Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bleeding on the Page

Sandy Tritt

Is writing an art or a craft? I've wavered on this, thinking one and then the other, but I believe the "truth" is that good writing must be both. A craft is something that can be learned, something that, with time and practice, can be improved upon. It is something that has basic rules and methods, such as using active voice, maintaining point of view, creating realistic characters, and writing sharp dialogue. It's what we give tip sheets to help explain; it's what we teach at writing workshops; it's what we comment on within the pages of your masterpiece. A good writer simply must have a good handle on the craft of writing.

But there is more to writing than craft. A perfectly crafted novel is not necessarily a good read. There is something more, something that oftentimes cannot be named but instead is felt, that separates a well-crafted book from an I-can't-put-it-down novel. In the 1946 book Confessions of a Story Writer, Paul Gallico (author of The Poseidon Adventure) writes: "It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don't feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you're wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories."

That is what we do. We bleed on the page. We put our hearts and souls into creating not just a carefully crafted work, but a work of art. We don't create characters; we discover them. We get to know them. We don't decide what happens to them; we discover that, too. Whereas the craft of writing is a product of the brain, the art of writing is a product of the heart and the soul. The craft of writing gives structure to the end product while the art of writing is an exploration of The Truth and provokes emotion. Perhaps that is the greatest difference between craft and art—emotion. Just as viewing a great work of visual art can overwhelm us with emotion, reading a great work of literary art must also touch us deeply.

As editors, we love to nurture the artist in every writer. We love to highlight those passages that are exceptional and tell you how amazing they are—even if they need a little editing. We love to discover the great storyteller inside you and help give you confidence to continue to write and continue to hone your craft—so that you may, indeed, create a work of art.


  1. That is so true, Sandi. I think you need both to make a great work of art. Emotion is great and needed for a good story that makes you not want to stop reading. But, I've read a number of books where well known authors don't follow the rules of craft (so to speak). People say they can get by with that because they are famous and people will buy the book anyway. And that is true, but I don't think that gives them the right to be lazy and not put forth the best book they can. Because their books would be even better if it was also written correctly.

    1. You're right, Janet. I've read a number of books from prolific "famous" authors that aren't as carefully crafted as they could be. I've always wondered if that happens because they are expected to write a full length novel every year and have it ready to be published.

      But I agree. Their books would be much better if they still paid attention to the craft.