The Taoist masters, it is said, never wrote down their lessons to be read because for them, their ideals, their experiences, their knowledge could only be imparted through the way they lived their lives.
In some ways, being a master in the Arts is the same way. There was a time when painters could take on apprentices and teach them the basics of their profession. It is said that when Leonardo da Vinci was apprenticed to the painter/sculptor Verrochio, the teacher retired his art when he saw Leonardo’s wonderful work on the same painting they were sharing The Baptism of Christ. The apprentice in this manner, became the master.
Often musicians take on pupils, whether one-on-one or in formal classes. Music in this way is often taught in public schools, for any who wish to take up the art; I had, in my deep-flung youth, tried to master the coronet. I failed. I remember an awkward, nervous time being the next to last seat, challenged to blow on that damn thing the scale, and showing the class how terrible I was at it. There was the Mexican boy who was the very LAST seat, and for some reason, he could never beat me. I was horrible. He was worse; which goes to tell you that bad as you might be, there probably is someone worse than you. That wasn’t the first time I tried to learn music – but, unlike the road of writing, I never felt at one with the medium and it languished and died.
It is curious that authors never take on apprentices. We allow our students the rigors of formal education when it comes to language usage, such as English grammar; but I have never heard once the occasion where Norman Mailer took in apprentices like Pablo Picasso would. Is it because we writers are more inward? That we are more disgruntled? That we are bitter old gossips whom have cantankerous opinions, whether fiction or non-? Can we not suffer apprentices? Now, don’t get me wrong, the literary world is full of conferences, seminars, classes, and informal instruction in one way or another. As an art form, writing can be just as loud as any other medium. Yet many professional authors I know are rather reclusive. Does writing somehow reach further inward, into universes disquieted and perhaps unsettled within the writer? Places that in the discovery, cannot suffer the eyes or input of an apprentice?
I have spoken my peace on writers’ conferences. Yet, the greatest element I’d found dealing with them was in the networking; of meeting kindred spirits whether established or not. However, with the growth if the Internet, it appears that the need to travel to an expensive faraway locale just to hobnob anymore is rather unnecessary. I also believe, when it comes to instruction, that like the Taoist masters, the journey of writing is a personal one, with no way to convey formal instruction unless it has something to do with the business side of the art, or tricks to using grammar.
Yet mentors from afar also did the trick, having learned many a technique by observing their works – by reading their books and short stories. A host of writing mentors have guided me through the process of many years to get me where I am today. Some of these mentors, such as Peter Straub (Ghost Story, Shadowlands, Floating Dragon, etc.) taught me much in the eloquence of literary fine art not because of the genre-based horror story he wrote in, but in the mere way he wrote it. The same could be said of Anne Rice, who, like Straub, is a highly-eloquent, literary author. Peter I was able to befriend through the Internet, and it was a glory day to speak with an author so prominent with my own journey of self-discovery. Other authors as well provided me teaching from afar through their works; which brings me to the next issue: the self-styled writing guru who charges to impart some advice or teaching in the art of writing itself.
You know them. Seems there are many opportunities to make money in the literary arts, and not always from publishing a book or optioning a screenplay. I am constantly badgered by self-appointed writing “gurus” who hold expensive seminars to try to make a buck by imparting information that can be easily (and less costly) found through other ways. No one can guarantee you a 12-step method to getting published, let alone the whiz-bam-bang structure that will always net you a bestseller, or movie-of-the-year.
If you are a novice in the arts, remember that there is no one who can guarantee you a 12-step method to getting published, let alone the whiz-bam-bang structure that will always net you a bestseller, or movie-of-the-year. Time and immersing oneself in writing is usually the path to success. Just throwing money at something – just ask members of the GOP ;)- doesn’t always bring your wish of being a great author.