In high school, I wrote a fan letter to John Irving, my favorite novelist at the time. I must have asked for some type of writing advice because he wrote back, in part, “Writing isn’t an art, it’s a craft.”
When that shit shows up in your mailbox at age sixteen, you take notice.
I was so grateful to hear it because “artist” has always been a scary label to me.
The word “art” feels out of reach. Being an artist implies one was given a heavy dose of natural talent, originality, and refined sensibility at birth which has no choice but to burst forth throughout one’s life. And you might go crazy or become a drunk from the sheer burden of it.
The thought of making Capital-A-Art paralyzes people (well, people like me anyway) into non-action. Dreams of being an artist stay dreams for so many.
But “to craft” means you pick up a set of tools and work your ass off to learn how to use them properly and create something of use. As a knitter, I get this.
As a beginning knitter — almost twenty years ago — I would never have expected to simply pick and yarn and needles and make a decent sweater with no practice, study or training. The same should be assumed for writing.
But once I got going — both with knitting and with writing — I progressed more quickly than I imagined possible. Soon I could make something pretty serviceable, be it a sweater or a book.
Being a crafter, I need not come up with something new and astonishing. There are no new stories, anyway. Only freshened up stories. I can look around and give myself permission to work with what’s already out there. I take things that feel relevant to me, pull them apart and build something that feels new, satisfying and useful.
Commitment to craft is all that’s required.