Have you ever stood up for something on principle and said ‘NO! I’m not compromising!’ Or, on the flip side of that, have you ever watched someone else and thought to yourself, ‘If only they were more practical, they might get something accomplished!’.
These are two sides to an interesting coin, to what I view as the two major types of writers in the publishing universe.
The first type of writer is what I call the Artist. I don’t literally mean that they are artists, but they have the mentality of one. Perfection is important to them. Quality and detail is extremely important to them. Principles are important to them, and criticism, if and when it comes, is sometimes taken poorly or disregarded altogether. The work is written for its own sake, and in that sense the Artist places a lesser value on feedback from others, be they readers or fellow authors.
The Artistic breed of writer has pluses and drawbacks. The plus is that the Artist often has a very powerful vision which fuels their work. The Artist’s stories have a certain consistency to them which can be admirable. They don’t compromise without deep and probing consideration, and they often have flashes of inspiration that can set things in motion or bring up new ideas that can spin off into other stories and works. There’s a latent tendency to innovate that the Artist can tap into.
The drawback of being the ‘Artist’ though is that working with others can be difficult. Compromise can be difficult. Artists personalize things to a degree which most authors do not. People often have difficulty seeing their own prejudices, but Artists even more so. They have internalized their preferences to such a degree in the quest for perfection in their work, that it can be difficult for Artists to see a given story or narrative from someone else’s perspective.
Let’s contrast that for a moment with Authors, what I would call your more typical pragmatic author. These are writers who have become published and see the publishing process not as a force of subversion that weakens their work, but a constructive kind of chaos which ends up enhances the final story.
For an Author as opposed to the Artist, there is a tendency to see other people’s criticism and feedback as useful. Authors have a sense that they are writing and sharing their stories for something much greater than themselves. Whereas the Artist sees the greater purpose of their stories as standing on their own, intrinsically valuable by virtue of their personal vision reaching fruition, the Author sees dialogue or interplay between their story and their readers as the ultimate goal and, at least in part, a measure of their story’s worth.
Neither the Artist or the Author are completely right or completely wrong in their approach to the world of writing and publishing.
I would say that Artists tend to be more likely self-published, or serve specialized audiences who can fully appreciate their work. Authors on the other hand tend to be populists, more open and feedback driven. Perhaps a good analogy would be to compare classical music to rock music. Neither is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the other: they seek very different outcomes and fulfill very different roles.
Where do you see yourself? I personally see a mix of the two in myself.
Although I would call myself an Author the majority of the time, there is a significant Artist’s streak in me. There are times when I see compromising one’s art too much as pretty much invalidating the whole point of the creative expression in the first place. There are other times when I see the profound benefits of having the humility of the Author who takes a reader’s heartfelt comments and harnesses that to make their book or storytelling that much stronger.
In one sense, Authors are the people-oriented writers who innovate in response to human interaction.
By contrast, the Artist innovates using genius from within and risks becoming irrelevant as a price to pay for their stubborn individuality. And yet sometimes the Artist’s stubbornness pays off and the external world finally learns to value the story the Artist has told.
So, back to my earlier question, and then some. Do you consider yourself more an Artist type of writer or a pragmatic Author type of writer? Do you feel one is superior to the other? Perhaps in certain genres or types of writing?
To recap, here is the high level view of advantages and disadvantages for the Artist-writer vs. the Author-writer.
-Inner motivation via strong personalized storytelling vision
-Tends to value things for their own sake, resistant to change through outside force
-Self-focused, sometimes in defiance of the popular will, which sometimes fosters change if they can make others bend to see what they see
-Inspired as opposed to driven
-External motivation via readers, dialogue, interplay of ideas
-Tends to engage with others, open to change
-Compromising, sometimes to the detriment of individuality or personal belief
-Driven as opposed to inspired
-Strong competency tempered with humility