The mark of a great storyteller is they make our job look easy. The story flows, pulls us in, and appears seamless. Many of us decided to become writers because we grew up loving books. Because good storytellers are masters of what they do, we can easily fall into a misguided notion that “writing is easy.” Granted there are a rare few exceptions, but most of us will go through three acts (stages) in this career if we stick it through.
Act One—The Neophyte
This is when we are brand new. We’ve never read a craft book and the words flow. We never run out of words to put on a page because we are like a kid banging away on a piano having fun and making up “music.” We aren’t held back or hindered by any structure or rules and we have amazing energy and passion.
But then we go to our first critique and hear words like “POV” and “narrative structure.” We learn that maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do and that we need to do some training. We also finally understand why so many famous authors drank…a lot.
Act Two—The Apprentice
The Apprentice Phase comes next. This is where we might read craft books, take classes, go to conferences and listen to lectures. During the early parts of this phase, books likely will no longer be fun. Neither will movies. In fact, most of your family will likely ban you from “Movie Night.” Everything now becomes part of our training. We no longer look at stories the same way.
The apprentice phase is tough, and for many of us, it takes the all the fun out of writing. The apprentice phase is our Act II. It’s the looooongest, but filled with the most growth and change. It’s the span of suck before the breakthrough.
It’s like when I first started learning clarinet and I had to think of SO MANY THINGS AT THE SAME TIME. I was new at reading music, and I had to tap my foot to keep the beat at the same time I keyed notes (which I keyed incorrectly more times than not). I had to hold my mouth a certain way, blow air with just the right force, pay attention to the conductor…and most of the time I needed a nap afterwards.
Not to mention I sounded like someone was water-boarding a goose.
WHY did I want to play clarinet? I wondered this a lot.
Same with writing. Many shy away from craft books because they fear “rules” will ruin their creativity. Truth? They will, but only for a little while 😉 .
Eventually we realize that rules were made to be broken. BUT, the difference between the artist and the hack is that the artist knows the rules and thus HOW to break them and WHY and WHEN. We start to see rules as tools.
As we move through The Apprentice Phase and we train ourselves to execute all these moves together—POV, structure, conflict, tension, setting, description, dialogue, plot arc, character arc—it eventually becomes easier. In fact, a good sign we are at the latter part of the apprentice phase is when the rules become so ingrained we rarely think about them.
We just write.
We’ve read so much fiction, watched (and studied) so many movies, read so many craft books, heard so many lectures, and practiced so much writing that all the “rules” are now becoming instinct and, by feel, we are starting to know where and how to bend, break or ignore them.
Writing is now starting to become fun again, much like it was in the beginning when we were banging away on the
piano keyboard. Like the clarinetist whose fingers now naturally go to the right keys without conscious thought, we now find more and more of the “right” words and timing without bursting brain cells.
The trick is sticking it through the apprentice phase long enough to engrain the fundamentals into the subconscious.
This is where we all want to be. In fact, we all want this on Day One, but sadly, I believe this Day One Master is reserved for only a handful of literary savants. Mastery is when we return to that childlike beginning. We write with abandon and joy and, since the elements of fiction are now part of our DNA, our literary marrow, what we produce isn’t the off-key clanging of a neophyte, it’s actually a real story worth reading. Granted, it isn’t all kittens and rainbows. Masters have a lot of pressure to be perpetual geniuses.
I believe most of us, if we stick to this long enough, will always be vacillating between the Advanced Apprentice Phase and the Mastery Phase. If we choose to try a totally new genre, we might even be back to Neophyte (though this will pass more quickly than the first time).
We have to to keep growing. The best writers still pick up craft books, refresh themselves in certain areas, read other authors they enjoy and admire to see if they can grow in some new area. Masters seek to always add new and fresh elements to the fiction.
The key to doing well in this business is to:
1. Embrace the Day of Small Beginnings—Starting is often the hardest part. Enjoy being new. Enjoy that feeling because you will reconnect with it later because you recognize it.
2. Understand We All Have an Apprentice Phase—We will all be Early, Intermediate, then Advanced Apprentices. How quickly we move through these will be dictated by dedication, hard work and, to a degree, natural talent.
