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Craft enables art

I’m doing fifteen things at the same time as usual – it helps that the flu left me cranky and jet-lagged: I live by night and sleep through most of the morning, and night is fine for writing and reading, the hours seem to last longer.
Among the things I’m working on, there’s the online course in worldbuilding that will start later this month. I’m making plans, pulling resources and treasuring what I’m learning with the online course in self-publishing I’m teaching right now.
220px-SteeringTheCraftAnd I’m re-reading a few books to steal ideas and to compile a viable bibliography. I’m re-reading everything, from The Kobold’s Guide to World Building to Jeff VanDerMeer’s Wonderbook.
Right now, I’m going through Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft . Considering we just lost the author, it felt like the right way to celebrate her and remember her work.
I first read Steering the Craft in the year 2000, the first edition. A lost girlfriend kept it, and as part of my recent book haul, I added a copy of the new updated and revised edition – I filed it as an investment for my future courses.

41IhYq9rmqL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Re-reading the Le Guin handbook has been weird so far, because I can’t help but compare notes with that stranger, the myself aged 33 that read the book in a closet-like office, working the night shift in a call center.
What strikes me, and I had completely missed back then, is how all of Le Guin’s observations and exercises have an eminently practical approach. There is nothing in this book that is not craft-related and hands-on – and yet everything is aimed at creating art.

Now, despite Neil Gaiman’s famous speech about making good art

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art.

… I sort of feel awkward around the word art because it’s too hard to define for me. It’s not like I sit here at my keyboard and say to myself

Now I’ll make me some good art!

What I say to myself when I sit at my keyboard is more along the lines of

OK, this feels like a nice idea, now let’s write a story around it and see where it takes us, and if it can be sold.

And I sort of think that one cannot pick up and decide they’re going to make art – the result would be stilted, self-conscious, fake.
But by sticking to our craft, and doing the best that we can with our tools, we can actually make art as a side-effect. And the Le Guin book is about this – about making good art while simply working at our craft.

I did not like the book very much in 2000, but now I’m really enjoying the writing and the lessons offered.
Can it be the rewrite?
Or is it the years, or the mileage?
Am I so awfully different from that man of thirty that wrote for a hobby and worked nights in a call center?
Food for thought, certainly.

RIP, Dennis Edwards
Indie Authors and the Value of Free Content

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