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Monthly Update #4 (April 2023)
Twelve new articles, some inspired by Professor Pinetti, and more on the "show your work" principle for magicians.
This is the delayed April monthly update for Marty’s Magic Ruseletter. During April, I tried to see if I could write and publish a full complement of articles (three per week on average). I did manage to do it in the end, but some of the content was published in May. Here are all the links to the regular columns for April:
* These articles contain links to magic trick tutorials on my blog.
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I’m still writing the articles for May, so they’ll be published alongside the June ones (seeing as May is almost over). My long-term aim is to get into a position where I can publish new content to all twelve regular columns each month. I think this is achievable, so long as I can get two or three months ahead of myself in the writing process. Of course, the difficulty lies in having a day job and three lively daughters! But I’m sure I will achieve this ambitious goal by the end of the year!
Four of this month’s articles were inspired by Professor Pinetti, a flamboyant Italian conjurer active in the late eighteenth century. You can read the first article in Legends of Legerdemain to learn more about him. I’ve also developed a few handling of The Twenty-One Card Trick that use Professor Pinetti as a presentational device. This pairing seems appropriate given that the method used in the trick is at least as old as Pinetti himself. Finally, I’ve also included an article that shines a light on some impressive mathematical magic taken from the pages of a book by Pinetti himself in 1784! Surprisingly, the tricks are still worthy of performance, with a bit of adjustment to make them suitable for a modern audience.
Show Your Work (For Magicians)
In my previous update, I mentioned the book Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. The book contains ten principles to help creative people share what they love with the world. Here is a summary, along with some additional ideas and notes, of each of the ten principles, slightly modified for magicians and magical performers wanting to share their work:
1. You Don’t Have To Be a Genius
Good magic is never created in a vacuum.
Find your own “scenius” (a portmanteau of “scene” and “genius”, meaning a group of creative individuals, artists, curators, thinkers, theorists and tastemakers). The best kind of creativity often involves collaboration (even if it is with a long-dead magician, a valuable form of passive collaboration).
❤️ Be a proud amateur. There’s nothing wrong with being an amateur magician. All this means is that you pursue magic for the love of it. Some of the most celebrated magicians of the past were amateurs (Vernon, Marlo, Hugard). Even if you’re a professional magician, you should study the art of magic as an amateur, embracing lifelong learning, uncertainty and the unknown.
“Amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public. They’re in love, so they don’t hesitate to do work that others think of as silly or just plain stupid.” — Austin Kleon
🎓 Think about what you want to learn. Learn in the open and from others. Pay attention to what other magicians are NOT sharing or performing. This will help you look for voids that you can fill with your own work.
🎤 You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it. Talk about the things that you love about magic with other people (other magicians and laypeople).
💀 Read the obituaries of magicians (and other successful people)! Contemplating your own mortality, and thinking about death, makes you want to live and make the most of your limited time on Earth. You can read the Broken Wand memorial listings on the IBM website for free to learn about the achievements of deceased members.
2. Think Process, Not Product
Take people behind the scenes (or behind the curtain). Audiences want to be part of the creative process. This includes fellow magicians and also the laypeople that make up your audiences. Note: This is not a suggestion to expose magic secrets to all and sundry! You can share how you create your magic without sharing the methods you use.
“The work is all that’s happened in the day. It is a process, not a thing.” — Austin Kleon
Process is messy, and that’s okay! Humans are messy, too. Human beings are interested in other human beings and what other human beings do. So embrace the mess and mistakes that come with humanity!
📓 Document what you do. Share your process. Turn your invisible efforts into something that other people can see. Be mindful of the Iceberg Illusion. The talent/success people see is only the tip of the iceberg (from Anders Ericsson). All the things that support it—all the hard work, effort, persistence, sacrifice, disappointment, failure, discipline and dedication—are hidden. By sharing your process, you reveal the larger part of the iceberg hidden below the water.
📘 Start a work/performance journal. This can be done in a physical notebook or on your blog. Keep a magic scrapbook of ideas.
📷 Take photographs of your work at different stages of completion. Shoot videos of you working. Share these incomplete fragments and works-in-progress on social media.
