Overwhelming…..just buy it for its beauty.”

In order to understand what she is referring to, here is a quote from the book,

“With our spirit companions…..we were happy most of the time because we floated on the aquamarine air of love. We played with the fauns, the fairies, and the beautiful beings. Tender sibyls, benign sprites and the serene presence of our ancestors were always with us, bathing us in the radiance of their diverse rainbows…” (Pg 4)

Okri maintains this poetically beautiful writing throughout his book with a consistency that not only drives one to tears, but floods the sense of imagination with a child-like sense of awed fantasy and appeals powerfully to ones sense of beauty.

Kola is to writing, what a painter is to painting. She writes words as if she is painting. The language in Kola’s books is seductively beautiful. For example, her description of the African skin, hair and skin is affirmative and sensuous. Colourfully and poetically descriptive, one of her best descriptions are those of black women in the book Long Train to Redeeming Sin, using richly imbued words like;

As black velvety and as beautiful as the Queen of Sheba” (pg 102), “liquid black eyes” (pg 102), red lips against charcoal (pg 102), “brave pagan yellow of Cleopatra” (pg 91), “caramel-earthen-wine-dark flesh of Nefertiti” (Pg 91), “beautiful black midnight spirit women” (pg 92), slippery jet black-dark ebony” (pg 8), “Silvery charcoal black lavender skin” (pg 15), “eyes soft as Arabian silk” (pg 17), “baby soft skin...creamy rich like chocolate pudding” (pg 69) and “sexy bellpepper-thick flat nose, wide nose of her race” (pg 69)

The question of writing is an art or a craft is as complicated as defining what is beautiful. Although I am of the opinion that writing as an art is of a slighter superior quality in the creative realm than writing as a craft, the mystery of whether it’s an art or craft lies in the eyes of the beholder. 

Sources and extracts

The Famished Road by Ben Okri

Long Train to the Redeeming Train by Kola Boof

WHO IS KOLA BOOF?-Perspectives of a Female Ugandan/African Writer After Interviewing the Author by Jane Musoke-Nteyafas (Review forthcoming publication)

The Free Dictionary by Farlex http://www.thefreedictionary.com/art

Jane Musoke-Nteyafas, poet/author/artist and playwright, was born in Moscow, Russia and currently resides in Toronto, Canada. She is the daughter of retired diplomats. By the time she was 19, she spoke French, English, Spanish, Danish, Luganda, and some Russian and had lived in Russia, Uganda, France, Denmark, Cuba and Canada. She won the Miss Africanada beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named ‘one of the new voices of Africa’ after reciting one of her poems. In 2004 she was published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto's Black storytellers and in February 2005. Please visit her website at www.nteyafas.com


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Publishing New Writers,

August, 2006 (no. 708)


Publisher: Bruce L. Cook, P.O. Box 451, Dundee, IL 60118.  Fax (847) 428-8974.

Submissions/comments  cookcomm@gte.net.

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by David Leithauser


One way to get published, of course, is to self publish. Rather than relying on a publisher to accept your work and then pay you 10% to 15% of the profits (if you are lucky), you can have your book printed at your own expense, then set about selling the book to bookstores and individuals. That way, you keep all of the profits, after your printing and advertising expenses. The problem is, that can involve considerable expense in both time and money up front. An initial run of printing can cost thousand of dollars, and then you have advertising costs. There is, however, a cheaper way to publish your book and distribute it world-wide: an ebook.

An ebook is an electronic book. Simply put, it is a computer file. You can post the file on a Web site and allow people to download the file. They then read it on their computer, much as you are reading this newsletter. The file would remain on their computer, and they can run it like any program and view it whenever they like.

When you put out a book as an ebook, your costs are very low. You have no printing costs, no inventory to warehouse, no shipping costs. Your initial cost is basically the cost of any technical help you need in creating the file in a format that anyone can read (if you are not particularly computer savvy). Ideally, your file format should have extra features, like bookmarks, search functions, and the ability to print parts of the book. Your main ongoing cost is the cost of maintaining a Web site to distribute the ebook. You will also probably pay for a credit card service to process your credit card orders, unless you limit yourself to payment by check or money order (a very bad idea for a Web based business). Other than these, you can keep almost all of the income from your ebook.

Once you create an ebook file and set up a Web site, the next problem is how to make sure you get paid. If you simply allow anyone to download the file from your Web site, they have no reason to pay you. The more widely you distribute the file, the bigger this problem becomes.

I happen to be a software programmer with considerable experience with this. I write programs which I allow anyone to download from the Internet. The catch is that the program will only work for 30 days after you download it and install it on your computer. At the end of the 30 day trial period, the program stops working until you pay for it. That gives the user time to see if they like the program enough to pay the price. The technique is called shareware, also known as "Try Before You Buy" software. It occurred to me that the same general principle could work with ebooks. The time limit idea would not work well, because I have no idea how fast a person could read the book. They might very well totally finish the book in a day, or it might take them weeks to read enough to decide if they like the book. So, I modified my system. I created a program that lets them read the first 20% of the book for free. If they like it, they can pay for an unlock code that lets them read the rest of the book. I can allow them to download the ebook freely, and still get paid if they like it. Not only can I post it on my own Web site, but also on the hundreds of shareware sites that allow anyone to post their files on them for people to download. No matter where people get my ebooks from, I still get paid if the people want to read the last 80% of the ebook.

My next problem was churning out enough ebooks to make some money. I have a few in the works, but it occurred to me that since I had developed the ebook software program and was creating and hosting a Web site, I could publish other people's books as ebooks too. It would make a perfect compliment to (or substitute for) authors selling self-published printed copies of books. So, I am now looking for people who want to self-publish their books. I offer to create the ebook from standard word processor files, distribute the ebooks on the Internet through hundreds of sites (something I already have years of experience doing with my software), collect the orders and take payments. I keep $2.00 or 20% (whichever is greater) of each book's receipts, and pay the rest to the author quarterly.  I even set up a page to explain my offer to authors at


So far I have signed one other author, and had several others express an interest. Aside from the fun of helping other authors publish their books and making some money at it, I have the fun of referring to "my world-wide publishing empire" at parties.

Advanced Techniques:  Flashbacks

by Sandy Tritt www.InspirationForWriters.com

Foreshadowing drops hints of what may happen in the future. The main purpose of foreshadowing is to keep the reader interested by adding suspense. It is very easy to use. It usually consists of only one or two sentences, and is especially effective when ending a scene or chapter.

            Examples of foreshadowing:

·        Sam wished he could rid himself of the sick feeling in his gut that told him something terrible was going to happen, and happen soon.

·        Jackie didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the last time he would see his mother alive.

·        Thunder rumbled in the distance. The air was thick with tension and would soon explode. 

            Study what works in fiction you admire. Notice the tools the author uses to enter the past or foretell the future. Unless you are a writer, these techniques should appear invisible and smooth. But as a writer, you must learn to use these techniques to add punch to your own work.

(c) copyright 2002 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved, except for those listed here. November be reproduced for educational purposes (such as for writer's workshops), as long as this copyright notice and the url: http://tritt.wirefire.com are distributed with the pages. For use in conferences or other uses not mentioned here, please contact Sandy Tritt at Sandy@InspirationForWriters.com for permission and additional resources at no or limited charge.

   Keep writing!

Sandy Tritt


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