Writer Apprenticeships

Posted: August 4, 2012 in Musings
Tags: , , , ,

No, I don’t want to appear on the reality game show The Apprentice, I would love a  real apprenticeship. Especially in writing. This has been something I have struggled with for several years. Writers, watercolor-ists, dancers, singers, sculptors, altered-art artists, and every other ‘ist you can name, all of us are in dire need of training.  There’s no shame in saying that; we lack knowledge. It’s what makes us  students.  The problem lies in how we are expected to go about obtaining the knowledge.

First, we are expected to pay between 100,000 and 500,000 dollars to get a piece of paper that says we are really good at receiving information and returning it to the one who gave it to us, ad nauseam.  Unfortunately, that’s what 90% of colleges do today. They don’t teach critical thinking, and they bind up those who have a genuine desire to impart knowledge (the good professors) with so many standards and rules that they can’t really spend the time on things like critical thinking and interpretation. We are also going to be studying a good many things that really have no practical day-to-day use in our chosen field. The Botanical/Anthropology class that I took was fascinating, but there’s really nothing that I learned from it that I use today. It was an eight-week class which cost three thousand dollars and all of my time (when I wasn’t working on the other three classes and their readings and assignments) which I could have used learning about writing and my craft and not why people settle where they do and what political implications come from dividing up land and resources.  Did I glean anything about writing from that class? Not really. I’m not a world-builder and even if I were, there wasn’t a whole lot to pull from other than a rough idea of why people develop certain kinds of cultures.

This is a waste. It’s a waste of my time, my money, and my talent. It’s also a waste of the professor’s time, money, and talent.  Why teach if the information is not going to be used? College is not set up in a way that’s practical for me, because it’s not (for the most part) set up for artists. If you want  to learn to teach, to edit, to work with the applied sciences then college is definitely necessary.  If you want to study history or sociology or  the sociology of art  then it is also needed. Any form of business or communications, or information services, then yes some form or type of college is something you need.

If you want to learn to sculpt, paint, draw, work in textile mediums, or write, it really isn’t.

Oh I can hear the screams. Shh. I’m not done yet.

Think about this with me: when is it that an art student actually learns what they will use the rest of their life? In the  higher  numbered classes where they are usually working on independent projects under the watchful eye of an art professor.

When is it that the writing student actually learns what they will use the rest of their life? In the higher  numbered classes where they are usually working on a short story or novella under the watchful eye of their professor with their grade dependent on acceptance and publication of their work.

Here’s the kicker, those higher level courses? The ones where artists are actually working in their chosen field, where writers are actually, writing? That’s what an apprenticeship would look like. Students actually engaging in the craft under the watchful eye of the master.

An  apprentice  in the old world way of teaching,  would   learn  things specific to their chosen vocation.  That’s what a brick maker learned, and a barrel maker, and a shoe maker.  They lived with their teacher, bought training by working for them without pay (today this is called an internship), and then graduated to Journeyman and finally Master of their  craft.

I want to return to this way of teaching! This makes sense, college for writers does not.

A writer’s apprenticeship today might look something like this:

They agree to work for the author who takes them for three years without pay. They handle the viral marketing of their author’s books or work (facebook, twitter, emails, blog visits, and the mechanics of all of those though the author provides the content) as well as contacting stores for book signings,  author reading events, and other miscellaneous promotions (like running to the post office to mail out winner’s books etc).  They function basically, as an assistant to the author and are unpaid for three years. The day-to-day grunt work taken away from the author (and their spouse or kids) would free  them up to write.

However, not all the time would be used to further their own career.  Part of that time would be paid to the apprentice in the form of teaching. 
The author would be expected to teach their apprentice writer the tricks of the trade; how to write a query letter, how to work with an agent, how to write a proposal, how to polish their work,  how to work with an editor, and  how to give and how to take critique.  The apprentice would also be learning more about viral marketing by doing it and absorbing better story telling by watching how their author. A lot can be learned by simple observation.

After the three-year period, the writer (hopefully published by now) might agree to stay on for an additional year as a Journeyman to the author who has taken on another writing apprentice. Now the Journeyman writer is still doing some, but not all the marketing( the apprentice has taken over quite a bit of it), and working on their own work as well. The Journeyman can teach the apprentice some of the basic things that they learned from the author, allowing the author to have more time to write. After a year  The Journeyman writer leaves,  a published author in their own right.  After several years on their own, when they feel that they have enough work to justify having a writing apprentice, they taken one.

And the cycle  would continue.

This is what I want. Sadly, it’s not available. The  best I can do is to teach myself (always risky), listen to others who have made it into the realm of authorship (also risky), and read every last book that a well-established author has published. In this way I can glean from their work the skills I need to follow where they have gone.

I’m starting to do that with a note-book I’m keeping for my reviews. So far I’ve learned from:

Kerry Nietz
Debbie Vigiue
Davis Bunn
Loraine McCourtney
Marissa Meyer
Timothy Zahn

What about you, scribes? How are you learning your craft? Tips? Tricks? Secrets? Don’t hoard them, share them!

  1. It’s amazing. I’ve recently been ruminating on a very similar subject! In fact, I’ve been somewhat rebellious against the traditional “college” norm for some time. (I’m even hoping to create my own major…) Many times I’ve lamented the fact that apprenticeships are no longer a part of modern society. There’s only so much one can learn from reading books on the subject. Experience is SO crucial. Kudos to you for calling it out!

    My far-off, someday dream is to start a non-traditional creative institute where professional-level artists, writers, animators, musicians, and film-makers collaborate with students on real-life projects. Sort of like an apprenticeship, in a resource-packed facility that encourages that kind of productive relationship.

    I have no idea why God gave a geeky animation student such an idea, but I’m sure he’ll do something with it…

    • 😀 WOOT

      I am not alone in my feeling like something is drastically wrong in College via the arts!

      I know there were issues with apprenticeships and the art guilds but there’s got to be a happy medium somewhere! College doesn’t work!

  2. Nathanael Scott says:

    I’ve been very against colleges since shortly after I started researching them several years back. The system is really messed up, but it seems every system develops great flaws after several years. I say back to the apprenticeship thing whenever and wherever possible. I have a friend and coworker interested in law who just got an internship at a law firm that apparently has a good reputation and he’s really excited about it. Real life wants you to have experience, not just learning, so I’m finding that areas that have apprenticeship-type settings are usually highly recommended to go that route as opposed to college. I plan to become an apprentice to a Missionary Airplane Mechanics place sometime in the next several years. As to writing, I’ve been doing my best to learn from those in the know for awhile and create an artificial kind of apprenticeship by gleaning from publishers, author interviews, blog posts, and even specicif questions when I can. Many are happy to share when they can. 🙂

Be brilliant, be peculiar, be peculiarly brilliant.

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