Arts & crafts

I’m not a good writer. I am, however, a pretty respectable craftsman. Allow me to explain.

Writing is seen as an art. It is art, they say, that allows one to choose the best word, to create a plot that enraptures and enthrals and to populate it with wonderful characters and to build themes and subtexts and miracles. Like a caricaturist scribbling out mocking little portraits on demand, a writer can spin wonders out of nothing.

I can’t. The more I work on my stories, the deeper I delve into the craft, the more I realise that I’m really nothing special when it comes to word-weaving. Not on the first pass. My errors are legendary, my drafts filled with mis-used words and obvious conceits and paper-thin depictions.

What I can do, however, is to go over this run-through and develop it into something worth reading. I chip away at its rough edges, clean out the flaws and fill the gaps, redecorate and encourage my characters to tell us precisely why they never got on with their fathers. This is why I consider myself as a craftsman rather than an artist.

The difference between a steel rod and a sword is a lot of hammering and a lot of heat. The blacksmith sweats at his anvil just to work the metal into its blank form. This is the first draft, a blunt weapon full of flaws. Sure, it might knock someone out if swung hard enough, but it’s hardly a reliable tool. The metal needs to go back into the furnace and then you beat, beat, beat…

After enough work you have something approximately sword-shaped, but it’s not finished yet. Now you need to test it, to weigh its balance and to make sure there’s no fundamental weakness in the metal. If there is then it’s back into the fire, maybe adding more charcoal to toughen it up or another laminate of steel if you’re pattern-welding. Even if it withstands the proving there’s still endless days of sharpening to follow, honing the blade endlessly until it’s a scalpel-sharp perfectly balanced precision instrument.

Even when the weapon is deadly there’s still room for elaboration: a fine hilt, perhaps, or scabbard. Even, for swords of a particular bent, eldritch runes to be etched into the blade. There’s always something more that can be done.

I am not a naturally talented writer. My sword-blanks are weak and unbalanced and liable to shatter in their first engagement. But what I have is a willingness and a discipline to take my rough back to the forge and beat the shit out of it, over and over and over again, until it is the best I can possible make it.

So don’t call me an artist; that’s too good for me. Maybe one day I’ll learn enough to earn that title, when I can produce an epee, a rapier or a mighty broadsword on spec; for now I’m perfectly happy to be a craftsman.

Now it’s time for me to go back to the forge. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

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