Elucidating the world
The Wife's Tale

Art stands on the shoulders of craft

From The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life by Ann Patchett:

"Why is it we understand that playing the cello will require work but we relegate writing to the magic of inspiration? Chances are, any child who stays with an instrument for more than two weeks has some adult who is making her practice, and any child who sticks with it longer than that does so because she understands that practice makes her play better and there is a deep, soul-satisfying pleasure in improvement. If a person of any age picked up the cello for the first time and said, 'I'll be playing in Carnegie hall next month!' you would pity her delusion, but beginning writers all over the country polish up their best efforts and send them off to The New Yorker. Perhaps you're thinking here that playing an instrument is not an art in itself but an interpretation of the composer's art, but I stand by my metaphor. The art of writing comes way down the line, as does the art of interpreting Bach. Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means to get to the art, you must master the craft.

''At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, train himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance - that is to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight - that is to have curiosity, to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does, and if you have that, then I don't think the talent makes much difference, whether you've got it or not.'' - William Faulkner

''I think people become consumed with selling a book when they need to be consumed with writing it.'' - Ann Patchett

"If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish but because you long to write well, because there is something you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment: The only way to get the clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the fresh water underneath.

"Does this sound like a lot of work without any guarantee of success? Well yes, but it also calls into question our definition of success. Playing the cello, we're more likely to realize that the pleasure is the practice, the ability to create this beautiful sound -- not to do it as well as Yo-Yo Ma, but still, to touch the hem of the gown that is art itself."

And for those of us who want to write as well as Yo-Yo plays the cello, to use words as fluidly as he moves his bow across the strings? Then the need for practice, work, experience is all the stronger...and to this I'd add: living our lives as richly as possible, so that we have something to say.

''Just keep writing. Keep reading. ''If you are meant to be a writer, a storyteller, it’ll work itself out. You just keep feeding it your energy, and giving it that crucial chance to work itself out. By reading and writing.'' - Robin McKinley Video above: Yo-Yo Ma playing the Prelude to Bach's Cello Suite 1. Photographs: "Cello Hands" by Paul Clarke, a woman writing, and Tilly in the studio, practicing the work of being a writer's muse.