Furthering the Craft: Applied Learning by Emilia Fuentes Grant

5writers once again welcomes the return of Emilia Fuentes Grant as a guest blogger for this month!

Further the Craft: Applied Learning by Emilia Fuentes Grant

It’s an interesting thing, to hold the title of “master” in a field of practice. I’m a Master of the Fine Arts in Creative Writing, specifically Fiction, and the title brings with it respect, dignity, and authority that I question on a daily basis. Not because I don’t feel I’m qualified, but because obtaining and maintaining that mastery was and continues to be a generally undignified, humbling, and daunting experience.

ProfessorWho?Cartoon

Achieving mastery is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also a kind of curse. At this level, the blinders are off, the lenses are squeaky clean. It’s impossible not to see errors everywhere when I look at the page, even in work I love. Shoddy craftsmanship doesn’t cut it anymore. Even fun shoddy craftsmanship. My pursuit of mastery begins anew everyday. I have climbed high enough to see, with clarity, the immensity of what remains to be learned. It can be overwhelming, but one of the surest ways I have found of continuing my education and honing my skills daily is to apply my knowledge in a range of diverse settings.

See, mastery in one setting doesn’t necessarily mean mastery in another, and learning to work in multiple fields using the same basic skill can be transformative. Let’s say, for example, my skill is changing a tire. Changing a tire in my driveway is a respectable thing to do. Changing a tire on the side of the highway is impressive. Changing a tire from the pit of a NASCAR race? Now that is masterful. Likewise, speaking a foreign language. Speaking fluently in the classroom is good. Speaking fluently in the local grocery store is great. Speaking fluently at 2AM in a foreign country after several drinks, well…that’s masterful. So it is with writing.

What follows are two lists of lessons I’ve learned in two very different settings while applying my writing skills. These are fields in which I’m currently practicing and lessons that continue to enrich my work (and no, neither one of them involves being drunk at 2AM in a foreign country).

Lessons Learned Teaching Freshman Composition:

  1. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Have some compassion. A little grace. Writing is, in fact, really hard.

    There, there little bunny...

    There, there little bunny…

  1. Learning and growing are never done.

  1. Planning, organization, and schedules form the backbone of successful work…much as it pains me to admit.

  1. Late and/or poorly formatted submissions are deplorable and reflect badly on the writer. They put the reader in a negative state of mind, even before the first word is read.  A really negative state of mind. Nicholson

  1. Good writing is the product of practice. If you don’t practice, you will never get better.

  1. Great ideas and talent only go so far. Hours of work and careful revision make a piece outstanding.

  1. Editing hurts. Get over it. Editors are trying to help. Choose wise readers (several of them, if you can) who will do what is best for the work, without regard to your personal feelings.

    Burn the Rum. All of it.

    Burn the Rum. All of it.

Lessons Learned in Screenwriting:

  1. Work hard. Then: work harder. The only person who’s gonna make it happen is you.

  1. Don’t be afraid to be creative. Step out, do what is right for the work and always stand up for your ideas.

  1. Speak up. Be loud and clear. People have work to do, they don’t have time to hear you mumble. If you want your ideas heard, you better proclaim them.

    SPEAK UP!

    SPEAK UP!

  1. Listen to suggestions from your peers and colleagues. Take a minute (or a 1000) to process and give their ideas a fair shot.

  1. Don’t listen to people who aren’t your peers or colleagues. Everybody’s got an opinion. You must be discerning about who you allow to influence your work.

  1. Be resourceful. The answers aren’t always clear and there’s rarely a reliable handbook. Sometimes the solutions take some figuring.

  1. Patience IS a virtue. Maybe the time isn’t right. Maybe the work (and you) need to rest. Maybe the right reader/viewer/listener simply hasn’t picked it up yet. Don’t give up. Don’t get lost in your impatience. Don’t let the Swamp of Sadness overtake you. Be patient and keep working.

    Don't give up Artax. Please. Don't give up.

    Don’t give up Artax. Please. Don’t give up.

Unfortunately for most of us, once acquired, a skill is not a permanent fixture in our feeble brains. We humans have to practice, rehearse, reach, fail and try, try again to stay good and get better. There is no download option when it comes to mastering your craft.

Nope.

Nope.

So get out there! Do something new. Try a writing job that challenges you and makes you scared. Join the pit crew, travel far away and get drunk, push your skills to the limit and discover new limits… or no limits at all. Shift your perspective. Set your preconceptions on their ears. Stop being so serious. Need I say more? I’m getting tired of this inspirational jabber…

Or perhaps, gentle reader…

Perhaps you won’t learn anything new from your experiences. Maybe, instead, you (like me) will more fully understand all that stuff you’ve been hearing and repeating all along…and your work–your craft–will be REAL at last.

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