Sunday, September 09, 2012

Anyone Can Do It !

As most of you know, I have worked as a bakery manager for Walmart for a little over seven years. In addition to dealing with histrionic store managers, assistant managers who run the gamut from Doogie Howzer (aka Baby Gap) to the ultimate Good Ole Boy to a Zena-type Amazon who makes grown men cry, and customer clothing choices that make ME want to cry - I am also in charge of training cake decorators. You may be surprised to discover most of the people who decorate cakes for Walmart come into the position with little to no previous experience. Then again, if you have ever visited this site - - maybe you aren't so surprised. They try to hide the labels on those cakes, but .... 



Walmart, in its wisdom, is of the opinion ANYONE can be taught to decorate cakes. As a result they have provided me with some of the most "interesting" candidates imaginable.

A woman who undoubtedly gives MD's penmanship lessons. I'm sorry, but one should not have to hire a CIA codebreaker to decipher Happy Birthday on a child's birthday cake.

A woman who could not SPELL birthday. Writing on a cake is not like horseshoes. You do not get points for getting close. Hapee Britday.

A woman with one eye, who actually became a decent cake decorator once we figured how to deal with that pesky depth perception problem.

I have been fortunate enough to train several really fantastic cake decorators. Want to know how? I trained them in the basic skills required to decorate a cake - icing it, putting a border on it, air brushing it, and a few other techniques and then you know what I did? I turned them loose with their imaginations and time.

(Work of Amanda Collins)

I'm not a great cake decorator. I've been doing it a long time. I'm competent. The girls I've trained, however, the really great ones, had one thing going for them I couldn't teach them, show them, or give them - the gift.  And once they discover their gift and give it free rein and time they are amazed at what they can create.

(work of Amanda Collins)

Cake decorating is an art. Creating great art requires skill, training, talent, constant practice, time and the gift. Skill comes with training and practice. Talent comes in small doses and large, but the gift is from some Higher Power and it isn't given to everyone. And with the gift comes an almost addictive need to create. Once the tools of the art are given to the one with the gift the art becomes a taskmaster more insistent than a drill sergeant and as relentless as time.

(work of Amanda Collins)

In the current publishing world the concept of "Anyone Can Write a Book" is bandied about more and more every day. And while anyone can be taught the skills necessary to write a book and many have the talent and the desire to practice constantly I have discovered the gift for storytelling is a bit more elusive.

With so many people eager to write a book and publish it quickly so they can move on to the next one and the next, the things necessary to develop talent, to hone skills, and to discover one's gift often get lost in the shuffle. Which is a shame. Because I happen to think far more people have the gift than realize it. Like kids on Christmas morning they tear open all of the big, shiny packages and start playing with them immediately. All the while the small package in brown paper - the one that isn't easy to see, that doesn't scream "OPEN ME!" the one we have to really look for and figure out is pushed under the tree and sometimes gets thrown away with the holiday flotsam.    

Skills can be honed with practice, practice, practice. Talent, even the least little bit, can be expanded upon, especially if one is open enough to let their imagination loose. But the gift is what divides the people who write books from the storytellers. The gift must be unearthed, nurtured, explored and ultimately waited upon. It can't be rushed nor taken for granted. Everyone has gifts for something - gifts for creating beauty in the world. The important thing is to discover what that gift is and then do everything in the world possible to cultivate it and to be willing to give that gift the one thing it needs to shine - time.

What do you think? Can anyone write a book? Are some people just born with books ready to spring from their fingertips onto the page? What things do you do to nurture your gift?     


Cari Hislop said...

I think people are born story tellers or they are not. I'm in the middle of reading Harriette Wilson's memoirs (the Regency courtesan). She has this talent for seeing and recounting absurd and hilarious vignettes, but when she tried to write an actual story her attempts were rubbish. She might have needed more "honing" time than she wanted to give who knows. But delivering one's memories is world's apart from creating a fictional story. The other example that comes to mind is Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro. Beaumarchais is one of my heroes. The man was freaking amazing (by any standard), but most of his efforts to write a decent play were according to his contemporaries unspeakably awful, but he had a story to tell so he kept trying. After much effort and much making himself look a fool to a vast number of people he succeeded in writing about Figaro, but the thing is; Figaro is Beaumarchais. So The Marriage of Figaro is really a coded story about Beaumarchais' feelings towards the aristocracy and their supposed superiority. This is what he needed to say and when he'd said it he never felt the need to write another play (yes there are three plays to the story, but after those three he was done). Story tellers don't finish telling stories until they're dropped in a coffin (let's hope not even then - they probably end up ghosts whispering stories to anyone they think can hear (I can see that happening to me).

