Writing and Mastery

Francis Wade has two blogs, Moving Back to Jamaica and Chronicles for a Caribbean Cubicle that I read regularly. I also subscribe to his newsletter, First Cuts. Besides giving great advice about management practices, he also posts the names of the books he's been reading. One of the books that Francis recommended (give thanks) and that I've just finished reading is Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard, an aikido master. Although many of Leonard's ideas can be applied to any area of life, I've been thinking about their application to writing.



1. Instruction: Learn all that you can about your subject. Seek the best guidance available Seek a mentor, but choose carefully.

2. Practice: Practice, Practice, Practice. "Take pleasure in the endless repetition of ordinary acts (149).

3. Surrender: Let go of old outdated patterns/habits in your life and art and welcome newer productive patterns/habits. "Lose yourself without losing your balance" (149).

4. Intentionality: Create a positive attitude, mental toughness, openness imagination: the ability to see oppositions and visualize desired states.

5. The Edge: Play, enjoy your journey on your path with sense of adventure: "On some occasions live entirely in the moment, revealing everything and expecting nothing in return" (150).


I was elated when I found Leonard's work because he articulated the methods that I've used in my life and in my creative writing workshops. For example, at the Calabash Literary Workshops, I taught traditional forms (sonnets, villanelles, and ballads) in the poetry sessions, so that my students would have a grounding in the poetry of the past. Poets before them. Poets after them. They were here to contribute a verse to the song of Caribbean.

My students wrote and collaborated every day (practiced) and some learned to give up (Surrender) some of the habits that had earned them the title of "poet" among their peers-- the easy rhymes and the vocal tricks that never translated to the page, but sounded great in performance. I also tried to show them how intentionality is demonstrated by the theme. Sometimes, the theme is not readily evident and it takes time to discover, as I am learning with my latest novel, Song for the Shulamite But once you've discerned the theme through revision, it shapes the content. And vice versa.

More than anything else, I tried to get them to play. Most of the time LITERATURE is taught by people who approach it as if they were dealing with sacred text. I approach all literature as the work of a fellow writer who was/is as hungry/jealous as I am, and was/is willing to misread creatively his/her "elders" and to play with the texts that s/he has read/envied/wished s/he could have written.

In fact, I sometimes get a little peeved (not much, they are buying and teaching the book) when I'm invited to a college as a guest author and discover that my novel, Benjamin, my son, is being taught as if it's SERIOUS LITERATURE. I mean, yeah, it's serious, but it's not deadly. I had fun writing that novel, which like most of my work is literary fiction masquerading as popular fiction. And some parts are downright hilarious. It's just that some people don't share my sense of humor. How else could I have written "Uncle Obadiah and the Alien" about an alien who looks like Margaret Thatcher and crash lands in a Rastaman's ganja field? For years, I couldn't get that story published until The Caribbean Writer took a chance and published it. It's the same reason why I blog. I love to play.

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Wednesday (11/8/06)In My Own Words: Shara McCallum, author of Song of Thieves.

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Comments

Stephen Bess said…
Geoffrey, That's a great attitude towards your profession. I have one year experience teaching high school English. The one thing that I was determined to do was make it fun. I wanted it to be sweet to the taste, but healing to the mind. I feel that I achieved that. I hope to continue developing that once I return to the classroom next year.
Geoffrey Philp said…
Dear Stephen,

Thank you. Once you remove the element of play from anything, you've taken out the joy. I believe in joy.

I also believe in "Love and Happiness," especially the way Rev. Green sings about it.

Peace,
Geoffrey
BLUE said…
ahhhhh ... that word, (((play))). in my experience, most people, particularly writers can't handle it. so when they begin to put the locks on their sturdy boxes, i use another word you've used here: ((surrender)). it engages my sense of *play* and keeps their notions of holiness (sacred text) in tact. in workshops in which i am the facilitator, it has been important to use both words: *play* and *surrender*. thanks for making me think about this.
Professor Zero said…
Good post !!!

On taking literature too seriously: I'll be these professors do that because they are trying to publish / get tenure / be promoted in the field it's in.

I have figured this out because in my current job, I have a lot of out of field courses. In these teach books I have not read since I was in school, and that I am not trying to publish on. When I reread them for teaching purposes, without any other pressures attached to them, I realize where all the jokes in them are: jokes I didn't see the first time around either, when I was reading them 'for school'.
Geoffrey Philp said…
Professor Zero,
Yes! I'm even starting to think literature shouldn't be taught for a grade. It's like forcing ice cream down someone's throat and asking him/her about the flavor and texture.
Geoffrey Philp said…
Give thanks, Blue. Keep on playing. It's the only way to keep alive
Anonymous said…
"Literature shouldn't be taught for a grade. It's like forcing ice cream down someone's throat and asking him/her about the flavor and texture."
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One day I'll place this somewhere among my most influential quotes. One day.

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