Art and Craft

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I’ve become a horrible person in my old age.  And that goes way beyond falling asleep so hard that I slept through my alarm and left my poor long-suffering blog fans waiting for hours in vain. No, I’ve become one of those terrible people that Heinlein talks about who tell the unvarnished truth in social situations.

To be fair to me (ah!) it’s not on everything but when it touches on one of my areas of specialty.  Or rather, it involves tons of things, but it particularly rankles me when it even vaguely touches on one of my points of expertise.

For instance, yesterday someone was complaining that we shouldn’t measure writing just by output.  (At least I think that’s what she was complaining about.  Later responses edged towards incoherence, so maybe she was complaining about the color of the sky or the fact it hadn’t rained or maybe millennium hand and shrimp.)

This is one of the things that makes my fangs grow, my hair stand on end, and my eyes go blood red.

Look, yeah, I’m not encouraging anyone to write ONLY for volume.  If you’re a lousy writer…  No, actually hold that thought.  But anyway, there are people so bound out in their own issues and their belief of what writing is FOR that they can write dozens of books all completely boring, predictable and preachy. There is more to writing than that.

But supposing you’re just your average newby writer, quite inept and cute as a button, someone who reads for fun and who, consciously or not, internalizes what he reads and the techniques he sees and lets them bleed out into his work, you’ll get better the more you do it.

There are no ifs, ands or buts.  You get better the more you do it.

The countervailing argument is native talent and art.  If you are naturally very talented, do you really need to write a lot?  Can’t you write a book every three years and have your adoring fans follow you around?

Well…. maybe.  How do you feel about your luck?  Do you often win the lottery?  No?
Look at it this way: there are millions of  books out there, more being released everyday. Even if you were a natural hitter like J. K. Rowling with her first book, what are the chances enough fans would find you to give you a slavering fandom, waiting with bated breath for your next release?  Right.  If you have two, or three, or, you know, ten there’s a better chance of being found.

But it goes beyond that, too. Even if you’re a natural (such people exist, but they’re rare as feathers on a bear) you will improve with practice.  Trust me on this, I’ve seen people do it.  You get faster, cleaner and just better.

And as for art, the kind you have to sit around waiting for the muse to pour out the blessed words into your ear…  I’ve written muse-possessed a few times.  Yeah, it’s a high.  Yeah, you the writer love the product.

I call these “Heart stories” and it’s happened to me with a dozen short stories and a few books (the latest being A Few Good Men) two of which have never sold (yeah, I need to rewrite and… well, now I know what sells, don’t I.)

Nothing matches the high of a muse-ride.  Nothing.  But it hits maybe a half dozen times in a lifetime.  And it’s not infallible.  The muse might be screaming in your ears, but if you don’t know how to write dialogue, don’t have practice at immersive description and are iffy on word choice, you will still botch it.  Hell, if you don’t know how to shape the plot the muse is feeding you, it will still throw readers out (which is why I have a three-book fantasy that needs a complete rewrite.)

What I mean is, talent — eh, who knows if you have it? your mommy will always tell you you’re prefect (not my mommy, but probably your mommy) — art — who knows art? Sure, the muse rides people sometimes, but the result can still be a mess — but craft? Craft will stand by you.  Why? Because everything that you’ve done a hundred times you do better.

Unless you’re so bound up in bad ideas and bad techniques (alarm bells for that should be that you write “to send a message”, or that you want to write say in the style of the 19th century (It was a different world.  You might love it, but the reading public isn’t the same.  You have to adapt) or that you’re so wedded to the one first world you created and which is unsaleable in and of itself (I resembled that for years) you will improve.  Heck, even in the later you will improve.  You just get tired of it and move on. I did) you’ll improve with practice.

This is btw known as trust the process, and of course I didn’t because no one could explain to me how ti worked.  I still don’t get how it works, but I know it does.  When I went over my old short stories to collect, there’s a marked break in readability and just quality between before I started writing a short story a week for a year, and after.

Do I know how it works? No.  But I think it applies to everything, not just art.  For instance, this morning I ironed a shirt for my son.  Why? He can do it, right?  Sure, but it takes him an hour or so, while I can do it in five minutes.  I couldn’t when I first got married, but I’ve ironed thousands of shirts since then.  It’s easy and quick.

Or when I was a little girl, I watched my mom peel potatoes with a knife (I don’t know why we never bought a peeler) and get a tiny little peel, so thin you could see the sun through it.  if I tried it I peeled away half the potato.  By 18 and having been set to peel potatoes often enough, I could peel almost as well as mom.

