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
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.
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!