Thursday, September 1, 2011

Serving Time

Would you be hired as a nurse in a hospital right after high school? Would you even consider operating heavy equipment after two hours of reading an instruction manual? Could you build a house without learning the use of tools and the safety procedures on the job site? Would you even trust a hairdresser to perm or dye your hair if she’s never done it before?

Or would you prefer someone who knew what they were doing to build your house, to nurse you in a hospital, or to even touch your hair? And if the answer is "Yes" then why would you assume you can have a novel published without serving an apprenticeship first?

Unlike most professions, writers rarely get the chance for a formal program to learn their craft, unless it’s in a writing class in college and then in a big city newspaper. Even then, you can’t assume you’re ready without first getting experience on the job. But what about novelists?

By all means, go to school and take a creative writing course, but don’t think this will solve the problem. After you learn the technicalities of writing, all you need now is practice, and lots of it. And to make things more difficult, it’s all on your own. No bosses, no supervisors to explain and to teach. This is your self-imposed apprenticeship.

I’ve presently been serving mine for almost ten years; ten long years. First, I wrote down various musings on paper, (I was hopelessly backward with no computer yet). Then one miraculous day, I received a machine that promised to make my writing endure through the ages. But that is for another article. Yes, I finally entered the twenty-first century and bought a computer. It was my first piece of legitimate office equipment.

It took me a year to even learn how to use the darn thing. But eventually, I prevailed and overcame my hopeless inability with anything mechanical. Next, I started to write interactively with other people who liked to write and who had various levels of capability, in a group online. I had to learn patience, not only with them but with myself. It was a lesson that would serve me well later on, dealing with editors, publishers and family members who did not understand this strange aspiration of mine. But with this creative writing, I became literate at my craft and increased my skills with the language. I also realized I still wasn’t ready to even attempt submitting any stories. I was still too raw.

Next was writing freelance articles and submitting them for consideration. I found that satirical and humor writing was one of my talents, though again, still not fully developed. But some were accepted for publication in small magazines with specific readerships. I learned to alter the articles to reflect that specific publication.

Next, I was offered a freelance job as a journalist for a small town newspaper. This was my most valuable experience; I grasped the ability to write tight, smooth, factual articles that gave information vital to the reader. I became well versed in editing skills that have held me in good stead ever since, teaching me to “cut out the fat”. However, in creative writing, I still have a few bad habits to conquer yet.

Now I feel ready to tackle the daunting mission of writing a novel. It took this long to learn and my apprenticeship has served me well. Like any student, perhaps some would finish this stage of their career earlier and some would take longer. Everyone is different. And if you can keep an open mind and heart, be realistic with your own abilities and take suggestions and critiques from those who are further along the journey, you will eventually know when it’s time.

I have served my time faithfully and consciously. I have studied others more experienced than I am, and taken the lessons to heart. I have applied what I have learned, refined and tweaked, tried new things, (some worked, some didn’t) and now I’m ready to expand my horizons into a larger project.

I am currently reading a book called “Jane Austen: A Family Record” by Austen Leigh (sic: family) and Le Faye (revisionist). Jane had written a letter to her sister Cassandra about getting servants for their new home in Bath, England (by the way, a relocation which she protested),  and it eloquently showcases Jane Austen’s grace and suggestive, sardonic humor developed through many years of her own apprenticeship and numerous rejections: “We plan having a steady Cook, & a young giddy Housemaid, with a sedate, middle aged Man, who is to undertake the double office of Husband to the former & Sweetheart to the latter. – No children of course to be allowed on either side.”

Perhaps, if I serve my apprenticeship long enough, I may eventually own that level of wit and sophistication. All it will take is time, patience and lifelong learning of my craft.


Annie Boreson said...

You definitely have served your time...and served it well. I hope I have done so too! Only time will tell. First time visiting your site and really enjoyed it.

S.L. Bartlett said...

Thanks very much for visiting. I appreciate the comment.

Michael Ann said...

I enjoyed reading about your writing journey! You have a really fun blog!

Kelley said...

I frequently think my writing degree taught me nothing about how it really is, or how it really works. But in truth, I hear people from many programs say that about their chosen professions. Maybe we're not that off? Great to meet you!