It works for mental skills too.  Part of the issues we have now with people reading fast and writing expressively is that our school system (don’t get me started) as eschewed the “boring” practice which is the only thing that creates those skills.

I can tell you it works with foreign languages.  The method I used both for learning and teaching was/is “learn vocabulary” “memorize basic grammar” “Buy books/texts written for natives and sit down to read them.”  The first book in English took me almost six months, and is scribbled in pencil all over with translations (Dandelion Wine.  I don’t know why I thought that would be a good idea.)  The second took me a month.  After that I was reading at normal speed.

Same goes for things like speaking in panels.  The more you do it, the easier it gets, the more the answers come almost automatically, the more you can do it while dying or asleep (I’ve done both) and still be entertaining.

The truth is, anything you CAN do, from brushing the cats to composing music gets better if you do it a ton.

Now we all start from different places and for instance if I decided to become a dancer it would take me longer than the years I have remaining.  Because I have no balance and my coordination is probably negative amounts.

But unless people are actually insane, they don’t usually fixate on things that they know they are much, much worse than the normal human being.  Though even there you can get gains, if what you want to do is just become closer to normal. Because I’m fairly active, I no longer fall over my own two feet while walking down the street, even though it was a daily occurrence till I was about ten.

So, you want to do something? Practice.  You want to excel at it?  Practice some more.  You’re already good but want to be excellent? Practice.

Ignore things you can’t quantify like art, talent, divine inspiration, etc.

You want to do something? Do it as well, as hard and as fast as you’re capable.  You’ll improve.

Or you can sit and whine.  And then you’ll become an expert whiner.  Which is an accomplishment, I guess.

 

 

129 responses to “Art and Craft

    • Now if only there was a way to make my daughter “hear” it. 😉

      (Kids don’t like to practice, go figure.)

      • Part of that at least I think is that the amount of practice required relative to the kid’s life. Tell a seven-year-old that with five years worth of practice she’ll be a great piano player, and it’s no wonder she figures she might as well give up now.

        • It’s more along the lines of “just do the five problems every day for a week and this type of math will BE EASY!”

          • Yep. As a piano teacher once said, “practice 30 minutes a day and you’ll get good at this whether you want to or not!”

        • Yes. Big time. I think adults tend to forget that for a child, a year represents 10% or more of an entire lifetime.

          • I think another problem that people face today is that, based upon what they see online, they have unrealistic expectations. Not only do they think everyone is a star but they think that they don’t need to take out the time to learn or practice. Why memorize when we have Google? Why learn when you have an app?

  1. Christopher M. Chupik

    Judging by some Twitter feeds, there is no shortage of expert whiners.

    • *chuckle* That one yesterday, whining about white people adopting children who aren’t white being ‘genocide’ of some type, and then whimpering about white people ‘keeping black people out of cosplay’ when the people jumping all over a black D.Va cosplayer were Shaun King and their ilk…

  2. Dorothy Grant

    Working on it, working on it. Directed practice hand in hand with feedback, they used to call it when Sister Mary Alice was whacking my knuckles with a conductor’s baton as I sat at the piano and struggled to make something decent come out of it.

    True then, still true now.

    • owwh, my fingers hurt enough when playing keyboard….

      (note: i never buy weighted or piano action, keys because of that)

  3. During my 17 years in Mojave, I had a half-hour commute each way, on a road so lightly traveled that “traffic” was typically one other vehicle in view maximum. So it became very prime thinking time for me, as I had a guaranteed half hour free of interruptions. Mostly what I was thinking about was engineering problems. Engineering is done with numbers. One thing I can’t do while driving is pull out pencil and paper and do calculations! It frustrated me so much that I started trying to work things out in my head. 17 years later and I can do “get within a factor of two or so” calculations in my head fast enough to quickly tell whether something is looking promising or not. Huge help, and I’d never have got there without the enforced practice.

    • That’s what slide rules were all about – getting close enough to know if you had a feasible design. Certain engineering calculations were still finished on the old mechanical calculator, or (later) the timeshare computer terminal, for the requisite accuracy.

  4. BobtheRegisterredFool

    I’ve long been an okay reader. Writing? I didn’t get where I am now by schooling. A major, major part of improving my writing was internet flame wars. Here or on the Bar, back in the day, people judge you by how well you write. When you attempt to participate in an argument about a complex topic, how people respond depends on your thinking and on how well you express that thinking.

