Easier Than It Looks
I have a friend who’s both a writer and an artist. He was complaining at how there’s more demand for the latter than the former (or one pays more than the other). I reason it’s because everyone is capable of writing, but not everyone is capable of drawing. One can tell good art from bad art at a glance, while with writing, there’s a lot more subtlety involved. But looking back on things, is that really so? Can everyone truly write, and the art of drawing relegated to a chosen few?
Isn’t it strange that while writing has become prominent in this day and age (if you can spell your name, that’s considered writing), most of us consider drawing to be the exclusive realm of artists, geniuses, and the gifted? But when you look at our history, the first thing our homo sapien ancestors scribbled on their prehistoric cave walls weren’t letters but drawings (unless you’re Chinese, in which case your alphabet was derived from artwork). Is there literally a missing link?
Some of my writer friends and I claim that we can’t draw to save our life. That’s a lie. I can draw. You can draw. The difference is, I can’t draw well. To put it bluntly, my art sucks. So I stop drawing and in the end, that is perhaps what differentiates the artists from the layman. Writing, however, is different. Whether you’re a professional writer or just a regular employee trying to get along with your life, you will write and write until the day you die. One may not be aware of it, but all of us writes, whether it’s in the letters we send to each other, with the emails we send via computer and phone, or in memos, faxes, and blogs. Thus it’s easy to have a misconception that writing is easy, or just because he can do it we can too.
Actually, writing is simple. It’s a piece of cake. Writing grammatically-correct sentences or weaving enrapturing stories, however, is another story. The best copywriters are paid the highest and the best wordsmiths are the most prominent because of their skill in mincing words. I can easily tell a story. Whether it moves you or not determines how good I am. A professional writer becomes famous because of this capability. It’s not the telling of the story that makes him unique. Everyone tells stories, after all, whether it’s during our drunken revelries, at midnight in the middle of a campfire, or simple gossip among close friends. It’s how effective he is. Writing is pretty much like philosophy: everyone can do it; some are just better at elucidating it than others.
Because writing is such a common art, it doesn’t surprise me that prodigies are all around, whether it’s a teenager writing a best-selling novel, or a lady in her late thirties who’s never attended a workshop suddenly winning a writing competition. There’s something innate and natural about writing that we practice it subconsciously. Of course there are those less gifted (like me) who have to learn how to write well the hard way, but we never start from scratch, and actually possess the barest notion on how to go about it. Even dyslexic people are capable of crafting great stories: it’s in the little things like grammar and tenses that they need to work on.
Having said that, not everyone emerges as a Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. The real challenge in writing isn’t in mastering an art that few people are capable of (such as wine connoisseurs), but rather excelling in a craft that people practice everyday. A writer doesn’t strive to be better than a chosen few, but strives to be better than everyone else. That is his calling: to write and write until no one can dispute his art. When a lot of people write, it’s too easy to get lost in the sea of mediocrity. One must stand out.
Unfortunately, the bane of any master writer is ignorance. If one becomes too skillful, your words suddenly seem so esoteric, your allusions so unfamiliar, at least to the common man. And no matter how correct your English is, if the majority disbelieves you, error mutates into reality. I mean it wasn’t so long ago that the word nice meant foolishness. And in the Philippines alone, we’ve managed to corrupt the word salvage and transform it from something salvational into something sinister. Such a scenario would not have been possible if the written word was practiced by the knowledgeable but few. It only arose in a world of amateur writers and commonplace authors.
There’s a lot of magic in words, but we need not be sages of the written word in order to practice it. Most people are capable of writing, and telling stories is one of the most natural things in the world. Yet it is an art in which your rivals are infinite, and where good writing is not so easily distinguished from the bad.