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Digital Subscriptions > Writing Magazine > February 2017 > APPRENTICE, ARTISAN, MASTER


Author and lecturer James McCreet considers some stages of the writing life.

One of the curious features of experience is that we ‘overwrite’ memories as new knowledge supersedes it. The brain deletes elementary or erroneous information in order to maintain only the most relevant and effective database of skills. This is why many great writers make so-so teachers – they simply can’t remember how it feels to struggle with issues they solved long ago. They’ve automated their critical decisions to such a degree they couldn’t tell you how they do it, even if they wanted to.

As a lecturer and as a writer, I’ve noticed that the evolution of writing proficiency tends to come in a strange combination of gradual and sudden learning. The most important lessons arrive suddenly and dramatically, as one’s entire understanding. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve experienced it myself. It’s like when you see a magic trick but can’t guess how it’s done. When you find out, there’s no more magic – only a trick. You can never see the performance in the same way again.

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