    Every comment is a test of writing. There is a marked difference between when I am at the top of my game, and when I am deeply impaired.

    And my creative writing is still fairly bad, because I’ve been rather lazy.

  5. Practice may not make perfect, but whining doesn’t make ANYTHING.

    • It might make the audience tired of the whiner… which likely is not the desired effect from their point of view.

      If one wishes to play the violin, for example, the first step is to start playing the violin. And then, of course, keep at it until it starts to sound like someone playing a violin. And then some more until it sounds like music. And then more until it sounds like halfway decent music.. etc. One cannot expect to pick up the instrument cold and instantly sound like Yehudi Menuhin. One would be lucky to start out sounding like Jack Benny.

      [Disclosure: I do not play the violin (you’re welcome) and should I ever attempt such, any resemblance of the result to music would be purely coincidental.]

      • Donald Stephens

        Jack Benny was actually a respectable – though not great – vaudeville violinist. He made himself sound bad by playing music he knew was above his talent and skill level instead of trying to ham-hand it. He made it funny by pretending he didn’t know what was happening.

      • Byzantine General

        I eventually got a halfway decent claw hamme rbut finally gave up giuitar when after 30 years my fignrse did not get out of the way ;(

        • Guitar is the relaxing thing that I’ve given myself permission to suck at. No matter how bad, I just like to play. Since I have permission to suck at it, I don’t have to stress out about it and I can just enjoy it.

  6. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    “I don’t know what art is but I know what I like”. 😉

    IMO The above is the problem of “trying to create art when writing”.

    My idea of “what art is” (actually I don’t have such an idea) likely won’t be what the readers will like.

    Writing well (which takes practice) may not create “art” but may create something people will like to read. 😀

    • And then what is “art” in writing? Is it a book full of beautiful words and phrases that leave the reader awe-struck with your skill and vocabulary? Or is it a story that tugs at the heart and leaves a memory of the emotions even though the plot gets fuzzy the instant the reader closes the cover? Or something else? I think every reader will have an opinion, ditto every writer.

    • And at least the person can distinguish between “what I like” and “art”. That’s a distinction that has faded over the years.

  7. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Off Topic but looking at that photograph, I wonder at the story behind that picture and “what happens next”. 😀

    IE How/Why did that woman get into that situation and what will happen now that she’s in that situation. 😆

    • Something to do with yesterday’s post and question of fate and position and such? ♉

    • It’s a circus performer practicing.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Bummer.

        There goes a story. 😉

        • Have you never seen clips of Cirque d’Soleil? She’s missing the costume and make up, but otherwise…

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Never seen it.

            However, when Sarah mentioned what the picture was, I could “see what Sarah meant”.

            On the other hand, my comment was more of a joke.

            IE I was claiming that I was thinking about some sort of “strange events” related to the picture.

            • In my opinion, when done by a good performer, it’s a truly amazing form of acrobatic dancing.

              And when I read your comment, I was waffling between whether I thought it was meant as a joke or if you truly didn’t know what that was.

      • Huh. My first thought was that she was hanging there dead!

  8. Dorothy Grant

    Several years ago, I was standing on the ramp at the Valdez May Day Fly-In, and ran across Paul Claus. Paul is a wonderful gentleman, and a Good Stick – a pilot who’s skill is amazing. Not that long before, he’d been called in to rescue a group of folks trapped on a mountain when it got too warm too fast, and the snow field was rotten. Paul took a twin otter in on skis, and managed to not only get in safely, but get them out safely on rotten ice and snow over glacial crevasses that I wouldn’t have dared put a supercub ski to, much less something as heavy as a twin otter. That sort of pilot.

    My flying buddy was sort of tongue tied, and asked quietly, “How do you do it?”
    Paul shrugged, and stared at the ground for a second before saying “Practice. Lots and lots of practice.”

    …I guess so. He flies more hours in a year than I likely will in my lifetime.

    • madrocketsci

      That was one of my issues with flying: I couldn’t do it often enough. I got to the point where I was okay, but I never did end up soloing. I’ll have to make the attempt again one of these days.

    • and then you have pilots like the CAF idiot that crashed a C-47 today…

      • Jay Maynard

        That may be too harsh. The C-47/DC-3 has a well-deserved reputation for being a cupcake to fly. The video isn’t all that conclusive, from what I can see. There’s no way to tell why the left wing dropped as far as it did not long after it broke ground.

