Sunday, September 26, 2010

Professionalism, the Devil in the Detail

Professionalism, the Devil in the Detail

Ever since Linda Powley, our former Regional Advisor, stood up and gave the word ‘Professional’ to our group as a monthly theme, the word has been on my mind. What does it mean to be a professional at what you do? What makes the difference between professionalism and non-professionalism? How does it apply to the world of writing and illustrating children’s books?

A few years back, with the typical hot dry/wet cycle of Texas, our house shifted, giving us a slab leak. Part of the damage repair involved the insurance company sending out a painter to fix our walls. The experience taught me a lot about owning a home, but in particular, I learned a few things from the painter about what it means to be a professional.

At one point, he walked by a section of wall I had painted the year before and wrinkled his nose. He subtly suggested I get that wall repainted as soon as I could, though it hadn’t been damaged. Later, I understood why he had made his comment.

Three distinct things set his work apart from my own and gave it qualities I would consider professional. To start with, the man had many hours of experience. Recent studies show hours of practice will increase quality in workmanship. In short, scholars agree, ‘practice makes perfect.’

The Berlin’s Academy of Music did a study on a group of violin students who started playing at the age of five. By the age of 20, the elite performers had one thing in common. They had all totaled in excess of 10,000 hours of practice since age five. The merely good student had only put in 8,000 hours over the years. Simply stated more practice made the difference between good and great.

Aside from the hours of experience the painter had, he also knew tricks of the trade.
It was simple things like how to take care of a paint brush, how to tape off a border, or how to add texture to a wall. These worked together to give what he did a professional quality. He had done his homework and studied others to get the best practices for his industry.

Finally, his attention to detail truly set his work apart. The corners, where the wall met the ceiling and the cabinet molding were done with precision. Mistakes were addressed and taken care of and no detail was left undone.

What the painter demonstrated in his professionalism applies directly to the world of writing and illustrating. The more we practice, the better we’ll get. The more tricks of the trade we learn, the more efficient we will become. The more we take the time to deal with the details, the more polished we will appear to others. 2010 offers each of us more opportunities to practice, learn, and perfect our skills. I encourage each of you to take every opportunity offered by our chapter and SCBWI as a whole to refine your professionalism this year.

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