3. No One Begins as a Master and Few Remain Permanent Masters—Every NYTBSA was once a newbie, too. When we understand this career has a process, it’s easier to lighten up and give ourselves permission to be imperfect, to not know everything. Many writers get discouraged and give up too soon because they don’t understand there is a process, and they believe they should be “Masters” right away.
Hey, I did.
We need to give ourselves permission to grow. If we love and respect our craft, we will always be learning, so we will continue to dip back into “Apprentice” to refine our art even further.
Does this make you feel better to know this career has a process? Are you in the Act II span of suck and getting weary? What are you doing to remain focused? Which part has you the most discouraged? Frankly, I am in the trenches doing NaNoWriMo with you guys. I can say it is A LOT easier this year than in previous years. We can’t refine and edit words that don’t exist. Write with the abandon of the Neophyte then edit with the eyes of an Advanced Apprentice or Master 😉 .
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.
#1 by wendysrusso on November 3, 2014 - 1:50 pm
I mourn my newbie days. I feel like Atreyu in the Swamps of Sadness, trudging through this apprentice suck. 😉
#2 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 3, 2014 - 1:55 pm
LOL. What an perfect description! Me too!
#3 by Melissa Lewicki on November 3, 2014 - 1:52 pm
Kristen, this was wonderful. It exactly describes my journey–so far. Not close to the master phase yet. But, I’ve studied enough now that I know what I don’t know. So, I will keep studying and keep writing. Thanks.
#4 by CL Mannarino on November 3, 2014 - 2:44 pm
Yours is exactly my reaction! 🙂
#5 by Bethany A. Jennings on November 3, 2014 - 1:54 pm
Ohhhhh, how I miss being a Neophyte. This makes so much sense to me. I’m in the “doing everything all at once” mid-Apprentice phase where I’m completely overwhelmed and despairing of ever being any good, and can’t stop picking on my own writing where it fails. So this article makes so much sense to me. It’s so reassuring to know there is “life after apprenticeship”. 😀
#6 by paidiak on November 3, 2014 - 2:00 pm
Well written, amusing and informative! You’ve hit the trifecta!
#7 by tgutier240 on November 3, 2014 - 2:03 pm
Thanks, this was helpful. I’m a neophyte, just started writing in September and decided to try NaNoWriMo. I planned in October but have been finding writing tedious, I want to blog instead but don’t have time todo both. I actually edited my first chapter last night, I couldn’t stop myself and then was too tired to keep writing. Just where I’m at. I guess I need help!
#8 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 3, 2014 - 2:06 pm
Just WRITE. Edit later ;). Why I love NaNo is it forces us back to writing like a kid. Just writing and not stopping to fret over editing and revisions. We can’t refine what we don’t produce. Nano is only a couple days in and you can catch up 🙂 . Just quit trying to write WELL. Fix it LATER.
#9 by tgutier240 on November 3, 2014 - 2:07 pm
Thank you, Kristen. I will try it!
#10 by rupytn on November 4, 2014 - 3:10 am
“We can’t refine what we don’t produce.” – Gold.
Great article (as usual), Kristen.
#11 by Donna Marie on November 6, 2014 - 7:19 pm
Wow, you’re braver than me. I would like to try NaNoWriMo, but never had the courage to do it. Hope you’re pushing through your plan.
#12 by tgutier240 on November 6, 2014 - 7:33 pm
Donna Marie – i am pushing and yesterday things startes to get easier. Not sure if it will last but i will take it.
#13 by Donna Marie on November 6, 2014 - 7:43 pm
Awesomesauce. Keep at it! If you encounter a block, let me know and I’ll see if I can help.
#14 by tgutier240 on November 6, 2014 - 7:44 pm
Thank you! I will reach out!
#15 by Lisa Kindberg on November 8, 2014 - 8:33 pm
The thing I love about NaNo is there are no blocks. Sometimes it may seem like a maze, but I can loop back or jump the wall and continue with another path. NaNo stories don’t have to follow a logical path. At the end, I can redesign that maze to be any formation at all. 🙂
#16 by gilmiller on November 3, 2014 - 2:17 pm
I read a story where Louis L’Amour was speaking at a writer’s conference in the eighties–when he was definitely a master–and told the audience he believed he was just truly beginning to learn his craft. I think I’m in Advanced Apprentice, but I don’t know if I’ll ever consider myself a Master because I’m always learning–and relearning. Yes, we discover the rules along the way, but we also forget some of them. But that’s what critiques are for!
