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writing as art, craft, and technology

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From Robert Erle Barham in Touchstone

“I’m just not a good writer.” One idea that I often encounter in the college classroom—represented by remarks like this one—is the view of writing as talent rather than craft…[it] can deter students from the dedication that leads to better work. As a result, I make analogies to arts like carpentry and sculpture…

I have also found it helpful to talk about writing as a technology… “There is a device that can sharpen your thinking. It can give you clarity and improve your understanding of any subject.”…[T]his is what writing does: it externalizes our thoughts so that, among other things, we can refine them, and express more exactly what we think about some question or topic…
Renaissance poet Torquato Tasso refers to the epic poem as “a little world” created by a poet…We can easily see how Tasso’s idea applies to works of poetry and fiction…[but it] can apply to nonfiction as well. A well-wrought essay, for example, will be informed by many of the author’s assumptions about the human constitution, nature, or culture. The sum of implicit and explicit ideas expressed constitutes the author’s attempt to represent things as they are. When I read such an essay, I inhabit a little world of the author’s making, which will correspond to, and conflict with, the actual one in various ways.
The best writing, no matter the genre, will represent reality with beauty, mystery, and complexity…This is why the craft of writing matters: writing is a technology of discovery, one by which we can create little worlds of words that glorify God.


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