My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Master Will Appear

IMBD insists he was in the movie, but whenever
you ask about it, he brings up his performance
in Titus Andronicus instead.
What's up with that?
Anthony Hopkins informs us in The Mask of Zorro: “There is a saying—a very old saying—that when the student is ready, the master will appear.” Of course, for writers no mentor comes out of the shadows to teach us (no matter what Finding Forester says). We may have a great instructor (and I’ve had a couple) or we may have worked with a writer of much higher skill who has a soft spot for helping us out.

But writing is a solitary affair. We don’t do training montages until we snatch the marble. We don't do the high kick or catch the chicken. Writers don't have these kinds of mentors.

A writer’s masters are Shakespeare and Faulkner; they are Asimov, LeGuin and Orwell; they are Chaucer, Joyce, Woolf, Carver, and Oats. These masters don’t go around finding students to carry on their legacy. Their legacy is their words. They pour their soul into their craft and create a work that is a tiny piece of it, and that work becomes a training manual for those who can decode it. Writers study them carefully—paying close attention to their word choices and sentence structures—to divine their lessons.  Any student who is ready can find library walls chock full of masters all too eager to give up their secrets.

The point of that expression, outside of Hollywood tropes, is not about some serendipity of the universe dispensing masters in seeming coincidence at the perfect moment to land on the heads of students. There isn't some fate magnet that works only on true loves and masters.

The master doesn't really "appear" at all.

The point of that expression is that masters are everywhere, all around us, always, and that the moment a student is ready to learn--really ready to learn--they will actually SEE the master for the first time. When they cast aside the sense that they are too good to learn, that there is nothing more they can be taught, that they are as good as they will ever be, they will realize that people with greater skill have been there all along. Nowhere is this more true than in writing.

But a good writer--a careful writer who is practicing the art of being a writer--can take this even a step further. They can learn to “read” situations that aren’t so transparently “useful.” Knowing that a study of Shakespeare will help a writer is a no brainer, but the tougher lessons are everywhere in our pedestrian world. A conversation on the bus might give you your next main character. A terrible television show might offer you ten fantastic suggestions for what NOT to do. A LARP can be a non-stop learning bonanza if you experience it as a writer. And of course, shelves are stacked with hundreds--thousands of examples of brilliant craft. For a good student of writing, masters are literally everywhere.

Be ready.

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