#17 by Cindy Sample on November 3, 2014 - 2:18 pm
I’ve enjoyed all phases of my writer’s journey but could never have described it so succinctly or humorously. Thanks Kristen for nailing it once again.
#18 by Jessica Barrett on November 3, 2014 - 2:26 pm
The timing of this is so perfect. I’m on day 3 of nanowrimo as well, and I was just telling my husband that I think Ernest Hemingway himself will likely claw his way out of his own grave, find his old typewriter, and beat me to death with it, because that’s how bad I suck. I’m more in the beginning apprentice phase; a little beat up by the reality of writing, and I have so much to learn that I’m easily overwhelmed much of the time. I needed to read this today 🙂
#19 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 3, 2014 - 2:35 pm
Just WRITE. You are comparing your FIRST DRAFT with his FINAL DRAFT. We can’t fix what isn’t there. Keep pressing. And just as an aside, usually the writing I LOVE is the stuff that sucks. The writing I DETEST is often my best work.
#20 by lebaiym on November 3, 2014 - 8:50 pm
Thank you for saying that. This is what keeps me pounding away.
#21 by Jessica Barrett on November 3, 2014 - 2:28 pm
Reblogged this on Mrs. Jones could use a beer. and commented:
If you’re doing NaNoWriMo…this is a must read!
#22 by ariefarnam on November 3, 2014 - 2:32 pm
That is a good synopsis, although every writer’s journey is different. I don’t recall suffering that much in the early stages. I loved critique groups and craft books from the time I learned what they were around age of 18. I immediately saw the “tools” and was excited to get started with my new saws and hammers and chisels, even knowing that my first attempts wouldn’t be perfect. I have done enough handiwork projects to know that you have to test out the tools in order to make anything that looks nice. A mentor told me early on that “just remember that you have magic in your fingers.” When I got stuck I would always repeat that to myself and it helped. Maybe it helped that I had enough practice alone before I entered critique groups that I never got slaughtered and the critiques were always about specific issues that could be addressed rather than, “Um… well, that is just boring drivel.” I know that some people suffer over it more. All I can say is that writing can be tackled as real fun all the time, in every stage, if you don’t marry your words.
#23 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 3, 2014 - 2:37 pm
Man you had a nice critique group. Mine SLAUGHTERED ME. I cried in the parking lot for an hour an almost gave up writing. Might be what makes the difference. Our early experiences as writers. Do we have generous and kind mentors or razor wire?
#24 by Marilag Lubag on November 3, 2014 - 2:38 pm
Okay. Well, I’m good at a lot of things–needlework, poetry, singing, etc. Basically, I’m a good student. However, writing a novel always stumps me. I mean, can’t novel writers have formal instruction? When it comes to singing, I did have to pay hundreds so that my voice teacher can teach me the proper way to sing. A few years later, I find myself working from singers who can’t sing to those that are professional musicians. Why can’t novel writers have actual mentors?
You know. Someone who will show you that writing goes like this. You start with point A, go to point B, and go to point C. Crochet instructional books are easier to understand–they go from steps 1 – 10 and it’s up to you to mix them all up. Even piano comes with basic instructions. We should have writing teachers, too. You know. The one that will tell you, not add more of these reduce that kind of teaching. I consider myself an apprentice. Good enough to know the structure still needs improvement on writing the words. 🙂 We do need novel writing teachers. That way, we could at least produce good novels.
#25 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 3, 2014 - 6:21 pm
Actually, that’s why do the Antagonist Gold. We walk through “What is the story YOU want to tell?” Then I walk with you through plotting it. It might deviate once you write it, but you will have a solid framework. The rest is prose and that’s easy to fix. Beyond that? This blog hopefully fills some of that need. It’s why I started it, since I had to learn everything the heard way. When I DID find mentors, they were priceless.
