The craft of writing well is a fickle and elusive skill that can always be improved upon, which means even the most masterful writer stands to learn a thing a two. The craft or art or skill of writing well is such that, even after decades of honing it to a fine and deadly edge, it can still be honed further, made even more deadly. It is almost predictable how, just when you think you’ve finally earned some skill with words, you are brutally and humbly reminded of just how much more there is to learn.
Imagine with me that you live in a small town, Wordville, USA, and you just discovered your new favorite restaurant. The Flavor Flinger is a hole in the wall restaurant you’ve absolutely fallen in love with. It’s open, bright, full of other locals, has a nice bar, and always provides great food. You spend every Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday there for the next two years, with little exception. Yes, it’s THAT good. And the people are wonderfully friendly there, staff included.
Then, one odd Monday night, you take a seat at the bar next to an older gentleman.
The bartender greets you both. “Great to see a couple of locals in here. Warms me heart, it does. You two belong here. What can I get’cha?”
The old timer turns, looks at you, and says, “You’re a local, huh?”
Proudly, you say, “Yes, I am. Been coming here three times a week for two years now. I know the owner, I know the waiter, and I know the cooks. I know what’s fresh, what’s reheated, what’s expensive, what’s the best. I love it here. I know this place as well as anyone.”
“Wonderful, wonderful,” the old man says. Then he leans in and asks, “So, what do you think of the basement?”
“The basement? You must know about it. The door’s right over there.”
But you don’t need to look because in that moment everything makes perfect sense. The odd rumblings and shouts you hear occasionally from the floor make sense. The door that waiters disappear behind sometimes makes sense. The extra food being cooked in the kitchens makes sense.
After feeling like a complete fool, you devote the next year of your life just to the basement of The Flavor Flinger. You learn their exclusive menu, you learn the tricks of each billiard table, you learn where the remotes are for all the TVs, you learn the best times to go and the worst times to go.
When a year is up you decide to head upstairs for a change, and you find the old timer from before sitting at the bar by himself. Your eyes met and you head over to take the empty seat next to him.
“Thanks for telling me about it,” you say as you sit down. “I’ve learned the whole basement now; the dartboards, the billiards, the karaoke machine. I’ve got it all. This whole dang restaurant now.”
The old man nods. “Impressive. You’ve put your time in. But, I haven’t heard you mention the third floor cafe yet. What do you think about it?”
Your eyes sting as you blink rapidly. “The what?”
“The third floor cafe. It’s right above the second floor dining hall.”
Two floors, two years of your life. You spend the next two years only visiting the upper floors of The Flavor Flinger, which you should’ve known existed the entire time. There are reflective windows, which you always assumed were merely for decoration, lining the walls above the restaurant’s first floor. The stairs in the back of the restaurant led up to more than just the attic, it seems.
After two years you enter The Flavor Flinger’s main floor on a mission: where is the old man? You find him, as ever, sitting at the bar. His hair is quickly disappearing now and there’re more wrinkles, but it’s the same old timer. This time you don’t take the seat next to him, you grab him by the shoulders, spin him around, and look straight into his eyes.
“Tell me,” you say with the wisdom of defeat and experience. “Tell me all the other places I don’t know about.”
“Well now, let’s see,” the old man says. He counts off on his fingers, “You know the main floor.”
“You know the basement.”
“You know the second floor dining hall.”
“And the third floor cafe.”
“And the deck out back.”
“And the… the what?”
“And the patios.”
“And the rooftop tiki bar.”
“And the kid’s playground.”
Ten years. You spend the next ten years learning all about the places you never knew of, which were right under your nose the whole time. You learn everything this time, not a single corner or suspicious looking locker goes beneath your attention.
You are now much older and much wiser than when you first entered The Flavor Flinger. After ten years, you decide it’s time to finally enjoy the main floor again. You find a familiar face behind the bar. The bartender looks older as well, but he’s still smiling. You take a seat and he pours you a drink.
“Where’s the old timer?” you ask.
“Oh, he passed away. In his sleep I heard. A few years ago now.”
“That’s too bad,” you say, and you mean it. “It would’ve been nice to discuss this place properly.”
Before you can raise your glass to your lips, the diner door bangs open. A bright-eyed, young woman enters the restaurant like she owns it, sauntering past the tables towards the bar, nodding and high-fiving people as she goes. She sidles up to the bar and takes the empty seat next to you.
“Ah,” the barkeep says with his patented smile, “it always warms me heart to see a pair of locals sitting at the bar. What can I get’cha?”
You turn to the young woman and give her a critical eye. “You’re a local?”
“Damn straight,” she says. You can tell she’s proud. “Been coming here four times a week for a little over a year now. I know the cooks, the waiters, the owner and his wife. I know this place like the back of my hand.”
Slowly a smile grows across your face. “Is that so?” You lean in a little closer. “Well, you must tell me, what your thoughts about the basement?”
The Flavor Flinger may not be the best analogy for writing well out there, but it works for me. Just when you think you’ve put your time in and you’ve got some knowledge, you’re embarrassed and shown otherwise. Of course, this doesn’t apply to poor writing. You don’t need much to pull that off.
Endeavor to write well now and always and you will find limitless uses for the skill/art/craft.