        It looks to me like the left main gear tire got soft right after he lifted the tail, which would have made things get Very Interesting. Then the left wing rises, the aircraft gets airborne, then the left wing drops and strikes the ground…with predictable results. At least it didn’t cartwheel.

        • been shown stuff for the C-47 that says that he was trying to raise the nose too fast.

          • Jay Maynard

            That might be. The stuff I’ve read says you raise the tail about 50 knots, and take off at 84 knots. If he actually blew a tire upon raising the tail,I ‘d question his decision to take off instead of trying to bring it to a stop while on the ground: taking off put him in the position of going flying when he knows he’s going to have a big problem on landing.

            But again, we know far too little. I’m loath to armchair-quarterback the guy’s decision making without having a lot more facts than we have now. The NTSB will get to the bottom of it, to be sure.

    • Jay Maynard

      Yup. The biggest safety problem in aviation is pilots who think they know more than they do. The most dangerous pilot, statistically, is one with between 200 and about 700 hours, less than 100 in type, and who doesn’t fly a lot.

      The Twin Otter is one of the best aircraft I can think of for that mission, but it would still need a pilot with a master’s touch on short and soft fields, and who knew exactly what that kind of snow would do under an aircraft’s skis. That only comes with lots and lots of practice and experience.

      • A frequent rant of mine is that in driving, past a minimum level, a bad driver who KNOWS how bad they are (or even thinks they’re worse) is safer than a good driver who is not quite as good as he thinks he is.

        It’s like the difference between acting like your actually pretty decent tool is ready to break, and acting like your decent tool is a brand new, indestructible one!

    • True. That’s what worked when Sully managed to get that plane down with no casualties. He had MANY, MANY years of experience, coupled with a dedication to continual learning.
      And, that’s what wasn’t mentioned here – you can’t just throw out boilerplate (that’s the kind of ‘writing’ lawyers do – a very structured form of writing, that is not meant to vary from document to document). You have to be willing to look at your own work critically, and either modify that story, or resolve to avoid the errors in future stories.
      The Japanese call it kaizen – continual improvement, every day.

      • Sully is also a total fanatic about flying.

        Seriously, it kept bugging me when I’d see interviews– something would just keep triggering that I recognized, and there’s NO WAY I could’ve possibly met the guy, then I saw something with Pope Benedict the 16th doing a talk on a point of theology and figured it out:
        They’re fanboying. The “I recognize that” thing was because they deeply love the thing they’re talking about, enough to let the passion show, and my husband, my family, my friends…they’ve all got their own geekdom.

        Found it rather cool, honestly.

  9. MadRocketSci

    Can confirm in the fields of programming and circuitboard design: Practice helps.

    My first attempt at a new field tends to be garbage – but it gets all the aspects of the problem into my head and things begin to gel. Attempt #2 is usually a lot better. Attempt #3+ at the same thing (a way to organize a library, or approach a problem) is usually far better, more reliable, and useable down the road.

    I must not be one of these “naturals” – it always takes me time and the sort of tactile experience of the thing to learn something. So far in life I’ve found that there isn’t anything that I *cannot* learn. (Which is good, because one of my goals in life is to deeply understand everything. The goal is unreachable, but there nonetheless.)

  10. One of the best things for my artistic skills was deadlines. In college, I joined the weekly newspaper and became their in-house graphics person—and they’d usually give me my assignments a couple of hours before the deadline. Some of them were easy, and some of them were things like “We need a graphic on abortion. Make it neutral.” Now, I won’t call what I was doing there great art, but it improved my confidence and speed immeasurably, and now I can apply those lessons to other forms of artwork. Similarly, I learned to play guitar through bringing it to church choir practice and having the music director give me the music with chords, while telling me I’d be performing that Sunday. (It took me most of the summer to realize that since I wasn’t mic’d, most people couldn’t hear me.) Panic is a wonderful teacher.

    P.S. You can learn to do anything, given enough practice. The trick is to find the things that aren’t going to take longer than your natural lifespan to learn.

    • Margaret Ball

      Panic is indeed a wonderful teacher, as is pressure. Learned that in college. I could produce a decent paper for a German Lit course in two hours or less, as long as I didn’t start until 3 AM on the day it was due. Start a week earlier, and I would waste a week on revising and polishing with very little improvement in the text.

      Later on, answering RFP’s for a terminally disorganized think tank provided similar practice. There’s nothing like, “If we don’t get this in by 4 PM today they won’t look at it, and if we don’t get this contract we may not be able to meet payroll next year,” to stimulate creative writing on the part of those who are counting on said payroll.