#26 by lebaiym on November 3, 2014 - 8:52 pm
I visualize. I always have. It’s like I’ve got a movie running through my head all the time. I’ll replay the same scene a hundred times until it’s perfect.
The hard part has been in finding my narrative voice for that scene. To describe it just right.
I’m finding that it’s going much better now that I’m focusing on getting it OUT, then going back and fine-tuning.
#27 by Daven Anderson on November 3, 2014 - 2:53 pm
Reblogged this on Vampire Syndrome Blog and commented:
The “master” is the apprentice who didn’t quit. 🙂
#28 by soccermermaid12 on November 3, 2014 - 3:00 pm
Reblogged this on The Madness to the Pen and commented:
Great insight to writing
#29 by Jane Manthorpe on November 3, 2014 - 3:59 pm
Such a great article, I am definitely a Neophyte, as just starting out. Just signed up for NaNoWriMo and looking forward to just writing and have fun making “music” 🙂 just like you say, let just write and have fun with energy and passion. This has give me great motivation and will work myself up to being a apprentice, even though I am already a head of game and started to read and watch writing courses which has given me a good view ahead of what good writing is and being an author. Thanks again for a great read. By the way just brought your book ” Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World as I am blogging already on my subject (its not fiction) and want to build the ideal readers email list so that when I launch my book for my ideal reader I have readers!
#30 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 3, 2014 - 7:31 pm
Good for you and THANK YOU! Yeah, writers get too serious with NaNo and that’s why they tank. They edit too soon. Just WRITE NOW, FIX LATER.
#31 by Liz Crowe on November 3, 2014 - 4:02 pm
I’m fairly well stuck in “Advanced Apprentice” phase and frankly, now that I know what it is (and why my family won’t let me watch movie with them unless I have a whole bottle of wine by my side) I don’t know if I’ll ever leave it. But I will tell you that this new series of mine (not a NaNo project, but 3 novels written this past summer) is liberating me in ways I never thought possible, vis a vis the “controlling my destiny” thing with self publishing. I am published with 4 small pubs so I learned the ropes, found my way, learned the rules and am now breaking them as I see fit but paying editors a fair bit of moola to keep me in line.
great post as usual.cheers
#32 by sharonhughson on November 3, 2014 - 4:05 pm
Yep, the apprentice phase is feeling especially LOOOOOONG in recent weeks. I have had lots of fun racing through first drafts in the past year. Now I’m stuck trying to edit them. And wondering why I thought I wanted to be a writer.
So I’m doing NaNo alongside the edits because when I’m tossing those words on the page, I recall the adrenaline rush or creativity – a writer’s drug.
Thanks for the encouragement. It’s nice to know someday my first drafts might not suck because I will understand the craft better (and yes, I am working through a craft book now. I always have one in process).
#33 by sharonhughson on November 3, 2014 - 4:07 pm
Reblogged this on Sharon Lee Hughson's World and commented:
Another brilliant post to keep young writers (and those of who are older but still new writers) moving ahead.
Most days lately, I haven’t even felt like an intermediate apprentice. I needed this encouragement today. Hope it gives you the determination to keep writing.
#34 by Jon Chaisson on November 3, 2014 - 4:40 pm
I *think* I’m floating in between Apprentice and Master? Or Master, Level 0.5, since I’m still unpublished at this point? Somewhere around there. Some days it’s hard to gauge. :p
One of my writing mantras over the last few years has been Restart at the Beginning. Whenever I feel I’m mired in the muck of halfassed writing and forgetting what point I’m at in terms of quality and dedication, I take a few days to focus on how I got to that point. It puts things into perspective, sometimes even opens up avenues I wasn’t even paying attention to, and I’m able to move forward again, on surer footing. 🙂
#35 by Henrietta Handy on November 3, 2014 - 4:58 pm
Reblogged this on Kentucky Mountain Girl News and commented:
KMGN: This was an excellent article. Some suggestions I have already put to use and others are not far away. How about you?
#36 by Shanti Krishnamurty on November 3, 2014 - 6:07 pm
I think I’m at the hopeful Apprentice stage. I’ve self-published my first novel and am attempting traditional with my second. I dunno. Maybe I’m just a Neophyte with high hopes.
Either way, excellent article. Thank you.
