On the Trials of Mastery


I’ve been writing nonstop for nearly a week.

Academic writing. Business writing. Creative writing. Ghost writing. Letter writing. Module writing. Slogan writing. Facebook status message and wall post writing.

Poke me and words start slipping out. Hug me and you’ll get an avalanche.

Part of me is a little stunned by the whole thing (after two decades, I’m finally a real writer—shades of Pinocchio’s delight in finally becoming a real boy); the rest of me is just anxious (will I still love writing if it’s mostly what I’m going to do?).

Confucius once said that if you do what you love then you’ll never have to work a day in your life. But that assumes that one’s sense of passion is much stronger than one’s sense of drudgery.  There was a reason I always chose to dabble, which was to preserve the romance of infrequent dalliance.

My usual commitment phobias aside, the week hasn’t been entirely bad. Writing comes in many forms and sizes, but it’s essentially a unified craft. (For some reason, sculpture strikes me as a fitting metaphor. So much of writing lies in paring, shaving and whittling down—removing the excesses that obstruct the clarity of thought.) And as with any craft, practice—dull, repeated and often tedious—is the exclusive route to mastery.

Which begs the question: am I actually interested in mastery? Wanting to be excellent is a given, but wanting to be masterful is something else entirely. It comes with too many images of hardship—particularly the nonglamorous kind—inspired by too many Oriental movies involving suffering, straining and trembling protégés collapsing at the feet of cryptic and impeccably mustachioed masters.

But whether I want it or not, and whether I find the guidance of a master or not (mustachioed or otherwise), it seems that this is the opportunity before me. And as Sun Tzu once said, opportunities multiply as they are seized.

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

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