To Become a Master, You Must Apprentice First

The process of learning hasn’t changed, like ever. You must decide what you want to know and either find someone who knows how to do it, or find a book written by someone who knows how to do it. Today, you might add looking up a video of someone who knows how to do it. The idea remains the same, if you want to learn something, you’re best off finding a teacher in some form or another.

Photo by Will Suddreth on Unsplash

No one starts at Master

Writing is one of those hobbies where some people believe they need no guidance, where the words in all their power and beauty are hiding within them and it’s simply a matter of allowing them to flow forth. Perhaps you’ve met a few of these people, heaven knows I have. There are one of two things that happen with those who carry this belief.

The first outcome is that they simply let the words fly and fall however they may. The first draft is the only draft they make. There is no need to return to correct or improve anything because what is written is as perfect as it can get. Reality tends to blindside these people hard and fast. They try to find agents and publishers and are met with radio silence and polite canned rejections. No one understands their brilliance and in the end they often choose to self publish this unedited pile of thought to the unsuspecting world.

The second outcome is more probable. The writer tries to write their book believing it to be a fairly straightforward process. They’ve read lots of books like it and feel they have a good idea how everything is supposed to look and feel. When they start writing they find they get stuck while trying to make the words do their thing. Maybe they can create settings but not dialogue. Maybe they can do action, but not internal monologue. What’s important here, is that these writers realize that they are struggling and then reach out for help.

Photo by Dominik Scythe on Unsplash

Being willing to learn is the mark of a successful apprentice

You can’t start out any skill as a master. Even if you have lots of experience watching and reading about something, there’s something very different in actually doing it for the first time. Back in medieval times, young people would start their apprenticeship around the age of 12 when the opportunity presented itself. They would live in the home of the master and follow in his footsteps learning as they went. This apprenticeship lasted around 10 years until the master deemed the apprentice good enough to go out on their own.

That was when they became a journeyman and were allowed to use what they’d learned wherever they could find work. With time and careful practice, they’d reach a skill level that would make them worthy of being called a master and then the cycle would repeat itself.

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

― Ernest Hemingway, The Wild Years

Hemingway, the master of less than ideal advice for young writers, held the belief that writing was something that no one could master. Everyone had their own set of vices and strengths with which to deal with and throughout the course of their life they’d steadily improve as long as they were willing to put the work in to do so.

In this I wholeheartedly agree. While any writer might produce what is called a masterpiece, that work will still have it’s flaws, at least to some eyes. There is always something to learn more about and to work on.

There’s always room to grow

So, if this message is finding you frustrated at where you are at in your writing career, remember that you must take the attitude of apprentice and allow yourself to learn and grow. There are thousands of writers who have gone before you who had to pass through the same frustrations and can guide you in their writings and classes. Never stop learning or growing.

What have you learned recently?

For me, I had a surprising realization about the importance of making all characters interesting and not just the main cast. Every character should feel unique and have something that sets them apart.


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