#37 by Tom Threadgill on November 3, 2014 - 6:11 pm
LOL! Yep, banned from movie night. You got me. 🙂 Hopefully I’m moving closer to the Advanced Apprentice phase and will be allowed back in.
#38 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 3, 2014 - 7:29 pm
My husband and I nearly needed marriage counseling or a gag order. I have RUINED movies for him.
#39 by Denise McGee on November 3, 2014 - 6:22 pm
Thank you Kristen! As someone sitting firmly in the “span of suck” it’s nice to know that it eventually does get better. 🙂
#40 by saralitchfield on November 3, 2014 - 7:02 pm
Wow that makes a hell of a lot of sense. I was a neophyte when tackling NaNo last year, but with two edits and bunch of beta reader critiques behind me,along with a couple of conferences and classes and a heap of attention to craft lessons, I like to think I’m approaching things in a more apprenticey way this year. I sure as hell learnt a lot between NaNo and publishing last month! And hopefully I’m applying it… And enjoying feeling just a bit better than I was last year while battling that awareness of how much I suck… But still writing at the moment in a neophtey way because it’s NaNo and writing with abandon is part of the fun!
#41 by Author Mandy White on November 3, 2014 - 7:13 pm
Reblogged this on Mandy White.
#42 by bjholder on November 3, 2014 - 7:30 pm
This blog gave me reason to take a huge sigh of relief! I giggled as I read it and realized maybe I’m not crazy! Well, a little crazy! I do have people talking to each other inside my head. Great Blog!
#43 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 3, 2014 - 10:19 pm
You’re a writer. The Normal Ship sailed without you and yeah, you have to be crazy to do this. Just figured friendship IS founded on honesty. Good news is we get pudding when we behave. Bad news is we never get pudding 😦 .
#44 by bjholder on November 4, 2014 - 12:25 pm
Eh, who needs pudding when we can all lean on each other until we get ice cream! 🙂
#45 by theowllady on November 3, 2014 - 8:28 pm
Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.
#46 by Sylvie Grayson on November 3, 2014 - 9:02 pm
I loved this blog. I’ve been moving pretty fast through the early phases – by that I mean I’ve been writing for a long time and have found a venue to learn a lot more just in the last couple of years. If feels good to progress like this, to get better at what I do.
And you’re words are so encouraging. I can’t wait for the advanced apprentice stage.
#47 by Cherie O'Boyle on November 3, 2014 - 9:41 pm
Oh, that’s why this is so much harder this year! Thanks!
#48 by Peri Norman on November 3, 2014 - 9:48 pm
Green as Grass! Thanks for the preview.
#49 by kamrynwhowanders on November 3, 2014 - 10:08 pm
I’m definitely Apprentice, stuck in that crisis stage where you kind of want to cry a little every time you read a book because you’re just slowly and methodically checking off cliches and poor word choices, and then you write something and go through it and check off all of your own cliches and poor word choices, and it’s really kind of awful.
#50 by patriciaruthsusan on November 3, 2014 - 10:45 pm
Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
This is helpful information.
#51 by Brenda on November 4, 2014 - 12:10 am
I’m in the tail end of the apprentice stage, where I’m finally rereading and going, “Oh, these words don’t suck as bad as I thought,” so you’ve turned on the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been depressing and yearning for the days of wild abandon carefree writing where it was all brilliant and I knew nothing. Now (to solve my editing neurosis) I speed write with friends for 25 mins, take a 5 min break, praise word count, then do it again. I can get about 2K in 2 hrs which is a great day for me. I posted this on my facebook. Thanks for the great post! 🙂 https://www.facebook.com/brendapandos/posts/820531938009745
#52 by mypersonallthing on November 4, 2014 - 12:23 am
Reblogged this on my personal thing.
#53 by Hanna on November 4, 2014 - 2:26 am
This post is exactly what I needed! For a long time, I didn’t want to write unless I was sure it would sound like C. S. Lewis or Harper Lee could have written it (as if NOT writing helps you improve!). I expected everything I wrote to be perfect and if it wasn’t, I thought I was a failure. I still do that to some degree, but I’m (slowly) learning to write something, finish it, and then leave it be, instead of revising it over and over again.
