Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Chance to Apprentice

There’s a disturbing trend amongst aspiring writers, and that’s the attitude that those who teach a class are offering a “service”.

They are not.  They are offering a variation of an “apprenticeship”, along the lines of old Guild apprenticeships.

Anytime you get the opportunity to learn from someone with more credits, more experience, or a different view of the world, you are offered a gift --even if you exchange money for it.  A class is meant to challenge you, stretch you, move you out of the way you “usually” do things into new ways of doing things.  A class is not there to enable poor work habits or be there when it’s convenient or you happen to feel like showing up.

Any time a professional teaches a class, the professional is investing in the students, often to a greater degree than any amount of money can compensate.  When the professional does a good job as a teacher, it means investing time, energy, belief, and intensely personal thought to how to make your work the strongest it can possibly be within your own voice and vision, and still have a chance at life out in the world.  The professional has to balance constructive criticism and encouragement, and yet still point out what doesn’t work and why, and encourage the student to make it stronger. That means that every moment a teacher spends on student work is time spent away from his or her own work.  Time spent away from that teacher’s own process of creation.

When you take a class, you’re not spending money to do what you feel like or how you feel like doing it.  You’re spending time to gain fresh skills and tools.  You are in someone else’s playground.  You do NOT make the rules.  You follow the structure the teacher is set up, without arguing (unless you are asked to do something dangerous).  You keep up with the work.  You meet deadlines.  You follow guidelines.  You don’t sign up for a class, expect the teacher’s time and attention, and then decide you “don’t have time” to continue or, “oh, by the way, I’m going on vacation for a week and can’t do the assignments.”  And don’t expect to turn in work late and get individual attention after the class is over.  Class time is finite.  If you can’t work within the time frame, it’s on YOU, not on the teacher.

I say it in all my classes and it’s true:  There is no such thing as “no time to write.”  Writing is ALWAYS a choice.  Not writing is ALWAYS a choice.

If you can’t commit to the class, don’t sign up for the class.  If it’s not going to be a priority for you during the course period (and, let’s face it, most courses run only a few weeks or a month -- if you can’t put aside that block of time, you need to ask yourself if you’re serious about writing). If you are not willing to put in a few extra hours here and there if “life gets in the way” to finish something on time -- not only are you wasting the teacher’s time, but you prove that you don’t really want to write. 

Writers who succeed at building a career -- even if they keep the day job and only write part time -- always MAKE the time to meet their deadlines.

And then, past the class -- apply what you learn to your next work.  Don’t fall into the same patterns that didn’t serve you before the class.  Assimilate, grow, and apply.  It is not the teacher’s job to change you.  It is the teacher’s job to light the lamp, and YOUR job to walk down the path and make things happen.

If you get a chance to apprentice with a writer whose work you admire, or who you’ve heard is a teacher who gets results, who pushes you to look at the world and your work in new ways, jump at it.  Do everything you can to commit to the period of time, and be willing to go the extra mile.  You can stay up late or get up early for a few weeks to get your work done.  Otherwise, leave the slot for someone who really wants it, who really wants to write, and who will put in the time, energy, and then go on to apply it in life.

--Annabel Aidan is a full-time writer publishing under a half a dozen names in both fiction and non-fiction.  Her paranormal romantic suspense novel for Champagne is ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT, combining witchcraft, theatre, and politics.  Website:


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

It's all about discipline and commitment.

Big Mike said...

Well said.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)