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The Crossroads of Craft and Creativity
By Clare Vanderpool, author of Navigating Early

Flannery O’Connor says – “The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.”

One way those crossroads can be described is the intersection of craft and creativity. Craft – skills that can be learned, refined, and passed on. Creativity – the ability to bring something into being through artistic or imaginative effort. So one is more tangible, practical, acquired the other is more elusive, ethereal, interior.

In my early days of writing, I didn’t know which road to venture down first. I remember my initial attempts at putting pen to paper were more like putting a hammer and chisel to granite. I felt every chunk of rock hit the floor with a painful thud. The road of creativity was mysterious and scary – so subjective. But craft – it seemed a little more sure and I could at least start down that path. I could begin writing. I could study craft – voice, plot, character, conflict. Explore the mechanics of setting, scene, tempo, pacing. Dabble in dialogue, point of view, layering, foreshadowing.

But that road only takes a writer so far. Eventually we have to venture down the road of creativity. I’m sure every writer would describe creativity in different ways but for me, the closest thing I can compare it to is seeing for the first time, something wonderful, or special, or unique that happens in my story or that my character does that I feel like I didn’t have a part in. It’s not something I thought up, it’s more something that just came about in spite of my efforts to control. Something created out of the story itself. It’s a beautiful thing and can really take my breath away.

So both roads are important. But the sweetspot is the crossroads itself: where craft and creativity meet. Where the writer is on a sturdy mount and can loosen the reins on plot, character, and conflict and lets the creative process breathe life into the bones of the story.

Those roads of craft and creativity can take us on great adventures but they can also get us lost if we don’t know what we are about. In our writing journey we can be so focused on those roads of craft and creativity, but sometimes we need to raise our heads and look up, to get our bearings and see what surrounds us.

I think that is the challenge Flannery O’Connor speaks of, finding that place where time and place and eternity meet. And for me that place is always in story.

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