Last the weekend I had a chance to hear Sherry Thomas (author of the Lady Sherlock series, which is high on my to-be-read pile) and Diana Gabaldon (author of the Outlander series) speak at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold conference. They both gave great talks. Dr. Gabaldon gave several writing workshops as well as her keynote address, which was as wry and witty as you’d expect from Claire Frasier’s creator. I loved hearing how she works, and especially her story of scientist-to-bestselling-author transformation (which is a variation of the classic rags-to-riches tale.)
In each session I attended, someone felt compelled to ask some version of “how can a scientist end up writing something as creative/powerful/insightful/blah/blah/blah as Outlander?” Each time, she answered with some variation of “science and art are two sides of a coin.” It clearly wasn’t the first (or twentieth) time she has been asked this question. I happened to be sitting next to a writer who has a PhD in neuroscience when she answered it once, and we both had a chuckle and the slight exasperation in Dr. Gabaldon’s voice.
Both writers talked about the discipline necessary to make good art (and incidentally, good science) happen. In reality, most high quality work requires some kind of sacrifice. It put me in mind of a truth spoken by one of Dorothy Sayer’s characters in Gaudy Night. Helen de Vine (historian) is talking to Harriet Vane (author) about how to know you’ve found your vocation:
“You can usually tell,” said Miss de Vine, “by seeing the kind of mistakes you make. I’m quite sure one never makes fundamental mistakes about the thing one really wants to do. Fundamental mistakes arise out of a lack of genuine interest… You expend the trouble and you don’t make any mistakes– and then you experience the ecstasy. But if there’s any subject in which you’re content with the second-rate, then it isn’t really your subject.”
Onward, then, friends: to the sacrifice and the ecstasy that comes from making great art (or science, or history, or dinner).