Of Magicians, Wizards, and Apprenticeships — Guest Post by Gary Gauthier

Welcome to Life List Club Friday, y’all! I’m feeling all sassy because I’ve been crossing some big goals off my Life List this week. Don’t know what a Life List is? Click here.

Speaking of sassy, I have Gary back here this week. He’s my guest that wrote that smokin’ post last month on the fallacy inherent in the self-publishing discussion. He’s going to host the party today while I dance on over to Marcia Richards’ place to debate Which Is Better – Giving or Receiving?


Of Magicians, Wizards, and Apprenticeships
by Gary Gauthier

Tools and Tricks of the Trade

A wizard is someone who can accomplish amazing and inexplicable feats. A magician may be called a modern-day wizard.

Writers can learn a thing or two from magicians. Indeed, anyone who wants to learn and practice a craft can learn something from a magician.  

A craftsman is someone who masters the tools and tricks of his trade. The magician’s bag of tricks allows him to make things disappear and his tools and props enable him to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

The Right Result Can Seem Like Magic

Some things we don’t understand look like magic.

I remember the first time I heard of a fax machine. It was 1979. I worked at a brokerage firm in New York while on leave of absence from college. I worked in the accounting department on the eleventh floor.

We needed a document from the Chicago office at the last minute so that an employee’s paycheck wouldn’t be delayed. I was told to go to the 30th floor to pick up the document because we had just received it. It was sent by fax.

In my limited imagination, I thought the process was similar to a telegram. I was so clueless that I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least if a representative from Western Union on the 30th floor asked me to sign for the document.

When I got there, I was directed to a machine with the dimensions of today’s full-size photocopiers; and there sitting in a tray was a fuzzy reproduction of the document I was looking for.

I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how the Chicago office did that.

That machine probably cost a small fortune. Twelve years later, in 1991, an article predicted a $99 fax machine would be available in the near future.

Some Wizards Have the Gift of Genius

If a person achieves things we can’t comprehend, we label him a genius.

Mozart is considered a genius because he started composing music at the age of five. He wrote piano sonatas and chamber pieces for duos, trios, quartets and quintets. He composed operas and symphonic works, not to mention violin, clarinet and piano concertos.  He had the gift of musical genius.

Isaac Newton is considered a genius because he figured out things about the world that still amaze us to this day. Newton reduced to formulas everyday stuff that everyone took for granted, like the laws that rule falling objects and the relationship between force, mass and motion.  

Maybe you’re not so impressed by all of this. After all, this is taught in high school physics classes.

Well, how about this? A colleague asks Newton to explain why the orbits of planets are shaped like ellipses rather than circles. Newton didn’t know the answer and said words to the effect of: “I’ll get back to you on that.”

He invented Calculus to arrive at his explanation. It took Newton two months. Now that’s impressive. He was a wizard.

(Caption: Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Director, Hayden Planetarium)

Anyone Can Become an Apprentice

Many writers become successful without the gift of genius. And there’s no reason to think you can’t do it. Sure, there’s hard work and some sacrifice involved. But if you have the calling, it may be well worth it.

Once you commit to being an apprentice, seek out, investigate and learn as much as possible about the art and craft of writing.

  • Master the fundamentals of grammar
  • Learn the elements of style.
  • In your reading, practice detecting the techniques that work.
  • Look for the basics like effective sentence and paragraph structure.
  • Train the mind’s eye to spot the use of metaphor, simile, and alliteration.

These are the tricks of your trade.

Study and practice the recommended techniques for plot construction and character development. Learn the history of your genre and determine how you can adapt what others have done so it works for you.

Re-read, with a critical eye, what you consider masterpieces in your genre. Pay attention to the use of themes that weave together plot, characters and setting so that you can do it in your writing, if and when it’s appropriate.   

Your commitment to the apprenticeship marks the beginning of an epic journey that will help you to develop your own style and put you in a position to create your own magic.

About Gary

Gary Gauthier is working on his first novel, a crime thriller set in New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. His blog, Literary Snippets, gives him an opportunity to express and share his appreciation for art and literature. He occasionally posts articles as well. Some of his favorite writers are Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. But this changes from time to time. Stay tuned!

Follow Gary on Twitter and Google Plus.

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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30 Responses to Of Magicians, Wizards, and Apprenticeships — Guest Post by Gary Gauthier

  1. Julie Glover says:

    I like the use of the word apprentice here. We can follow in the footsteps of the wizards and learn a lot. I would like to have a little of that wizardly genius myself, though. 🙂


  2. I liked your example of the fax machine seeming like magic because you didn’t understand it. I can remember reading books before I started to write seriously and wondering how they were able to write a story that made me neglect everything to keep reading. It seemed like they had some extra special talent or gift. As I learned more about writing, I could see the things they’d done to make it that way. Instead of being disillusioned by my peek behind the curtain, it only made me want to learn more.


