Writerly Advice: Learning From The Masters

Welcome, Readers!

Today I had an “Oh, yeah!” moment.  This is not to say that I discovered anything new or earthshattering about writing, but it was a simple reminder of something I already knew.  A correlation.

As many of you know I am a music educator.  For twenty-two years, I have worked with student musicians at various points in their musical learning, from the very beginning instrumentalist, to the more advanced high school player.  Every Spring, I evaluate woodwind players from across the state of New York, and provide feedback to them, which will hopefully guide them in their future learning.

You may be asking yourself what knowing my backstory as a music educator might have to do with this blog.  If you are, great, because here’s the connection.  When I listen to student musicians as an evaluator, one of the biggest things I notice is that while the mechanics of playing their instrument are often very accurate, there are items of musicality which need developing. It’s the musicality that takes the most time to master in many cases.   My advice to those students is to listen; listen to the masters of their instrument.  That’s where the little nuances of style get learned.

It’s no mystery that the ideas of learning from the masters of our craft makes sense, or that the idea has a direct correlation to writing, or any other creative endeavor.  If the musician is learning a Mozart Flute concerto, I suggest not only listening to a lot of Mozart’s music to learn his compositional style, but I also suggest listening to the best flutists in the world perform it.  For the writer, the same holds true.  For example, if you want to write an adult thriller, read a lot of adult thrillers, and study “the best” writers of the genre.  “The best”, in this case, would mean any author of adult thrillers whose style you admire and aspire to emulate.

A writer might say that they want to have their own unique style.  I think we all want that, to be honest, but to develop that personal quality, your writer’s voice, you can only get there by learning the little nuances of the masters.  Think back for a bit.  What authors, alive or dead, have written the books that you come back to again and again.  What is it about those authors and their stories that captivates you so?  It’s important to try and put your finger on those things.  From there, you can develop your own style.

When you make a connection between your own writing style to an author’s whom you admire, it compliments both you and the other author.  There isn’t much more authenticity than that.  Go for it!

So there you have it, my “Oh, yeah” moment.  As I mentioned, this is something I already knew about both writing and performing an instrument, but I guess when the notion resurfaced, it was because I needed a little reminder.  What genre(‘s) do you write?  Which author’s styles influence you within that genre?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by my writer’s block!

5 comments on “Writerly Advice: Learning From The Masters

  1. What a great reminder that it takes more than technical accuracy to be proficient in any art. In my mind, writing (any art, really) is not just a craft, it’s an art. One needs to know the “rules” before breaking them. I write novels, mostly mystery genre now, and I read a couple authors’ works as examples of what I consider really good writing. On the flip side, however, I always remind myself on my journey toward publication that writing is an art, and therefore subjective. I find when people counter that with “writing is a craft” and dismiss the subjective part, they lose some credibility in my eyes. Yes, the craft is important–how does one become a master musician without learning the right way to play the instrument? As you say, there is also the creative part, the musicality, that goes into truly mastering an art.


    • smnystoriak says:

      Thanks for the very insightful comment! I like how you mention the “craft” of writing vs. the “art” of writing. It brings to mind Arts and Crafts projects. I think there is definitely a difference between the two. Thanks for stopping by my blog today!


  2. joylennick says:

    Another excellent, thought-provoking article Susan! Thanks. What a super job you have. Music is my second love – on a par with reading…(artistically speaking). I listen to it for many hours while writing, as it can soothe, transport, and inspire at different times…When all the ‘elements’ are right, the listener can be elevated to a higher plane, and the tears can flow…We, who appreciate literature, music and art, how lucky we are; how blessed. My husband – who was taught musical appreciation at school (I didn’t have that privilege) gets enormous pleasure, as do I, listening to the various masters. Whether it’s Gershwin, Bernstein, Shoshtakovich,Tchaikovsky, or Beethoven. I don’t think that writers use their five senses to their full benefit. Must take that on board! Best wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • smnystoriak says:

      Hello, Joy! It’s very sad that you didn’t have the opportunity to study music appreciation in school. It can open the eyes of the human soul. One of my novels features an alternative history of Beethoven’s life, and is based on my experiences traveling through Germany and Austria in the 1990’s. There was something so inspiring being around the old stomping grounds of the master musicians I had studied about throughout my life. It seemed only natural to weave those feelings and that experience into the written word.


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