4 Reasons Writing is Both Art and Science
In some ways writing is a contradictory profession. When someone says he is a writer, it may conjure up images of a depressed young man holed up in an attic room agonizing over a verb: the tortured artist.
Conversely, it may stir Mad Men style images of clever marketing pros using snappy jingles or psychologized prose to manipulate people into buying products. Each selectively placed comma leads you down a path to spending money: the hard science.
1. Word choice. A writer has to have an innate sense of words. What does that mean? It means his scientific side needs to know the denotations of words (dictionary definitions), but his artistic side needs to savor the connotations of words (the feelings a word evokes from a reader). He needs to be able to select the word that best suits his purpose. Real estate agents sell homes, not houses.
2. Sentence structure. This knowledge goes well beyond the science of making sure that each sentence has a subject and verb. A skilled writer needs to use sentence structure to move a piece forward in a particular way. Pieces written with short, choppy sentences may imply excitement or urgency. Longer sentences suggest a more thoughtful, slow pace. “See this great price! Buy it now!” reads very differently than “Look at this excellent price and you will know the best time to buy is now.”
3. Grammar. Grammar is probably one of the most scientific aspects of writing. Anyone who has diagrammed sentences can attest to that. But there is a reason that some excellent grammarians are terrible writers. Having an artistic sense of grammar means that you know when to break the rules. When Winston Churchill’s secretary pointed out that he had ended one of the sentences in a speech with a preposition so it was grammatically incorrect, he looked at her and intoned, “Madam, up with this we will not put.” Sometimes perfectly correct grammar sounds awkward.
4. Audience. Writers never forget that their writing is supposed to be read, and they keep in mind who will be reading it. The science side of writing for an audience revolves around matching the level of language to the level of the audience. Writing for kindergarteners is different than writing for college students. Writing for native speakers of English is different than writing for those who study it as a second language. But the artistry comes in the subtleties of audience. How one writes for an audience of mostly women varies from that of mostly men, for example. Knowing the intricacies of the audience within a culture requires an artistic sense.
Will the debate about writing as a science or art continue? Probably. But in practical application, skilled writing is the perfect blend of both.