IS WRITING ART, SCIENCE, OR SOMETHING ELSE? – A guest blog by William Johnson


By William Johnson

The title question begs two other questions. What is art? What is science? One way to define art is to think of it as creative activity which requires skill and imagination. Painting, composing music, and writing are examples. Science on the other hand, deals with verifiable facts included in a body of knowledge. Math, physics, and engineering are examples. Google “Is writing art or science,” and responses are all over the map. One person thinks the question makes no sense. Someone on Quora says “Writing is both an art and a science.”

The latter response is correct but insufficient. Writing is really something else, and the something else includes aspects of both art and science. From this perspective, writing mimics architecture. Wikipedia defines architecture as “the art and technique of designing and building…” It results in a product that previously did not exist. Something new. As with architecture, a writer designs and builds something new.

Google the question “What skills are needed in architecture?” Many responses agree that architects must have a variety of both hard and soft skills. Hard skills include facility with math and physics, which are underpinnings of engineering and essential in designing safe products. Most responses cite creativity in their lists of an architect’s soft skills, evidence it must be very important to the discipline. Creativity is a process by which someone brings or evolves something new into existence using imagination.

How is writing like architecture? Writing possesses a body of knowledge and requires use of both hard and soft skills to produce something new. Basic hard skills in writing include ability to write using a language’s rules for correct spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Just as an architect has to learn the basics of math and physics, so must a writer educate him- or herself on the language’s rules. Let’s use Animal Farm as an example. George Orwell said, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” What if Orwell had instead said the following? “All animals be equl but some animuls is mor equl than others.”

Point taken.

Writing requires other hard skills beyond simply knowing language’s basic rules. To produce good writing, there are advanced rules a good writer should follow. An example includes incorporating Plot Points to enhance story structure. Plot Points are major events which can impact a story’s plot, move the story along, and/or help to keep the reader’s attention. They sometimes cause characters to change course as when Luke Skywalker finds his uncle’s farm destroyed in Star Wars. This is the film’s First Plot Point, and it causes Luke to abandon farming and become a Jedi knight. Plot Points are examples of advanced rules of writing that a writer can learn and use to write better stories.

Good literature typically follows rules established for the genre in which the author is writing. The first thing I did when I decided Murder on the Bahama Princess [i] would be a murder mystery was to research rules for that genre. Here are examples of some rules I found for murder mysteries:

Strong hook or something at the beginning to grab and hold a reader’s interest.
Trail of clues leading to the identity of the killer.
Red herrings which are misleading clues.[ii]

Davenport recommends a murder mystery follow a three-act structure in which the story is setup in Act 1, and the first Plot Point about a quarter of the way through the story. He says Acts 2 and 3 should include a Mid-Plot Point halfway through the story and the story’s climax and resolution toward the end.[iii]

Among soft skills necessary for good writing, creativity is foremost. In this respect, writing and architecture are very similar. Imagination is key to creativity. As with an architect, a writer must be able to visualize in his or her mind something which currently does exist. Next, he or she must be able to put it on paper following the rules of the discipline. Imagination is key to this process.

How do you develop imagination? Interestingly enough, the Internet contains information on how to improve imagination. Techniques I found from a Google query include mind mapping, reverse thinking, and turning off the TV, which is my favorite. How about thinking outside the box? Why not pretend you are five years old and try thinking like a five year old?

To answer the title question, writing is something else. Ditto for architecture. Both disciplines reference a body of knowledge, involve creative processes requiring both hard and soft skills, and result in something which did not previously exist. I have one final question. Do architects find the hardest part of their work is getting started? It is for me.

I would love to hear any feedback, or questions you may have, so please email me at and share your ideas.

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