3. Share Something Small Every Day 📅
Send out a daily dispatch. This can be a tweet, a blog post or a short video. The format doesn’t matter. Note: I might start doing this using Substack Notes, Twitter, Instagram or maybe even Mastodon. I haven’t decided yet.
“Overnight success is a myth. Dig into almost every overnight success story and you’ll find about a decade’s worth of hard work and perseverance.” — Austin Kleon
years months weeks days. Blog, email, tweet, and post to YouTube. Don’t share your lunch 🥪 or latte ☕; show your work instead!
Posts don’t need to be perfect. Remember, according to Sturgeon’s Law, 90% of everything is crap! The same is true of our own work.
🕢 Find the time in your daily routine, the cracks between the big stuff, to share the small stuff. Not having enough time is a poor excuse; we all get 24 hours a day. Use your time wisely on the things that matter most to you!
Ask yourself, “So what?” before sharing. Is it useful, helpful or interesting? If you’re unsure whether to share something, save it for later. Anything you post to the Internet becomes public property. Share imperfect and unfinished work that you want feedback on, but don’t share everything. In other words, avoid oversharing.
Embrace the idea of flow and stock. Flow is the feed, the daily updates that remind people that you exist. Stock is the durable stuff, the lasting contribution you make (also known as evergreen content). Find ways to maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background. Then, attempt to turn your flow into stock.
📓 Treat social media like a public notebook. Remember, small things, over time, can become big!
🚧 Register a domain name and build a personal website. Don’t solely rely on social media to host your content. Note: I’m in the process of building content here:
martysbagoftricks.com - My Magic blog aimed at beginner magicians.
ruseletter.com - My magic newsletter, aimed at intermediate to advanced magic practitioners.
martydoesmagic.com - This will eventually be a hub for my magical performances on social media (@martydoesmagic).
martyhjacobs.com - My personal website for general purposes, including my day job.
4. Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities
Your magical influences are worth sharing. Be open and honest about the magic tricks and magicians that you like. This will help you connect with other magicians that like those things too.
There’s little difference between collecting and creating. Good writers read. And good magicians watch good magic and read lots of magic books. So share the magic that you love before you share your own magic.
🎉 Have the courage to celebrate the things you enjoy, even if other people dislike them (read about my love of packet tricks in monthly update #3). There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure!
Give credit where credit is due. Provide context, e.g., Who invented that trick? Who taught it to you? Who recommended that you read a particular magic book? Which magicians inspired you? Always link back to the source material because people are lazy! A magician who doesn’t provide credit when he publishes a trick is a lousy magician!
5. Tell Good Stories 💬
Because work doesn’t speak for itself, what you say, as an artist, about your work affects how people value it. Therefore, always have something interesting to say when you perform a magic trick.
Structure is everything. The most important part of a story is its structure. Story structure: past (where you’ve been and what you want), present (where you are now), future (where you’re heading).
🥳 Talk about yourself at parties. Always keep your audience in mind. Speak directly, using plain language. Be brief. Proofread your writing and use spell check.
Tell the truth with dignity and self-respect. Keep bios short and sweet (think two sentences). Just state the facts. E.g. Hello, my name is Marty. I’m a learning technologist who does magic in his spare time.
Most of all, have empathy for your audience.
6. Teach What You Know
Share your trade secrets. When you learn something new, turn around and teach it to others. Out teach the competition.
📚 Share your reading list and helpful reference materials. Create tutorials. Use pictures, words and videos. Take people step-by-step through part of your process.
“Make people better at something they want to be better at.” — Kathy Sierra
7. Don’t Turn Into Human Spam
A person is “human spam” if they don’t want to pay their dues, don’t listen to other people’s ideas and think the world owes them a favour. So, shut up and listen. Be thoughtful and considerate in all that you do. Be a connector. Be someone worth following. More than anything else, do good work and make good art.
When sharing, don’t be a hoarder or spammer, be a contributor. You want hearts ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜, not eyeballs 👀!
“What you want is to follow and be followed by human beings who care about issues you care about. This thing we make together. This thing is about hearts and minds, not eyeballs.” — Jeffrey Zeldman
To be noticed, notice other things and people. To be interesting, be interested.
