"Remember: the amateur works until he can get it right. The professional works until he can't get it wrong." -- Madame Stilles-Allen, Julie Andrews' singing teacher.
In Vision and Voice, Stephen J. Pyne distinguishes between the craft and the art of something. The craft is how you do it and the art is why you do it. The opening quote, taken from Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, by Julie Andrews, deals with the level of craftsmanship separating somebody whose performances are amateurish and somebody who is professional. Note that here the term amateur and professional is one of quality, not a question of being paid. In hindsight I know that the first shows that I was paid to perform were definitely amateurish. I was paid to perform for many years before my performances rose above amateur quality.
Practice plays a part in this craftsmanship. According to a cliché, "only practice makes perfect." That is wrong. If you practice doing something wrong, you will never learn to do it right. The only way to learn to do it right is to practice doing it right. Practice does not make perfect. Practice only makes it permanent. It takes perfect practice to become perfect. A professional practices the way they want to perform. They don't take short cuts during practice.
How can you be sure that you are practicing doing it the right way? By continuing your education. Everyone needs reminders of the correct way to do something. It is easy to forget a fine point over time. Everyone needs somebody who can say, "You've started to develop a bad habit."
It helps to perform in front of trusted peers once in a while and to listen to their feedback. For example, last fall I performed in the staff show for Angel Ocasio's Comedifest. One of the magic effects that I performed is called Snap Silks. In this effect, I start with one scarf and a second appears. I set the first scarf aside, and another appears. Every time I set a scarf aside, another one appears. When I set each scarf aside I do it using my right hand to drape it across the box to my right. Finally, I pick up all of the scarves and make a further production from their center. After the show, Matthew Puckett commented that I ended up with the final scarf in my left hand. Then turned and reached across my body to pick up the bundle of scarves. I know that one of the rules of the craft of magic is that you should not reach across your body to pick something up because it looks awkward. I had gotten lazy about that. Matthew suggested that when I have the final scarf in my left hand I should just leave it there. Then I could use my right hand to gracefully pick up the other scarves to add them to the one in my left. I tried his method, and am happy with how much smoother it makes the effect.
Learning to do it right is just half of the process. Rick De Lung said, "The process of practice is doing it enough times that everything that can go wrong will, and you find a solution to that."
An example is a card packet effect I created and sell called Metamorphous. In this effect you show that four cards have a picture depicting an egg clinging to the underside of a leaf. Then all four cards have a picture of a caterpillar. Next all four cards have a picture of a chrysalis. The third transition is to cards showing a caterpillar. Finally they turn back into pictures of an egg on a leaf. I normally keep my set of cards in a pocket of a fanny pack so they are facing in the same direction. When I take them out and display them to the audience the picture is right side up from their point of view. A few times the packet has accidentally gotten turned around so the picture is upside down. So my solution has been to put a small blue dot in the center top design on the back of the blue playing card design. It is not something the audience would notice, but a quick glance before I turn them over reassures me that I am upholding the cards so the picture is right side up when the audience sees it for the first time. (I will be adding that to the packets that I make for sale in the future.)
Have you learned to do something right? How do you know that you are still doing it right? What could possibly go wrong? How can you prevent that from happening?