I live in a kind of strange borderland. By temperament and training, I am an engineer. The rigors of science, mathematics, and engineering are where I’ve spent most of my intellectual time. In those circles, anything “artsy,” to include reading and writing, are kept at a wary distance. Even technical writing is regarded by most of my professional peers as a chore and a challenge, which is why I will often be responsible for crafting papers and reports when it becomes necessary, and it almost always becomes my job to create training materials and to communicate complex topics to new people.
Yet while my technical colleagues regard writing as an “art,” a mysterious thing that somehow other people are able to conjure whole-cloth out of thin air, like some kind of sorcery, writing is rarely included in discussions of “the arts.” Calls for artists seek painters, musicians, photographers, but not writers. If writing doesn’t fit with the technical fields, and it doesn’t fit with the artistic disciplines, then what is it?
In truth, writing straddles the line between an art and a science, as much as I find that phrase cliché and overused. When something is defined as “the art and the science of blank,” it’s really just a way to avoid having to rigorously explain the entire topic. This is why leadership is always defined as an “art and a science” – no one wants to go through the effort of reducing to explicit, technical principles all of the different variations and intricacies of leaders. However, that’s a subject for another day. Writing, at least fiction writing, truly is an art and a science.
We posted recently a little about the writing process, and you might remember the very long list of synonyms. I was trying to explain, in a rigorous way, what some might call the “art” side of writing. How do I take a vision, an imagining, that I have in my head, and convert it into words on a page that will communicate a similar vision to someone else? There is a science to that process, a technical rigor, even if I have not yet succeeded in describing it effectively.
Grammar, the structure and implementation of language, is the obvious “scientific” side of writing, and perhaps the reason that “artists” tend not to cleave to writing. While there is some flexibility, writing will only be effective if you are able to language according to the appropriate rules and conventions. Since language is a chaotic system, those rules are complicated and riddled with exceptions. Choosing words, deciding what to communicate, actually imagining the story in the first place, is where the art comes in, if that is not in fact a copout.
Yet even that component of writing can become rigorous, as anyone who has read books about how to write science fiction and fantasy knows. To turn writing, or any other art form, into a full time profession requires adding a certain degree of technical rigor in order to be successful. Professional artists of any type or form who deny that either are not aware of their own processes, or are intentionally striving to maintain an aura of mystery.
If there is a takeaway from this rambling post, it’s likely my usual warning about dichotomies, or my usual support for the polymath concept. Creating these divides between arts and sciences only weakens both fields. Specialization may be a powerful thing, but so is synthesis. We posted many months ago posts respectively in support of both writing, and mathematics, and this is in much the same vein. In this case, whether you’re a technical expert who regards writing as too artsy, or an artist who regards writing as too technical, I encourage you to give this hybrid form of expression a try.