“Don’t be creepy. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t waste people’s time. Don’t ask too much. And don’t ever ask people to follow you.” — Austin Kleon
🧛 Use The Vampire Test! Avoid anything, or anyone, that drains your energy levels.
Identify your real peers (people who share your obsessions with a similar mission and with whom you share mutual respect). Nurture your relationships with these people. Don’t just look for fans. Recruit collaborators and co-conspirators.
🧑🤝🧑 Meet people IRL (in real life). Then, turn your online friends into “real life” friends.
8. Learn To Take a Punch 👊
Be ready for the good, the bad and the ugly! 😇 😈 👺 Some people will always dislike what you do, and that’s okay. So relax, breathe and practice meditation.
Put out a lot of work and keep putting stuff out there. Learn to roll with the punches and keep moving. Every criticism is an opportunity for new work (cultivate a “growth mindset” 🌱).
Protect your vulnerable areas. If it’s too sensitive, keep it hidden.
Keep your balance. Work is something that you do, not who you are. Stay close to the people who love you (family and friends).
Don’t feed the trolls (people who just want to provoke). Delete nasty comments or turn them off completely. Not all feedback is equal. Only listen to feedback from people you love or respect.
9. Sell Out 💵
It’s not evil to make money. So don’t be jealous when the people that you like do well. Instead, celebrate their victories as if they were your own (growth mindset in action 🌱).
“An amateur is an artist who supports himself with outside jobs which enable him to paint. A professional is someone whose wife works to enable him to paint.” — Ben Shahn
Pass around the hat. Be open about your process. Connect with your audience. Ask your audience to support you by buying what you sell. Don’t be afraid to charge for your work, but set a fair price.
📧 Keep a mailing list. Collect email addresses. Never add an email address without permission.
Be ambitious. Keep busy. Try new things. Take opportunities that allow you to do more of what you want to do. Say no to the things that you don’t want to do.
“And after that, the biggest problem of success is that the world conspires to stop you doing the thing that you do, because you are successful. There was a day when I looked up and realised that I had become someone who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby. I started answering fewer emails, and was relieved to find I was writing much more.” — Neil Gaiman
🏆 When you have success, help the people who have helped you. Be as generous as possible but selfish enough to get your work done.
10. Stick Around
Persevere, regardless of success or failure. Just keep going. Don’t give up. Don’t quit your show!
Avoid stalling by never losing momentum. Instead, use the end of one project to “light up” the next one.
🧳 Go away so you can come back to avoid burnout.
Separate your work from the rest of your life.
Don’t be content with mastery. Have the courage to rethink and begin again! Become an amateur once more! (See step 1).
Of all the tips in Austin’s book, I struggle the most with #2 (Share Something Small Everyday) and #10 (Stick Around). I’m not that great with social media because I have grave misgivings about how beneficial it is to humankind. But social media is also an excellent way to connect with like-minded creative people and other magicians in faraway places.
I also plan to incorporate more of Austin’s recommendations into my weekly routine, such as sharing short-form content on social media and writing blog posts about my journey as an amateur magician. This will include more blog posts about learning, creating, practising, and performing magic. Magicians often lack the same level of respect as other performing artists because we tend to keep our behind-the-scenes work a mystery. While it’s understandable that magicians never reveal their secrets, it’s still possible to share the history of magic with our audiences. Or the hard work that goes into mastering sleight-of-hand card magic. I’ve also decided to start a regular performance diary on my blog to further connect with other like-minded magicians. I’m also thinking about publishing a work diary, too.
I decided to share this summary list because it will act as a reminder for me when I’m struggling to write an article for my blog, a column for the Ruseletter or when I’m attempting to create or improve a magic trick. I also hope that some readers of the Ruseletter will find this information helpful and instructive.
I wholeheartedly recommend that all magicians, especially those who want to improve their creativity, read Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. In fact, it might be the most important non-magic book you ever read! You can also follow Austin on Substack:
Austin has also written other books on creativity, which I haven’t read yet. But both sound relevant to magicians and magical performers. One is called Steal Like an Artist, and the other is Keep Going.
Until next time!
P.S. Expect the May monthly update in your inbox in a few days. Or maybe at the end of the week! Remember to embrace uncertainty! 😉
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