What is a virtuoso?

Our friend wikipedia says, “…an individual who possesses outstanding technical ability in the fine arts, at singing or playing a musical instrument.” Let us expand that to include any of the performing trades, including sports (basketball, baseball, etc.), medical (surgeon, etc.) and possibly even an auto mechanic. These are fields in which the delivery of the final product is the best possible at that time.

Crunch time for the athlete is during the game. Crunch time for the musician is during the performance. Crunch time for the surgeon is during the operation. The performance and final product is the important part, not all the build up towards it.

The auto mechanic’s public (customers) want an operational vehicle, well-maintained, trouble-free at a reasonable price. Granted, the mechanic can “re-fix” an issue if needed, but the more optimum solution is to do it right the first time.

The audiences for any of these performers want the final product. They are rarely interested in all the work which went into it.

We writers are delivering a performance (final product) to our readers. It isn’t “delivered” in real time. The reader could care less how much work we put into it; he is only interested in that powerful emotional experience. We may take years to produce that performance or we could do it in a couple of months (or less for shorter work).

Craft and craftsmanship isn’t everything. Craftsmanship is having the details/fundamentals down so thoroughly they appear effortless.

I played the violin for many years in my youth. Ever listen to a virtuoso of any music? Perfectly in tune (if the music demanded), never misses a note, perfect tempo and the lot.

There are tons of technically-perfect artists. On the other hand, there are very few who can touch our hearts to laugh, cry and give us a powerful emotional experience. Those who can have found the concept underneath the music, character (for actors) or the story itself.

As Larry Brooks and others say, you’ve got to find and have that sky-high concept at the very beginning before you even start practicing the piece.

You’ve got to have the best craftsmanship possible to convey that emotion and concept — but without hitting us over the head with the methodology. When you investigate a virtuoso, you find he’s practiced fundamentals probably 90% of his time even before he spends 10% working on the actual part or piece. Now he can deliver the emotional experience.

The better the artist, the more picky he is about what he’s delivering — he wants a worthwhile impact, not just “that was pretty” or “he did a good job.” They are (and you should be) after delivering the highest possible concept.

Listen again or watch again some artist/actor/sportsman who is acknowledged as a true virtuoso. The craftsmanship and fundamentals are obvious, but you really don’t notice them because you’re pulled into their world and get that emotion and concept they are conveying. Yes, the sports figure is delivering excitement and emotional experience just like the actor or artist or writer.

Who’s really interested in reading or hearing about Howdy-Doody on Mars? If it’s your grandkid, that’s fine — go for it. You’ll “sell” at least one copy.

If you don’t have that sky-high goal, that idea or concept which just might touch people’s hearts, all your writing will be doing is letting your readers listen in on the practice session where the virtuoso is practicing scales, harmonics (stringed-instrument term), types of vibrato and so forth. Interesting to another musician perhaps, but not what the virtuoso provides his audience during crunch time.

You’ve can be a virtuoso – possibly. Have the fundamentals (Six Core Competencies) down so pat you don’t even have to think of them during your writing. That requires tons of hard work and practice. Then, when you find and develop that beyond-the-sky concept or idea for a story, you can appear to deliver it almost effortlessly because your fundamentals are in. Your readers won’t notice your fundamentals or methodology (unless they’re writers, too, then it will probably be on their second or third read), they’ll simply get a profound emotional experience on something worthwhile — that underlying concept.

It doesn’t have to be a “beautiful” concept, either. Many of Shakespeare’s most enduring works are tragedies, such as Romeo and Juliet.

Learn and practice your Six Core Competencies. Study. Practice more. Now, work out 5, 10, 15 or more high-level, worthwhile concepts that are worthy of all the work you will be putting into the delivery of that concept.

To get published is hard work. There’s plenty of mediocre stuff available that did manage to get published. Some even make best-sellers — for a week.

If you’re going to pour your attention, learning, practice and hours/days/months into a story, make it worth it to start. Get that underlying concept, then you too can be a virtuoso.

Start with the goal of becoming a competent writer with your Craft in decent shape so the reader isn't being thrown out of your story by blunders in your methodology.

Once you get competent, you can work to be a good writer. Your fundamentals are now in so solidly your readers rarely notice them. Yes, other writers will, but that is our nature. By finding and working out the most optimum story production process for you, the fundamentals will be in so thoroughly you can put them into action without having to think, think about them all the time. At this level you really are a virtuoso.

To be a great writer is a sky-high goal. Few of us make it. We will have not only to be a virtuoso but also have some luck. “Successful” publishing in any form is still somewhat of a crap shoot which we writers cannot control completely.

What we can control, though, is our performance. We can be virtuosos and deliver the best product we can.

Going it solo

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;” John Donne

If you are writing for “the fun of it” or “to develop my creativity”, have a great time. You can read your Great American Novel every day if you wish and revel in how great it is. You’ll never have to worry about criticism or rejection, so don’t even bother with any of the Six Core Competencies.

If you’re writing because you consider you have something to say to others (readers) and wish to deliver it with impact (powerful emotional experiences), then your fundamentals have to be in so solidly they aren’t readily apparent to your target audience. They don’t draw any attention to themselves; they contribute just right – because you are a virtuoso.

Talent? Creativity? These can't really be taught or learned. What you can do, though, is find ways to let it roll. We'll talk about that some other time.


Getting all the possible use of whatever talent and creativity you have as a writer depends completely on having your Craft down pat. All the words and concepts must be completely defined. If that isn't the case, you're setting yourself up for failure.

Now, go write something great.