#54 by Catherine at Critique My Novel on November 4, 2014 - 3:48 am
Reblogged this on Critique My Novel's blog for writers and commented:
A great blog!
#55 by Yoanna Novakova on November 4, 2014 - 5:58 am
That was a great summary or a writer’s path. I have to say, I do enjoy some parts of the apprentice who critiques everything they read or watch, makes me feel like I am moving forward in a way, I haven’t forgotten what it’s all about only because I’m done with the uni degree 🙂
#56 by Yoanna Novakova on November 4, 2014 - 6:00 am
Reblogged this on Yoanna vs the World and commented:
A great POV on the writer’s life and struggle. We all aim to be Masters in our own little worlds, don’t we 🙂
#57 by sbjamestheauthor on November 4, 2014 - 8:53 am
Once I was a neophyte, then I stated reading Writer’s Digest, and I stopped writing for about three years because I felt like all the fun was being sucked out of writing. It is only in the past two years that I’ve gone back to it, wiser and better for it now that I understand craft better.
Also, reading about your clarinet stint brought back some “fond ” memories of broken reeds, trying valiantly to get over the break, etc. I actually used to think there was something glamorous about reeds sticking out of kids’ mouths before band practice began.
#58 by Selene on November 4, 2014 - 10:12 am
I’m in Act II, and am struggling to recapture the joy of writing from Act I. I’ve finished several books and have had an agent (we’ve since parted ways).
Used to be I shrugged off rejections and moved on, revising when the reasons resonated, but I’ve since found that rejections have a curious weight and a lot of them somehow suddenly became heavy. I found myself doubting everything, and nothing I wrote seemed good enough anymore. I abandoned several WIPs. I’m trying to dip my toes back in now, but it’s hard to get enthusiastic about any idea and actually pick one.
I miss the daydreaming days.
#59 by scribbley14 on November 4, 2014 - 11:56 am
So relatable haha! An apprentice, but missing the early days of throwing words at the page *sigh*
Actually, I’m having fun writing my first draft without worrying about how well it reads (save that for editing!) so I suppose it’s swings and roundabouts!
Thanks for sharing!
#60 by kirizar on November 4, 2014 - 12:23 pm
Neophyte teetering on the brink of apprenticeship…beware the literary rapids, all hands on deck!
Thank you for the laugh, I will never look at a clarinet again without seeing a tortured goose.
#61 by richladymoves on November 4, 2014 - 1:04 pm
I vaccillate between thinking I’m hot shit and like I’m really getting away with something, and thinking, “How long must I suck?”
#62 by richladymoves on November 4, 2014 - 1:16 pm
I vaccillate between, “I’m hot shit,” and, “How long must I suck?”
#63 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 4, 2014 - 1:24 pm
We ALL do. We all do ((HUGS))
#64 by robin witt on November 4, 2014 - 2:32 pm
Thanks for another helpful blog post! 🙂
#65 by clhigh22 on November 4, 2014 - 4:19 pm
You had me at “water-boarding a goose.” Best line ever.
#66 by jebjork on November 4, 2014 - 5:44 pm
Interesting perspective of the writer’s journey, I am part of the very looong middle act but it is nice to notice that my NaNoWriMo project this year seems a bit easier to write.
#67 by Deborah Makarios on November 4, 2014 - 6:44 pm
Can we call the Advanced Apprentice stage the Journeyman stage? You kind of know what you’re doing but you haven’t produced a master-piece yet. (Sorry, history major…)
I think I’m flailing about somewhere in the Apprentice stage, with occasional glimpses of both Journeyman and Neophyte in between the breakers.
I do have a Master’s degree, because these days they don’t make you wait til you’ve produced a master-piece to confer it – which is probably just as well as I’d still be at uni otherwise, and who can afford that?
#68 by Lynda Jo on November 4, 2014 - 9:14 pm
I’m in my third NaNoWriMo and I’ve gone from having a few characters and the ghost of a story, to trying to fit everything onto an unmovable steel scaffolding to somewhere in the middle. I’ve learned and unlearned a lot. Writing, like life, seems to be more about the journey than the destination. I can’t imagine not doing this.
