Studying the Masters

With the conclusion of my official education in financial planning, I found myself purposeless. I’m one of those nerds who revels in studying, who grins at the idea of intellectual challenge, who laments the fact that I cannot know all the things I know I do not know, but dang it I’m going to try. So, with studies finished and my time no longer devoured by incessant nosing-to-textbook, the Question became evident: what next?

My interests vary like the paint chips in a home store. As with paint chips in a home store, I struggle to commit myself to a favorite. My solution has been to liberalize my love and dabble in a series of unrelated interests, filling my time with sundry learning experiences, anything from violin lessons to historical biographical studies to a college statistics course. I have begun in the last several weeks delving into fantasy writing podcasts, trying to glean any advantage by paying attention to the suggestions of people already established in the field.

In one podcast, one of my favorite fantasy authors, Scott Lynch (of The Gentlemen Bastards fame) was interviewed. When asked how he developed his “literary” style of prose, he revealed that he had spent six years reading and studying major science fiction and fantasy award winners—those who took home Hugos, Nebulas, and other renowned commendations.

Because I’m me, I took this not only as great advice, but as a challenge. Spending dedicated time with the masters of the craft—observing how they smith their words to greatest potential and appeal—is one of the best practices I can undertake to improve my own writing. That, and actually applying what I learn to my writing (and failing, and rewriting, and failing, and rewriting). It’s an obvious step to take, but, well, power of suggestion and all that silliness.

Going through the list will make me no Lynch, and reading all of those books, even just finding them all, is going to take a while. Completion may take me many more years to accomplish than I anticipate. And ultimately, I’m not angling for a Hugo or any other award—I’m going to drop a cliché on you now and say that the writing itself is the best reward. But The Demolished Man is at my side as I write this, and I have the next ten Hugo winners lined up and ready to reinforce what I already know and to teach me what I don’t. My strategy for achievement is complete; I just need to stick to it.

As I go through the books, I’ll post significant lessons I derive from them—if I’m not too thick to derive anything. I suspect my observations will form with greater conclusiveness as I read more of the books and identify patterns of style, technique, and strategy. Feel free to chime in if you have anything to add about them, too.

Happy reading and writing (and studying), everyone!


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