      • I eventually got past needing the panic for a decent paper, but I don’t think I would have gotten there without doing that first.

      • “Creative writing” is certainly apt. Of course, I’ve been the guy who had to point out to the customer how “creative” the sales proposal was.

  11. Since you mentioned bad habits…..

    Practice don’t make perfect, practice makes permanent. If you practice those bad habits you will become very, VERY good bad at them.

    And, of course you mentioned reading as part of writing. Because then (assuming you’re not reading total crap) you get to see the better-than-yours stuff and pick up an idea of the good (at least better) habits.

    • “Practice doesn’t make perfect. _Perfect_ practice makes perfect.”
      — Charley Lau

    • I read slush for Baen for years. I’m not sure I was sane at the end, but I’ve never doubted the quality of my writing, after that. I’ve seen worse. Lots and lots or worse.

      • MLP:FIM fanfiction.

        Read enough of it, and your writing looks sane and reasonable and coherent after that…

        (Old enough to remember when people were doing “Sailor Moon” and “Ranma 1/2” fanfiction seriously…and some of THAT stuff was scary. Usagi trapped behind a comma. I kid you not, a comma.)

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  13. “Same goes for things like speaking in panels. The more you do it, the easier it gets, the more the answers come almost automatically, the more you can do it while ****dying***** or asleep (I’ve done both) and still be entertaining.”
    OH, NOOOOOO. Sarah can speak on panels while dying!!!!!1111111!!!!!!! Puh-LEASE don’t never dooooo that!

    • three or four years ago, Liberty con. Post surgery, and my hypothyroidism was terminal then. Yeah. Not dying that minute, but dying. You can see it in the pics.

  14. This gentlemen from Wilmington, NC said this about practice:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hXdj8scRdFE.

  15. BobtheRegisterredFool

    I think the leftist charge that we are theocrats has some validity. For the value of theocrat that holds that public officials should be at least clergy level in America’s civic ‘religion’.

    What was the nature of Obama’s evil? He was raised outside of the civic faith, and worshiped false idols through human sacrifice.

    The left is largely neither of The Faith nor the ‘faith’. They are largely heretics of the socialist or communist flavors. We violate their religious beliefs, and they can tell that the opposite is true. That they conflate the two could be a simple mistake.

    Prompted by a mad inspiration to write ‘Confession of a Right-Wing Theocrat’.

  16. jk rowling’s first book was enough to make me stop reading her;.

    • You’re so far outvoted on that, I’m sure she doesn’t miss your input.

      • In fairness, I picked up the first book before it hit big– I think it got donated to the local library by someone who’d bought it in the UK, from the spelling and such– read a few pages, and put it back down. Didn’t read it until years later when my mom insisted, and I found out it wasn’t the grim whine it looked like it was heading to be.
        🙂

        That intro was a killer.

        • I didn’t read the first book until the last one came out. And then I read all of them. We had to preorder multiple copies of each book for the kids. Share? Not a chance. They each wanted to read each book the night it came out.

          • Don’t know if the choice was deliberate or not, but the Potter books JK Rowling’s wrote each book in the series to the main character’s supposed reading level. Ages 11 through 17.

        • It’s almost cribbed from Jane Eyre

          • I was thinking Roald Dahl, myself. James and the Giant Peach. “Oh, this is so derivative,” I think, as I reach 10PM and grab the next book. (I did realize the irony of that within a few minutes. And I don’t worry about loving the books with all their flaws now.)

        • If I wasn’t familiar with that genre convention (so to speak) from _A Little Princess_ and _The Secret Garden_ and other books from that period, yeah. That would have stopped me.

      • i’m used to that

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Sarah, there’s a reason that I use YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) when talking about books.

        I got “kicked out” of the first Harry Potter book but that means nothing to the people who enjoyed the Harry Potter books and it shouldn’t mean anything.

    • Her writing maybe wasn’t the smoothest (even as a high schooler who read a lot I could tell that). And her last couple books, REALLY needed her to agree with the editor that, yes, some things CAN be condensed. But, man, she could tell a good STORY and that is what readers want. We can forgive minor technical faults, and small grammatical errors as long as they aren’t frequent enough to jolt us out of the story in order to figure out what the author is trying to say. The important bit is, how good is the story?

      • There seems to be a sales figure that, once surpassed, causes major tradpub houses to exempt authors from editing past spellchecking. See also Tom Clancy.