I'd never discourage anyone from trying to tell stories (and we're never done honing the craft), but I think some people just don't have the talent to tell stories. They have other talents (which are probably being ignored) while they try to be something they're not.

One of my talents is NOT cake decorating (I had to learn a few basics for a job once). My talent is cake eating! Some people's talent is enjoying stories. It takes all sorts. Thank goodness. If we all were story tellers we'd all still be sitting around a camp fire telling stories (when not hunting). If that was the case no one would have bothered to invent paper let alone the printing press!

Samantha Grace said...

What an interesting blog. I woke up this morning thinking about how difficult it is to tell a story with the amount of time an author is given under a contract. If I had an entire year or more to work on a book, I could hone it to the point of it being exactly what I want it to be.

Unfortunately, it's never that much time, and I'm not a full time writer. I usually have around six months and then revisions are due within 3-4 weeks after I receive my editor's notes. At some point during revisions, I can't see the forest for the trees because I've read the same words so many times. Readers are eager to get the next book, too, so it comes down to writing the best book I possibly can under the time constraints.

Still, I love it, and telling stories is what energizes me. I don't know if just anyone can do it unless he or she has a love for it. Even with a gift, it takes an enormous amount of discipline to write a book. But as you said, sometimes discovering a gift makes you driven to improve, and I'm constantly reading craft books and practicing to become a better writer and storyteller.

You, my dear, have the gift. I look forward to you sharing that gift with readers soon.

ellaquinnauthor said...

Louisa what a wonderful post. I think it comes down to the "voice." I've had two contest judges that were NYC published authors tell me that one can teach craft, but a writer either has a voice or doesn't. Like any other talent, I'm not sure it can be taught. To be sure, one can learn the technique, but to go beyond that takes something more.

Emily Greenwood said...

Nicely put. I agree that some people do have a gift for storytelling, and some have a gift for writing, which is not necessarily the same thing! I do think a writer can get much, much better with time and practice, but there are writers whose work I admire that have that special magic that no amount of effort on my part will conjure. C'est la vie--but there are so many ways to tell a story and so many ways to entertain, so I guess part of our quest is to find the ways that suit what we can do.

Lexi said...

I think most of us are storytellers, but not everyone is a writer. The best writers are story tellers, but the reverse isn't always true. As you know, writing is hard work and, in my experience, doesn't get any easier! Good post! Love Amanda's work. I can't draw stick people.

Louisa Cornell said...


I am definitely a better cake eater than I am a decorator! LOL And I agree with you that not everyone is a storyteller. Good listeners/readers are the whole reason some of us write!

Lest we forget, Harper Lee wrote one book. She only had one story to tell. But what a story!

Louisa Cornell said...


I can't begin to imagine what writing on a deadline is like! But I've read your books and I KNOW you've done the work, learned the skills and you DEFINITELY have The Gift!

For those of you who don't know Samantha's books MISS HILARY SCHOOLS A SCOUNDREL and LADY AMELIA'S MESS AND A HALF are some of the best Regency historicals I've read. They're published by Sourcebooks and she has another book coming out in October - MISS LAVIGNE'S LITTLE WHITE LIE.

And thanks for the kind words, sweetie!

Louisa Cornell said...

You are so right, Ella. Voice is definitely a gift and it cannot be taught!

Louisa Cornell said...

Very insightful, Emily! I think what you said reinforces my thoughts on voice. Often people want to write a certain genre or style of book and while they have a gift for writing they simply don't have a gift for the genre they've chosen. Finding one's voice is very like finding one's gift.

Louisa Cornell said...

I think you're right, Lexi. Most people can tell a story, but the ability to put it in writing in such a way the reader truly feels as if the story is being told to them alone - that is a gift.

And isn't Amanda great? She gets better and better every year. And I have two new cake decorators - Amy and Takia who are giving her a run for her money. Neither had any experience before they started in the bakery, but they have learned what I could teach them quickly and fortunately they have had Amanda there to help them as well.

Cari Hislop said...

Harper Lee may have only published one book, but I find it impossible to believe she didn't spend the rest of her life bombarded by stories. I understand she was a very private person so it could be that she could only bear to let that one story go out into the world. Maybe she was afraid any more would expose too much of her heart. I know someone who is a brilliant writer/artist who may never publish because she's so shy.

I loved your comment that not everyone can write any genre. I think that is so true. There are so many genres I wouldn't dare try to write because I don't read them. My heart wouldn't be in it. I think great stories always come from the heart.