The Breathings of Your Heart

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart – William Wordsworth


Someone remarked to me the other day that writing isn’t craft, it’s art. The commenter stated she isn’t a writer, but an avid reader who can tell when a writer has crafted the story, rather than allowed it to unfold.

This came in response to a discussion of a recently-published writing guide I had read, enjoyed and learned buckets from, though with a solid caveat emptor. There were elements to the guideopinions posited by the author as writing shoulds and muststhat made me twitch. At times it seemed I was reading the Starbucks business plan: no matter where you arebe it Seattle, Shanghai, Salamancathe store, the coffee and the service will be exactly the same. In other words, just stick to the blueprint for guaranteed success. Although I applaud Starbucks for its acumen, the coffee is unpalatable. And so it is with story.

Perhaps my fellow bibliophile was offering an antidote to the writing guide: respect the process of creation and value writing as an art form, not as a craft with a set of rules.

Yet, I disagree that writing is only art and not craft. Just as a photographer must know her camera and understand composition, a painter must know how to create perspective, understand human anatomy and mix paints on his palette, a dancer must spend hours at the barre or a pianist at the keyboard, practicing the same pieces over and over, so too must a writer understand and practice plot and structure, be proficient in grammar, and revise revise revise, becoming a better writer through the magic of hard work. Reading widely is a natural companion to writingI’m a voracious reader and can’t imagine my life without booksbut only by writing can a writer become a better writer.

And yet. My friend has a point. A very, very good one. It’s art über alles. But what is the art of writing? Hell if I know, I just got here. Ask that guy at the barhe looks like he knows the place.

Perhaps art is imagination or inspiration, perhaps it is an ear intrinsically attuned to the music of language. Perhaps it is the calling or compulsion to create. Art is passion. Passion for the subject, certainly, but more than that. It is passion for the act of writing, it is a helplessness that says “If I didn’t write, what else would I do?”

Art is beyond rules. It is emotion. It is the breathings of your heart. It is, as Richard Hugo so poignantly stated, the way of saying you and the world have a chance.

Perhaps craft is the ability to make art that people enjoy and/or find meaningful. It is the means by which we harness the heart just enough to put words and structure to our passion.

I have a small library’s worth of writing guides. I adore them, for it is like having a shelfful of mentors who are there when, and only when, you really need them. One in particular, Priscilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor, gave me the courage to commit to the writing life; others provide motivation, inspiration, direction and enlightenment. But they are only guides. In the end, the writer must move forward on her own.

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter. — Neil Gaiman



1) Butt in Chair.
2) Write Words.


A matter of perspective

8 thoughts on “The Breathings of Your Heart

  1. Reminds me of old debate in clinical practice in medicine and nursing – an art or science or both.
    Art is in the mind of the creator and the eye of the beholder of the art. Lots to think about. Sue


  2. When something is well crafted and beautifully fulfills the intent of its creation, it is possible to stand back and see it as a work of art. I rejoice to read that you “…commit to the writing life…” The world is already a better place for that. I am going to send this post to my writers’ group.


    • I know I’m really struggling with commercial vs. literary, with story trumping writing. I suppose this struggle is what it’s all about. How can I tell the story of my heart in a way that others will want to read it?

      I’m so honored that you’d share this with other writers. Thank you!


  3. Julie, As a verbal writer of sorts (preachers are writers who use the spoken word) there is an art to preaching and writing.

    One can be taught how to write or speak but in the craft (taught) portion what is most often conveyed is facts. In the art portion of writing and speaking what is most often conveyed is relational details and observations, the things that add depth, breadth, and definition to the picture created in the craft. You cannot have one without the other but as you said, and many others, the craft of writing may be engaging to another technical expert but to engage people at their core the writer or speaker must be able to be artful in the development of the story.



  4. I agree with you. I think writing is like carpentry. You can craft a fine chair for people to sit on or you can interpret The Last Supper spending twelve years of your life carving it into a Bavarian church alter. Then I call it art.


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