        • scott2harrison

          Very sensible of them. Remember it is their editing that they are exempting the books from.

        • And, there are some authors that need that help-if only to keep their most egregious writing sins under control.

          GRRM comes to mind…

        • Jay Maynard

          Oh merciful $DEITY, yes. Clancy’s writing got more and more verbose as he went along.

          I don’t know how the later Jack Ryan Jr. series escaped that fate…

          • Clancy died and others did the actual writing.

            • Jay Maynard

              Clancy himself was at least still alive – and was the only credited author – at least up through Threat Vector.

              • I must correct myself here. While he’s the only credited author on Teeth of the Tiger, the first Campus series book (with Jack Jr.), the other four have co-authors “listed as “with”, not quite sure what that means).

                • My take: Clancy or his staff approved the outline and basically acted as first-reader/editor at whatever level of effort he wanted, and the other author wrote the book.
                  Recall at this point taht Tom Clancy was a brand, with books, video games, and other merchandise.

                • As I understand it, “with” can mean co-author all the way up to, “Authorized to continue originator’s work”.

          • Most (all?) the Jack Ryan, Jr. are written-by/co-authored. Multiple someone else’s, with permission, continuing the series. Guessing the editing, regardless of sales, is being held to a higher standard.

          • Because someone else was writing it.

  17. I think it’s helpful to read other works and study HOW they are put together. Conception, plot, characterization, description, and dialog. In particular, look for tricks of the trade you might be able to use.

    Example: Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin Age-of-Sail novels. He had a gimmick…two characters, one of whom was a good sea officer but a babe in the woods ashore, the other a doctor totally lost at sea. Which meant any background information that had to be communicated to the reader could be worked into dialog. Which is FAR better technique than a description.

    • I use this inverse babes-in-the-woods thing occasionally… leading one character to gripe, “Do you know every backwater slum in the galaxy?”

    • Jay Maynard

      And a technique David Drake follows faithfully in his Cinnabar series, which are, basically, Aubrey/Maturin IN SPAAACE!!

  18. I’ve become a horrible person in my old age.  … No, I’ve become one of those terrible people that Heinlein talks about who tell the unvarnished truth in social situations.

    You are not that old. You may feel like it, but you really are not. 

    But you are the proper kind of fed up, because you have seen up close and personal where a great deal of the nonsense that is being proposed will lead if followed.

  19. I sort of agree with you. Absolutely practice makes you better at something. Until you get to be the best YOU can be at something.

    Doesn’t necessarily make you good at something.

    Along with practice and being good there’s drive and ambition, and being in the right place at the right time. I’m about Madonna’s age. She’s an extraordinarily successful singer. I went to HS with a girl who sang much better than Madonna. Last I heard of her many years ago, she had had bit parts in a few travelling productions. Probably singing better than Madonna all along. Did she want to have Madonna’s success? I don’t know. But Madonna not only did, she was willing to do whatever it took to get to where she is. And a lot of it wasn’t practicing her singing.

    You referred to J. K. Rowling. I read just yesterday that eight publishers rejected Harry Potter because they knew there was no market for it. The next one took a chance, and well, she became an overnight success. After years of toil. She was in the right place at the right time and a gatekeeper took a chance on her. In some fields, there’s gatekeepers blocking entry. For example: Dietitian. You can self study every book in the field. Research on your own required nutrients and micro-nutrients. Study all the effects of vitamins and supplements, and learn how to recognize the symptoms of not enough or too much of a particular vitamin. You can know more than any Registered Dietitian about diet and nutrition. But you can’t become a Registered Dietitian without going to school and having some knowledge certified by an accredited program.

    • Only eight? Tom Clancy had “The Hunt for Red October” turned down by at least a dozen before the Naval Institute Press rolled the dice (it was their first fiction book).

      • Yep, the USNI took a chance on Clancy and hit it big, and Clancy for some reason crabbed about that book deal, which in the end made him millions, for the rest of his life.

      • Gospace is misremembering. It was 21 publishers. (All that existed in US and UK at the time.) I remember because those were the rejections for Darkship Thieves, before it was accepted.

    • Roger Ritter

      Yeah, I’m about Bill Gates’ age, and in the same business (computer programming). But he’s been the richest man in the world, and I haven’t. Definitely the drive and ambition makes a difference 🙂

      • You too?