  3. Laura Drake says:

    Yes, and it’s funny, I’m sure Newton’s mom smacked his hand for drinking straight from the milk bottle. You never know who’s a genius until after he’s done something amazing!

    So there’s hope for us yet, right? 😉


  4. Marcia says:

    Great post, Gary. Believe in the power of genius. It’s inside all of us. The true master knows how to pull it out.


  5. Yes Marcia, I do believe there’s some genius in all of us. Tapping into it is the part that calls for us work at it.


  6. alberta says:

    Just finished reading Newton and the counterfeiter – ex. read -his early life and his stint in the Royal Mint – your comment on the apprentice remineded of was it Micky Mouse? as the sourcerers apprentice in Fantasia – brought a gleam of laughter to mind – always nice to laugh – great post – thank you


  7. I’m glad you could relate, Alberta. And If I got a chuckle out of you, so much the better.


  8. Jess Witkins says:

    Interesting spin, Gary! I couldn’t agree more with the “read works in your genre” to learn them. Part of my goal of reading 2 books a month has helped me understand more about writing. I know what kinds of styles and plotting structures make for great reads, now the next step is to use that formula in my own writing my story, that’s proving the more difficult task. Hmmm


    • Hi Jess! That’s some challenge you’ve set for yourself with two books a month. It’s certainly doable (and good for your writing). Right now, I’m struggling with one a month. I promised someone a book review and I want to finish the book in the next couple of weeks. I’ll let you know how I do.


  9. Jenny Hansen says:

    I totally dig the guy in the video – his last line, “Isaac Newton – he’s my man.” is just fabulous. I don’t know where you stumbled across that video but I’m lovin’ that guy! Thanks for the guest post!


  10. tomwisk says:

    In any culture sufficiently advanced science will be viewed as magic. I’m paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke. Writers who’ve mastered the magic dazzle the reader and send fellow writers dissecting the work to find the source of the magic. I don’t analyze, I like to be dazzled. My own attempts at magic in writing while paltry, I’ll learn the secrets. I want to adapt the magic of others to help me.


    • Thanks for visiting, Tom. I just had a discussion (technology=magic) with someone a while ago. The more sophisticated we get, the more we take things like radio transmissions for granted. Because we grew up with it, the magic and wonder is not there.


  11. Callene Rapp says:

    Apprentice, I like that. And the story about the fax machine is a great analogy, things look too hard until you put in the effort to understand how they work. Thanks for a great post.


  12. Great post Gary – thanks for the fab guest post Jenny!
    I love how you wrote:
    Many writers become successful without the gift of genius. And there’s no reason to think you can’t do it. Sure, there’s hard work and some sacrifice involved. But if you have the calling, it may be well worth it.
    Wonderful because it reminds me that writing doesn’t have to be something that comes naturally or even easily – it just has to be something I am committed to learning how to do and how to do it well!


  13. hawleywood40 says:

    Love this post, Gary, and am really enjoying my journey as an apprentice. Also, I had to grin at your fax machine talk. I remember when faxing at work seemed so cool. The other day, my grandmother asked me if I could fax a copy of something to her insurance company for her. I realized it had been a few years since I’ve sent a fax instead of an email or a scanned doc, and I was like “wow, this is soooo archaic.” Funny how things change : ).


    • Good point, Pam! It’s really worth noticing how faxing is almost an old technology. It’s also worth pointing out that we shouldn’t feel like we’re getting old faster, but rather, it’s technology that is advancing more quickly.


  14. Great post! I definitely consider myself an apprentice because I do not have the gift of genius (though I love to image it sometimes LOL). One of the things I love about writing is that it’s not magic. Okay, there’s that certain something that makes the whole thing come together but the rest of it can be learned. And, once you learn the techniques well enough, the magic is much more likely to happen.


  15. Thanks for visiting, Sonia. I’m glad you like the post. Be careful about saying you don’t have the gift of genius. It may manifest itself yet. I’ve seen flashes. Keep at it!


  16. I like the term you used Gary. Apprentice denotes someone who is a beginner or is still learning his craft. And it take quite a lot of practice and experience before one can move on to be a journeyman. I’m never gonna be a genius, but I am a work in progress both with writing and otherwise. Thank you Gary. Nice Post! 🙂


  17. I love magic – and not the slight of hand stuff, but a well written story that takes you out of your own world and plops you into a new one, or a movie that makes you laugh or cry, or even just something ordinary that appears beautiful. It’s a good reminder that many of the techniques we, as writers, need to make magic happen is within our grasp, if we are willing to learn and work for it!


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