Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Vagabond: Training

I work with a lot of young people nowadays and ever since my lecturing gigs since two years ago, I have been more conscious of the best ways to pass on some skills.

I was very, very lucky. I had the opportunity to learn from the greats of our profession. Renegades, rebels and reniuses.

I had learned, earlier on, that in Japan, the craftsmen, the artisans, they learn or acquire new skills by closely following masters at their craft. This applies to cooks, comics artists, blacksmiths, etc. These are things they do not teach you in class - any class.

And so, for a long time, I studied them. No one person is perfect, so you try as best you can to get their best techniques. Before that, though, you must appreciate their own skills. You cannot learn from people whose skills you do not know, or do not want.

Writing can't be taught, which is both true and false.

The second thing, which is a more important matter, is one of attitude. In Avatar, Neytiri's mother said, "It is hard to fill a cup that is already full." If you are convinced that you know everything already, there is no point of learning anymore. Go and write your Nobel Literary Prize winning novel and give the world the finger.

The best writers, change over time. Neil Gaiman's prose have changed since I first read him, 17 years ago. Grant Morrison's writing has also evolved. The Invisibles was a verbose treatise on existentialism and spirituality while We3 is a minimalist tale of simple family bonds and primal relationships. He achieved this shift in four short years.

Your skills must evolve, must change, or you die as a writer. Writing is war, my friend.

Of course, Alan Moore never changes, but he is the Eldritch Elder God of Writing. And He Shall Come in the Night from the East and You Shall Not Know Him.

You acquire new skills by the simple act of observation, and you will do this, in silent humility and openness. Not in awe, for masters also make mistakes and no skill is perfect, but in presence.

Steal the skills. Learn them. And grow.

What works for me these days is simply to read. I read, and I imagine what goes on in the writer's head as he writes what he wrote. There are matters of structure, allegory and flow. When I write, I try and imagine myself as the reader. Would I be even slightly interested in the article that I am writing?

If not, I prefer to be paid handsomely, as I am a handsome man.