Considering that I can't even buy copies of my own book, I don't mind giving away the basic secret that is mine. The effect, however, is in it's infancy. Ted Lesley has done some amazing work with the principle and I continue to evolve different thoughts to use with it and other mentalism applications.
Your point about believing in your abilities as a mentalist is very well taken. It is, of course, essential in quite a bit of mentalism. When I write, I always try to leave enough room for each individual to apply his own personality and working style. My own is a bit different, perhaps, and some things can work for me that might not for others. The converse is also certainly true. I have seen other guys do stuff that I could never pull off. I wrote an essay awhile back that deals with this subject. Let me post it here.
Making Magic Your Own
There is a big secret in the successful performance of magic. You have to make the magic you do - your own. The successful magician makes every move, gesture and mannerism so natural that his act shines. The speech or (perish the word) patter of his performance must reflect the way he really talks and expresses himself. The magic has to look like he created it. The problem is that most magicians get their effects from books and (in todays modern world) videos. In the former, the reader would have to imagine how the effect should look and work it up for himself. In the latter, even that aspect of self-input is missing. Is it any wonder then that we see so many magicians who act, speak and perform exactly like the originator of the effect? And yet, they never shine like he does. To be fair, it is difficult to divorce oneself from the original performance of a trick, especially if it was impressive. Perhaps it is the fear that something may be changed that is vital to the working and will lower its impact or entertainment value. That is a real concern. So then, how do we take these two diametrically opposed ideas and blend them together?
For years I have been expounding the greatness of the Tarbell Course in Magic and why its study is so important to the developing magician. The topic of this essay is how to make your performance of magic not only personal, but very special as well. Once again I have to fall back on some of the principles laid out by Tarbell to make my argument.
Although magic has come very far since Harlan Tarbell took pen in hand, I still see many magicians falling into the same traps that he expounded upon. The main purpose of his course was to make magicians real magicians not just someone doing tricks. As Tarbell himself put it, A magician is not a magician because he knows tricks, but because he knows magic the principles, the fundamentals. He taught the science of magic. Again quoting Tarbell, Another reason I give you the science of magic is that I want you to be able to do other tricks besides the ones I give you. I want you to be able to originate new methods and even new tricks. You can do this easily if you really know the science of magic. As you read through the course you constantly find absolute gems of advice that are ageless. I discover new bits of guidance and logic whenever I pick up one of the worn out volumes. I have based my fundamentals on what I have learned there.
The first fundamental sounds almost too foolish to mention and yet is a primary pitfall in magic. You must know the effect you are trying to create! There is a subcategory to that rule. Is the effect worthwhile enough to bother with? If your audience cannot clearly understand the effect or what you are accomplishing, then it contains a major flaw. If the effect achieved does not impress the audience or appear impossible, it is also useless. Remember that magic is a performance art! Both of these problems might be solved with better routining, but sometimes an effect is just not worth pursuing. A practical example of this is the hours spent by some card workers to master every sleight they encounter without regard for its practical use. I am not suggesting that every individual doesnt have the right to do what he wants, but to foster some of the card tricks I have seen on unsuspecting lay people does border on criminal behavior. If the unfortunate victim does agree to watch a pasteboard miracle, he or she expects to see just that, not finger gymnastics followed by an ending that begs the question, So just what did he do? I am not picking on card workers here (I love a good card trick), but they do seem to be the ones most guilty of this primary mistake. So to begin with, try to see the effect from the lay persons line of sight and determine whether the trick is worth doing in the first place. Does it create a miracle or did you just dazzle the onlookers with speed and dexterity until they were too tired to follow where the card, coin, ball or whatever went? That is juggling, not magic.
The second fundamental is almost as crucial. Recognize there are many methods to accomplish the same thing. Learn all the methods. Again, this may seem like common sense, but not to many magicians. I have seen some performers use the most excruciatingly difficult maneuvering to do something that could be done in a much more natural, open and simple manner. I will not name names, but I can remember one book I read years ago using a mathematical principle to create many card tricks. The problem was that almost every trick in the book could be duplicated and improved using nothing but a key card! Sure, the principle was clever and unexplored, but if you cant do miracles with it, why waste your time? Regardless of how clever anything is in magic, if it isnt practical, it wont cut the mustard in front of a real audience.
Combine these two fundamentals and you come up with a clear concept. Strive to create the strongest magic you can and get to it using the simplest means possible.
Now let me reveal my secret for not only personalizing magic created by others, but also how to create you own magic. Here is the crux of this article.
When I see a new trick in a book or video, or if I buy a piece of equipment I first determine the first fundamental. What am I supposed to be accomplishing and is it worth it? If I believe it is so or can be so, I study it carefully. I learn it EXACTLY the way the originator explains it. If it is a video trick, I try my best to duplicate it exactly as performed. Even if right in the beginning something strikes me as being unnecessary or bad magic, I will still learn it that way. When I feel as though I have mastered it, I put it away! I do my best not to think about it for a few days or even a week - or a month. I try to get it completely out of my head. Then, I practice a mind trick I have using for years. I pretend that I invented the trick! Thats right, I trick myself into believing it was my creation. Even if my best friend in magic gave me the trick, I take him out of it. It is mine. Then I start to scrutinize it and criticize it. Because I am my own worse critic, its not hard. I look for all the weak points and flaws and try to improve them. Using the principles I mentioned before, I try to get the most effect using the simplest method possible. Then I imagine myself performing this trick before the most important audience of my career with the President and the Prime Minister of England in attendance! I imagine how they would react to my trick and analyze whether it would be good enough to do in that situation? Very rarely does it come up to par. Then the juices start kicking in and the real work begins. Sometimes I will dwell on a trick for months and wake up suddenly with a new slant. Sometimes I will see another trick that throws some light on the one I am working on. And sometimes I will get inspiration from a completely unexpected source. It might be a movie or a book with a theme that somehow lends itself to the trick. As these thoughts start to come, it is easier to move away from the original trick as I have put some time and distance between it and myself. If the changes are minor, but significant, so be it. If, however, the entire trick needs to be re-worked so that it doesnt even resemble the original, so much the better! When it finally seems usable, I introduce it into a show. If it plays well, I leave it in and let it develop further. If it doesnt go over, out it comes until more work can be done on it. Sometimes it will go back in and sometimes not. This is why I dont often change my show, but when I do, it is usually because of something worthwhile.
I hope you can see from the above that it is next to impossible not to make your magic your own if you follow my lead. After devoting weeks, months or even years working on an effect, it cannot help but to be your own. You will have instilled into it part of your very soul. It will be you and when you do it you will not be copying anyone. People will want to see you for YOU and not what you do. The tricks will simply be an extension of who you are. Then you will be really magic.