#69 by Peter Pollak on November 4, 2014 - 9:45 pm
Kristen: You describe the apprentice phase as learning the rules so you can break them. I question whether that is or should be the focus. Shouldn’t it be learning the rules so that you can tell your story in a way that will reach readers? Breaking rules reflects a teenager’s view of life. Adults make rules. Why can’t I break them. Adults understand that learning what the rules are is what makes the good life possible. In terms of writing we learn for example to show not tell because readers become more involved in your story when they feel part of the action rather than feel like an observer. That’s not a rule I want to break.
#70 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 5, 2014 - 11:45 am
But sometimes the best way to convey the tone and message of a story doesn’t clearly confine to current established rules. Art is an ever-evolving entity. We have to break rules or art dies. If we didn’t break rules, we’d all still be telling stories in the form of epic poetry, sounding like The Odyssey. Someone broke rules to create what we now know as “the novel.” Novels didn’t exist in the 15th century. Another broke rules by moving away from the God-like narrator of omniscient voice—Come with me Dear Reader—to establish closer intimacy with the reader in first-person and then third, then shifting third, then close third. These POVs didn’t exist before the 18th century. Third person didn’t exist before radio and television. Readers weren’t accustomed to cut-to scenes and would have become lost.
As the world was opened by television and radio, we no longer needed to write out vernacular like Mark Twain did. People today KNOW what a Southerner talks like. During Twain’s time, readers in Europe had no way of understanding the speech without it being spelled out…literally.
Hemingway broke rules by shedding the flowery overwriting and honing prose to the basic bones. Today, if we wrote a story like Melville’s “Moby Dick”, readers would be annoyed. They KNOW what a whale looks like. They have the INTERNET. No need to spend a hundred pages prattling on about what a whale is.
And sure, we are perfectly allowed to remain in confines of established rules, but if we want our writing to evolve and keep pace with new readers we will find those rules can become ill-fitting. The teenager metaphor fits with someone who doesn’t understand craft and who wants to break rules for the sake of breaking them (yet doesn’t understand them). The artist, on the other hand, knows the rules and how to break them in ways to maximize the impact with the reader.
#71 by moirainori77 on November 5, 2014 - 12:04 am
Reblogged this on Sunflowers for Moira and commented:
Feels as if I’m forever stuck somewhere between Act 1 and Act 2. ^_^
#72 by spmedway on November 5, 2014 - 5:18 am
I’d like to think I am at the end of phase 2 but I’m probably nearer the beginning. Learning to spin all the plates at once is getting easier, but not as easy as I thought it was when I was a naïve newbie. Doing NaNo is like a rush of adrenaline to the head – awesome!
#73 by spmedway on November 5, 2014 - 5:23 am
Reblogged this on Susan Pope Books and commented:
I guess you could call this perfect philosophy for the struggling would-be writer. All credit to Kristen Lamb. Re-blogged with love ……
#74 by alicamckennajohnson on November 5, 2014 - 12:28 pm
YES!!! I have a friend who is a newbie and I keep letting her know about great craft books, speakers, blog posts, but she just isn’t ready for them yet. I’ll back off and she knows to come to me when she’s ready.
Also SO true about becoming a neophyte again when you switch genres. When I switched from YA to adult, just because I needed a break, my critique group thought I had written while drunk, or brain damaged! LOL
#75 by Joshua M Swenson on November 5, 2014 - 2:02 pm
The true master is always a beginner. Great post!
#76 by missionsgirl on November 5, 2014 - 3:05 pm
Journeying through the wilderness of suck right now, and reminding myself that eventually this too shall pass. In the meantime, however, I am sometimes tempted to bang my head repeatedly against a wall.
#77 by Chris L. Owens on November 5, 2014 - 6:38 pm
Reblogged this on One Writer's Journey by Chris Owens.
#78 by meandcoffeefairy on November 6, 2014 - 1:01 am
I have no idea of what POV is, I am sure that lets you know my status. I will research the term, for my quest of the unknown is on high alert now. I am still learning what do I have inside me to write about, right now a short story is all.
#79 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 6, 2014 - 7:44 am
Point of View. It GREATLY affects story and not all stories can use the same.
