I’ve seen Wicked three times on Broadway and Gregory Maguire’s book of the same name occupies prime space on my white bookshelf that’s overflowing with books; the creativity of Wicked still awes me. However, I’m not going to talk about this book, but instead about another Maguire masterpiece entitled What the Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy.
Maguire’s magical touch with the pen is apparent right off the bat. His beautiful vocabulary and use of imagery take readers immediately into the world of the skibbereen (tooth fairies). For writers out there, he’s a must-read if you want an example of his stellar technique of “showing vs. telling.” His melodic phrasing whisks us into this fictional place with such subtlety, that before we know it, we’ve arrived, and we’re thankful to be there. When our professors tell us to read–and to read anything and everything and to learn techniques from it–take heed. Read what you like and read what you might not normally gravitate toward. Every opportunity to read takes us to a new level and helps us craft our own stories. Trust me. I’ve read a ton of literature over the last two years and some of it I would not have selected myself. However, I’ve learned from each and every piece I’ve read. This is a fact. My writing continues to improve, and that’s what we’re always striving for, isn’t it? To get better and better?
Now then, back to Maguire and his little hand of magic, and the reason for this post. In one scene he is talking about the mamma grisset and her baby grissets and the singing they are producing from their nests. He writes, “Given their family background, they stank at singing. But you can’t learn everything you need to on the same day, not even if you’re stuffed with talent.” (Maguire, What the Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy, pg. 33). How funny this is, how apropos, and how engaging! These two beautifully strung together sentences are what makes Maguire stand out–they make us think. Why? Because it’s so true. I stopped in my tracks right there and chuckled and then thought of the art and craft of writing. (Can you blame me? When you’re reading one of the best writers around, you are forced to think and ponder things. He’s intended it to be that way.)
And so I nodded in agreement. We can’t learn everything in one day, or two, or weeks, or years, or a lifetime. We do the best we can as we begin to write. We’re explorers of the world around us, of people (including ourselves), of places, of instances, of time. When we begin to write, we investigate and contemplate. We muse, we question, we doubt, we delete, and we rewrite. Our best friends are the delete key and the backspace key. We rework it, sometimes until it hurts and we want to throw the blasted keyboard out the window.
But we can’t learn it in one day. It evolves. We can’t expect to write brilliantly every time we sit down. Even if we are stuffed with talent.