Artists and Cooks

Most of the writers I’ve met fall into two basic categories, which I’ll call artists and cooks.  Artists view their manuscripts in much the same way a painter might view his or her paintings.  They want their work to be true to their vision, innovative, and even difficult.  If they’re religious, they’ll often feel that God has given them a specific message that they are to communicate through their writing.  They’re more interested in enlightening or challenging their readers than in entertaining them.

Cooks, on the other hand, are all about entertaining.  They want to write books that are fun to read and will get published, so they’ll cheerfully do market research to find out what genres are popular, hire professional editors to trim their manuscripts, and so on.  They don’t view this as selling out anymore than a professional chef thinks he or she is selling out by trying to create popular dishes.  Sure, a wasabi-based mousse or a chocolate-stuffed salmon might be innovative and challenging, but they won’t bring in many customers.
The best writing, of course, is a combination of the two approaches–entertaining tales that are artistically written, like Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  This doesn’t bother most Cooks.  After all, what chef doesn’t want to be called an artist?  Artists, however, sometimes reject the notion that they should try to write in ways that appeal to acquisitions editors and average readers.  That’s fine, but if you’re an Artist, you’ll need to get used to the reality that publishers are in the business of selling books, not subsidizing art and enlightment.

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