        When I see published salary ranges for programmers for our area (leave out nationally where Seattle & Silicone Valley skew them way up because of cost of living), I vary between, “someone’s lying” to “where?” My salary wasn’t even within the range, it was lower. Although at my last job my salary calculated hourly rate was likely slightly better. I wasn’t required** to work more that 40 hours/week, let alone weekends, to meet deadlines.

        ** Did I loose my self in code & forget the time?, or “This will fix it, just one more compile/test …” … uhhh programmer here, so yes. But even then, we could just take comp time later, within reason, so never really had more than a 42 hour week average.

        • That was in the days before developers got told (explicitly or otherwise) “Don’t want to work 50+ hours? Fine. There’s a young Indian kid in Bangalore just itching to do that, here or there. See ya.”

      • I disagree. Bill Gates was never actually in the business of computer programming. He looked around and decided to go into the business of marketing computer programming. I know of no software that he actually made himself.

        • Like the people who got richer selling supplies to Gold Rush miners, than did the miners themselves, except for a very, very few who struck the main lode and were smart enough to keep what they made.

  20. Heh. About dancing – I’d love to be able to do this (most of the dancers you find on youtube are men but who cares), but yep, would probably not live long enough to both learn the style and get into a shape to do it properly. If I even could get in good enough shape anymore… my poor knees.

    • One of the few young women doing it you can find:

    • Well, to that music anyway, I think the moves are pretty much somewhat modified classic swing dance ones. I really like some old swing and big band music, but I have become rather enamored with the electroswing (just one name for this, there are others) version lately.

  21. To follow with the random offtangent music.. try PostModernJukebox some time. If any of you haven’t already 🙂

  22. One popular author I read takes years for one of her books to be finished & published. Books are huge by current fictional standards, but not huge enough to represent the time taken. Reality check, she has stated she writes everyday. Sometimes her snippets (as she calls them) may not be used for ages in different stories. Sometimes she’ll use those as examples for other writers for examples. Sometimes she ends up tossing them (her words).

    • Ah, but do those years represent her time or the publisher’s time? If she writes every day, puts together a novel in less than a year, edits it for the rest of same year, and then sends it to the publisher—the back and forth may take two or three times as long as the amount of time she puts into it.

      • No. Those are writing years. There is a lot of research that goes into the novels. Novels are massive. I remember another author, who does release a novel a year per series, was required to split a couple of the series books into two releases, for the next two years, because that novel “was too big”. The other author’s work is 5 or 6 TIMES longer than the author that publishes annually.

  23. Other programmers are astounded at how fast I can type. All that practice. . . .

    • 😉 I touch type too. A lot of programmers I know can’t or don’t. I didn’t take keyboarding, I took typewriting on manual typewriters & used a typewriter for papers for my first degree; edits meant retyping the darn things. Back then my skill was lacking, I touched type, but that’s all you could say … but yes after 35 years of typing, it has improved, a lot.

      • Jay Maynard

        I don’t touch type. My technique, or lack thereof, would make a typing teacher blanch. I look at the keyboard. My fingers only occasionally land on the approved keys. My hands are all over the place. Occasionally, I even go at reasonable speed with one hand (get your minds out of my gutter; I do have to look at, for example, datasheets while typing at times). I hammer at a keyboard, a habit that came from first typing to any great extent on an ASR33 Teletype.

        And yet I can type pretty quickly, even after accounting for going back and fixing the many typos. Comes from doing it for 45 years.

  24. Honest feedback is another necessary factor in getting good at something. In some places, you have measurable metric for your performance- a runner times himself and compares that to previous times; a shooter measures his accuracy scores & split time; and so on.

    • Jay Maynard

      And when your landing sets off the ELT, you know you need to work on the flare a bit..

      • Mockery by passengers or crew also serves the purpose….like the famous flight attendant comment on Southwest: “Ladies and gentlemen, please remain seated while the captain taxis what is left of the airplane to the gate”

        • Roger Ritter

          Or even the captain himself – after a very firm landing and immediate hard braking/thrust reversal, as we turned off the runway – “This is the captain speaking. Now that I’ve got your attention, I’d like to welcome you to…”

    • That’s truly difficult in writing, because honest BUT inexpert advice is worse than nothing. As in, people will judge the book solely on how many typos or punctuation, or have a completely distorted view of the field. (My MIL thought my Shakespeare fantasy trilogy should be YA, for instance, because “it has elves.”)
      HOWEVER a lot of the how to books give you the tools to evaluate yourself. Also, honestly, the sales figures on Amazon help.

