If you're like me, your home is not really a place in which you live; it's a place to store your magic library. I don't want to even think about all the books, manuscripts, lecture notes, pamphlets, and magazines I've got stashed all over the place -- let alone the sixteen boxes in the basement that I haven't completely sorted through yet. But out of all those written words, from Tarbell and Vernon, Harris and Marlo, Hamman and Braue, Hugard and Elmsley, Gibson and Hoffman and Erdnase and so many others, there's one volume of work that, regardless of anything else, is the most important gathering of nouns and verbs in all of my bookcases, in all of my boxes, or in the largest dealer warehouses.
It's the series of notes that I've written myself over the years.
Whoa. Come back. I'm not making a pitch here (my own book is still a bit distant on the horizon yet), and I'm damned sure not infected with that horrible conceit some have to rank themselves in the same company as those true Masters of our glorious Art. I'm just being honest.
Nothing has helped me more through the years than my own notes I've made as I've progressed through my magic.
Would those notes I took do you any good? Probably, but not likely. After all, they were written for a very specific demographic: the guy that I see when I look in the mirror. Besides, there's over fifty of those notebooks -- with no index and crude illustrations (if any illustrations at all). And the code system! "DL" translates to "traditional double-lift"; an "S" with a circle around it means "spectator" while a "P" inside a circle means "performer"; "DLAT" comes out as "double-lift-and-turnover", which is actually a special double-lift I devised back in the Stone Age (which is probably described in some of the notes somewhere, but I don't know where -- no index, remember?).
In addition, most of the material in there are variations of variations, or notes I've made regarding performance of a specific effect created by someone else, or alternate handlings, or liner notes from a lecture that I thought about using, or anything else that came to mind.
It is, truly, my own grimoire. My own Book of Magic. And it's the single best volume on magic ever written. For me.
Don't discard this idea lightly. Your own personal set of notes is invaluable. They are you, and they are therefore filled with those things that mean the most to you and your magic. As you progress, you'll find yourself going back to those notes and gaining a tremendous benefit from those usually hastily written words.
Okay, so we're talking about a bit of added work here. What do you get out of it?
Variations: As you're working through someone else's routines and effects, you'll often be struck with an idea of how to alter it. Maybe it's a good idea, maybe it isn't. Who knows yet? Write it down in your notes. Come back to it later. Don't write it down and run the risk of getting sidetracked and forgetting all about it. Maybe it's not so much a variation as it is a new look -- maybe you changed the sequencing a bit, or you're thinking about a brand new climax. Write it down! And this doesn't apply to just effects themselves -- moves, sleights, counts, and the whole arsenal we arm ourselves with are open to variations (how many false shuffles can you name? I rest my case).
Results: Your observations about how well an effect or routine performed for an audience come in handy. Comments by the audience can be written down and noted later, using them to spur changes and improvements in everything you do. Spectators come to the conclusion you used a trick deck? Write it down, then come up with a variation that would remove that thought (and write down that as well). This will keep your magic improving as you go along.
Subtleties: Make notes of anything you find out during rehearsal and practice. Anything. Pacing, timing, misdirection, angle problems... anything that you run into that isn't mentioned anywhere in the course of learning the effect. This will save you an incredible amount of time when you revisit an effect, and make you more aware of those things as you continue to grow.
Brain-Fodder: This is one of the biggest gains you're likely to see. Got an idea? A concept? A new theory? Something else strange? Write it down! Come up with a great effect, but no way of doing it? Write it down. When you hit a dry spell creatively, or feel a bit bored, take a look at those old ideas. Wrestle them a bit. Solve them if you can. Or just let them lead you where they may. Regardless, you'll find yourself in unfamiliar territory soon enough, and you'll love the new location. And the new magic.
Essays: Another big one. There's a form of writing called "stream of consciousness". Basically, it's writing down anything that comes to mind, without caring about anything other than communicating whatever is in your head. Here's what happens: you write down whatever comes to your mind -- regardless of what it is or how those thoughts are arranged -- then go back over what you wrote. Look and see what you've come up with. This little exercise expands your thinking, and, arguably, your understanding, of your magic. It's a great creativity tool, and one I swear by. What you're reading now comes from one particular essay I wrote that way.
Presentations: Storylines, premises, scripts... you name it, put it in the book. Hear a tale that strikes a chord within you? It probably will with your spectators, as well. Jot it down. Find some tidbit that might make a good foundation for a presentation? Put it in the book. Trying to script patter for an effect? Write down your notes. Simply, make this a workbook of your own style as well as effects and moves. When you're stuck for an idea, refer back to it -- chances are something will jog your memory.
Motivation: This one can be a lifesaver. We've all felt the effects of burn-out before, at least to some extent. We lose focus, lose our enthusiasm, a generally start losing grip on whatever that precious thing was that motivated us in our Art to begin with. Don't be ashamed of it; it happens to everyone across every field and art and endeavor you can think of. Referring back to your notes can help you recapture that mystical something, whether its a pet effect that still captures your interest, or anecdotes you've written down concerning other performers. On those days when you begin to wonder what you ever saw in magic to begin with, your book can -- and probably will -- show you just what put the fire in your belly to begin with.
If I spent any serious amount of time thinking about it, I could probably come up with more reasons to start your books now, this very minute. But I don't have the time right now -- I have this story idea kicking around for a new effect I came up with right before I went to sleep last night, and I want to finish getting it down before I forget it. Also, someone sent me an email and said something that really sunk in, so I want to jot that down, too.
Do yourself a favor: start that book now if you haven't already. Long after the thoughts and ideas have left your head, those pages will be there for you, waiting to inspire you, motivate you, educate you, and take you to the next level.