#80 by Mira Prabhu on November 6, 2014 - 2:15 am
Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
The Three “Acts” of a Writer’s Journey — From Newbie to Master — thanks for a great post, Kristen Lamb! Also a much needed one for those who don’t realize what tremendous commitment and effort it takes to become the best writer you can be…to achieve that smooth and lucid flow that appears to be so darn easy….but is in fact the result of years of hard (though blissful) work….
#81 by theworldoutsidethewindow on November 6, 2014 - 6:20 am
Great blog post and so very true. Thanks 🙂
#82 by Andrew Rogers on November 6, 2014 - 2:59 pm
Great post! So true. I remember the neophyte days well. 🙂
#83 by Donna Marie on November 6, 2014 - 6:33 pm
I’m on the newbie phase, dreadfully anticipating the critics of my first book that I sometimes just stop writing. Thoughts like I think I messed up the flow on one section in the chapter, or that the way the character said it was just not right, and that the emotions I am presenting is just too raw and too convoluted for my target audience often jump in my head. Like I’m editing the book even before it’s done with a critic already taking full-time residence in my head. Candace told me to just go and write, worry about those stuff later. If only my head will listen and just stop worrying about being a noob.
#84 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 6, 2014 - 7:47 pm
Donna, someone will ALWAYS hate your writing. And MINE. You can only write to YOUR audience.
#85 by Donna Marie on November 6, 2014 - 7:52 pm
Screenshot and wallpapered on my tablet. Thanks for the boost, it will help me shut up the critic as well as the green monster of envy in my head.
#86 by Renee Rose/Darling Adams on November 6, 2014 - 9:59 pm
Wow, you nailed it! The apprentice phase does suck the fun out of books! Thanks for this.
#87 by Rachel Thompson on November 7, 2014 - 10:07 am
Thanks for posting that pic of Hemingway. I never noticed it before but Earnest Hemingway has Donald Trump hair. No wounder he killed himself. If Trump is his reincarnation I’m not writing any more.
#88 by Aaron Schmidt on November 7, 2014 - 10:15 am
I hadn’t thought of it as a real process before, although I realize now that I’ve been in the apprentice stage for quite a while. I think if I would be totally fine with remaining in the latter stages of apprenticeship forever.
#89 by justjen61 on November 10, 2014 - 3:00 am
Thank you so much for making sense of the process I’ve been going through lately. I’ve only decided to get serious about writing over the last 2 months, and am doing NaNoWriMo to inspire myself. I’ve been an avid reader all my life, done the whole stay awake all night to finish the book I can’t put down. Lately though, I find myself reading the 1st two chapters of a book and putting it down to pick up another one. Or looking for books I’ve read in the past that I loved and re-reading a couple of chapters to try and work out exactly what it was about them I loved. I’ve just passed the magic 25,000 words mark and yesterday felt like all the air had suddenly gone out of the balloon. After reading your blogs I’m feeling a bit more inflated and have decided to get over myself, gaffer-tape the muse, and finish the damn thing!
#90 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 10, 2014 - 8:47 am
Jennifer, just remember. Inspiration is a fickle pain in the ass. Just keep writing. If we wait for the muse, she’ll go shoe-shopping.
#91 by Anna Barendt on November 10, 2014 - 9:58 pm
I think I am the eternal apprentice. I have been doing nano for over 6 years–and this year I broke the rules. I am finishing my novel from last year, and doing it by hand. I used to be a medical transcriptionist and can blast out words like nobody’s business, which unfortunately led me to procrastinating. Writing by hand, I have to have BIC and write every morning. It is a whole different world. Thank you for your words of encouragement. 🙂
#92 by zarodazoro on November 14, 2014 - 11:38 pm
I know I’m no newbie, I remember punching the piano keys anyway I wanted. My writing was horrible, but then suddenly things made sense. I guess I’m not that higher level of intermediate yet, but I’m getting there. Hopefully I’ll be that lucky one that jumps straight to mastery! (haha)
#93 by Cary Area Writer's Group on November 22, 2014 - 8:53 pm
Oh yeah, another great article. And I so want to win the unvarnished truth from you! May the FLOW be with you… DJ Marcussen, writing from the CAWG Blog.