    • “Feed back”

      Programming … either the program runs & produces the results needed, or not. Then there is the on going learning to the point when you have to look at your old work, you exclaim “Why in the heck did I do that?” Sometimes you just add the missing documentation as to why. If it is still working you leave it alone (never ever fix something that “looks” weird if it is still working).

      FWIW. I’ve never had a peer code review on my professional code. I’m thinking that is an educational myth, along with design documentation** & plans … 😉

      ** If I wasn’t involved with something from the onset. Doesn’t mean it was ever read, by anyone other than me, but I wrote it.

      • My team at work does code review, though that may be the exception that proves the rule.

        As for quality of programming – while it is less important today, there is still something to be said for less bulky code, as well as code that uses more efficient methods to produce the same result (reducing processor load and memory use).

        • ” there is still something to be said for less bulky code, as well as code that uses more efficient methods to produce the same result (reducing processor load and memory use).”

          Yes. Definitely. Used to irritate the heck (hell) out of me to be told “It broke, you last worked on it” only to do the research & discover that yea, my change was the straw that broke someone else’s “quick” inefficient “fix”. No, I was not popular for point that out (how else are they to learn?) so what I was the “new” programmer there? Was also not popular when I insisted on instant fixes from them on something (provable) they broke & was their special area of expertise.

          Developing for handheld barcode readers still have major resource constraints especially if programs are not connected to servers during data collection, even now that most have Windows 10 type OS. Try “fixing” something that technically was not broke, but was taking up needed space. Involved B-Star balanced indexes on a presorted data file; resulted in physical index file that was larger than the actual data file on any data file of size … also meant the program crashed because it ran out of space (sometimes). Knowing the keys size & number of records you could calculate the resulting physical index file size exactly. Just because the code implemented the process correctly & efficiently, does not mean it didn’t have to be “fixed”. I spent 6 years learning how to clean up & make work or more efficient code like this (made a few errors myself, which really taught me.)

  25. Years ago, I read about a ceramics teacher who divided his class into two groups. All those on the left side would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. On the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot -albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

    At grading time, a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

  26. I always wanted to be an ice dancer, but I also settled for just not tripping over my own feet on solid ground.

    It must be a decade since I last smacked into a street sign or tree branch while out walking. Perhaps I am optimistic, but I think I’m getting over that with the writing, too.

  27. I have started my own “short story a week for a year” kind of practicing. I’m not as structured about things, so it’s a little more “Whenever I get a chance”,
    I’ve started writing an on-going story on my blog. At least once a week, often more, when I find time to write, I continue the story by writing for the amount of time I have. It means the posts aren’t each a chapter, and sometimes the end of the post is in the middle of a thought that doesn’t get finished till the next post, so I’m sure it’s hard to read. It also doesn’t have much in the way of editing.

    Anyone who would like to read and provide (hopefully constructive) criticism, I would be thrilled to get any help you are willing to give. Being a writer has been a dream since I was a little kid, but I had “practicality” beaten into my head growing up and my father didn’t understand “reading for pleasure”, so it was considered not practical. as it is, I can’t tell half my family that I’m writing, or I would have to deal with a pile of non-constructive criticism.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Bookmarked, have a bunch of stuff going on, so can’t make any promises.

    • Good for you. I started writing volumes in notebooks when I was 11 through high school, when I wasn’t reading, I was writing something in those notebooks. Disjointed, yes. Parts of stories, thoughts, etc. No one ever read them. Through college it was (metaphorically) beat into me I couldn’t write. Couldn’t spell, yes, otherwise, who knows. Eventually, rather than move them, the notebooks were burned. Other than programming & writing documentation for them, never have taken up writing again about anything until comments on this & one other blog. I’m almost 62.

      • Bah. Ask Mackey Chandler how old he was when he started his very successful writing career. Again I say onto thee, BAH.
        And yes, stupid people think writing is SPELLING.

        • 🙂 🙂 maybe.

          Need to get my head out of “literal”. Too many years documenting what is, with pictures …

          My niece on the other hand. OMG can she write. She has a short story fiction about a student caught up too close in school shooting (not shooter’s view point). She started it way before the latest incidents, even though it has been polished more recently. She didn’t want to submit for publishing because of the more recent incidents. It needs to be. We’re trying to convince her to publish it.

          She has one published piece in an anthology as part of a writer’s contest, & she writes a blog. Thought I had links to each, but can’t find them … (bad Aunt!!!)