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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Book Review: Word Painting Revised Edition the Fine Art of Writing Descriptively, by Rebecca McClanahan

For November, and NaNoWriMo month for many of my fellow writers, I thought it would be appropriate to review a book that covers an important part of writing craft – description. There aren’t many books out there about this topic and indeed it would be a challenge to cover the subject in a way that didn’t sound just a little bit crazy. This book does an admirable job.

About the book:

In ten chapters McClanahan discusses different ways to approach the art of turning mundane descriptions into word paintings that grab the reader’s attention and helps feel part of the world they’re reading about. She explores using the different senses, how descrioption can help the reader understand character and setting, and using figurative language and metaphor. The book is thorough, insightful, and includes plenty of examples to help teach.

My review:

For me, the book was an excellent reminder of how much power lies in the perfect description. An evocative piece of description has the power to transport the reader to another place and time where they feel they are living within the pages and seeing and feeling the story through the eyes of the characters. A poor piece of description can do the opposite, pull the reader out of the story, confuse them, and make it hard to understand what is going on in the story.

Perhaps the most useful advice gleaned from the book is the importance of anchoring description deeply into the point of view of the person experiencing it. If the character is a baker, we want to feel the grit of the flour that has collected on the backs of his hands and reminisce of better times as we smell the comforting aroma of fresh bread.

Another thing that McClanahan does well is find hundreds of different examples to help solidify what she is trying to teach. Some of these are remarkable pieces of description that indeed transported me into the world of the scene. When I read them, it made me want to be able to do the same with my own writing.

Recommendations:

I recommend this to writers who feel they have the basics covered and are looking for a way to improve. This book is wonderful to help see different angles that can be taken in a passage of description and helps break writers out of old familiar patterns. It also shows how description doesn’t have to be long to be powerful.

I would not recommend this to brand new writers. While it’s full of important information, it’s also overwhelming with just how many possibilities there are in any given line of description. The best time to read this would be when a writer feels they have established their voice and are looking for ways to improve and deepen it.

I give this book 3 stars.


Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read any of my books, head on over to AmazonGoodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!

Book Review: Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn

Happy October everyone! It’s the first Wednesday of the month which means it’s book review day. Today’s pick: Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. This book came out in 2001 and I first read it back in college. It made a deep enough impression on me that I recently recommended it for a book group and reread it a few weeks ago.

About the story:

Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel, meaning it’s composed of letters from one character to another. Ella lives on the fictional island of Nollop, located off the coastline of South Carolina and named after Nevin Nollop who has been immortalized by his creation of a phrase using all 26 letters of the alphabet, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

What’s unique about this island is that due to poor infrastructure, they are isolated from the modern world. There aren’t computers, internet, email, or even telephone service, although those on the island know all these things exist. To communicate long distance, they are limited to letters and the occasional telegraph. Because of this, they’ve developed a love and passion for the written word and a unusual eloquence.

When letters begin falling off the memorial statue to Nevin Nollop, the island Council deems that it is a divine mandate from Nollop himself and they must stop using those letters in everyday speech and the written word. This also means those letters drop out of use for the remainder of the book. With each loss, the island falls deeper and deeper into totalitarianism as the Council works to eliminate those who would use the illegal letters.

Ella finds herself fighting to save her friends and family from being banished off of the island, a task that grows more complicated with new letter’s loss.

My review:

As a lover of artful use of language, this book delights on so many levels. Ella tries so hard to maintain her eloquence and love of language, even as each letter is taken away. The resulting linguistic gymnastics are impressive to say the least. It made me wonder if I could do the same. I tried it with the letter “m” thinking it would be easy. In a 15 minute sample where I tried my best to be careful, three “m”s still managed to find their way in.

There is also the element of satire about an overreaching government seeking punitive punishments for violators of the new rules as well as what happens when a society must adapt to censorship. For me, this felt almost Orwellian and brought back of not-so-fond memories of the discomfort of being forced to read 1984 in school, mixed with a touch of Lord of the Flies. However, Dunn encapsulates this satire inside the story of those trying to live the new rules and because their story shines stronger than the satire, it makes it much more palatable.

By the end of the story when only handful of letters are left, the text becomes almost unintelligible. Letters are swapped out for phonetic matches and to understand what’s being said, the reader almost has to say the syllables out loud. For me, it brilliantly demonstrated the frustrations of the main characters as they struggle to communicate.

In all, I found the book delightful and both a fun and profound read.

Recommendations:

I recommend this book to those who love a good play on words and appreciate vocabulary and wordsmithing, as well as those who love seeing how a society can go wrong. Those who love word puzzles will also get a kick out of seeing how each character manages to avoid using banned letters. It’s also a charming story of making the best of a hard situation that doesn’t dwell on the ugliness that could be found there.

I would not recommend this book for those who want an easy read. It is not. From the deeply vocab-u-tastic wordiness at the beginning, to the almost alien constructed language nearing the end, this book is challenging. I also would recommend those who are sensitive to political misuse of power to steer clear as this book might be triggering.

I give Mark Dunn’s Ella Minnow Pea 4.5 stars.


Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read Stonebearer’s Betrayal, head on over to Amazon, Goodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!