Back in the old days, the really old days, there were publishers who staffed a person called an editor. This person was unique because not only did she look for stellar manuscripts, but also hunted for promising talent that, with some guidance, could produce great stories. The editor would teach, nurture, challenge, and stretch the new writer until the author produced a much better story.
Gone are those days. Editors are too busy to develop writers like in the past. Instead, they are feeling the pressure to launch books into the marketplace. They either don’t publish the authors who are almost there or they don’t nurture the writer to the level they use to and books get being published that are not at their best.
So does this mean the day of apprenticeship is gone, never to be seen again? Is the writer left to wander around without help? Of course not. Modern day apprenticeship just looks different, but doesn’t every aspect of publishing?
Never fear, there are many options for a new writer to receive an apprenticeship.
- Take online writing classes from places like Savvy Authors. Online courses are a great, convenient way to learn more about the business and craft of writing. It has the advantageous of being able to take it on your own time. Classes also help the writer zero in a specific area of writing/marketing to help beef up skills.
The drawback to taking formal classes is the syllabus is set to what the teacher has planned (which can be great). There is little room for customization to the student’s unique needs. Plus, the writer is completely in charge of her education as a writer. She picks which classes she is taking and which ones she isn’t. If the student does nothing else but online classes, she will have blind spots to areas she needs to improve. Having a teacher looking at the overall development is extremely helpful just like a weight trainer is to a person trying to become fit.
- Take offline classes. Local writing classes are a great way to learn the basics and to be with other students who are in the similar stage of writing. Meeting at the physical location also makes it possible to develop relationships with other writers and perhaps gain local support.
Drawbacks: Sometimes the writing classes are too advanced or too basic for the student. It can be challenging to find the classes that are at the right level.
- Earn your MFA. Some writers voice this is the only way to enhance one’s writing. Others say that it hurts the writer and their skills. It is an option and does expose the student to how creative writing is viewed in the academic world. There are many more variety of MFA programs. Some universities are offering certificate programs in creative writing/fiction, which are less expensive, and most can be completed online.
Drawbacks: The biggest setback is the two or three years it takes to earn the degree. In addition, the expense of gaining an MFA might be beyond the financial ability of many writers. Plus, the school will require the writer to do a lot of other work besides creating writing like writing critical papers and assigned reading.
- This is a great way of bettering a writer’s skills and gain the experience of structuring a story.
Drawbacks: By writing outside of feedback, improving one’s skills will be slower. The writer won’t stretch as much as she would be under supportive guidance.
- Critique Groups. Critique groups can help the writer in getting feedback on his/her work and to getting a fresh response. A critique group can also help the writer to recognize the mistakes that are made in the works of others. Also critique groups give the writer a chance to give feedback to others, which often improves one’s own writing.
Drawbacks: The advice and feedback come from peers. This creates the danger that the feedback is given out of preference rather than looking at the story from seasoned craftsmanship.
Another drawback is sometimes groups can become political, or the feedback comes from people used to the way the writer writes. The writer can become comfortable and not be challenged to take her writing to a more developed form.
- This is a method which takes the best part of the old fashion editor, critique group, classes on and offline, and MFA’s and puts it all together. If the writer finds the right mentor for her, she creates the modern apprenticeship scenario.
Drawbacks: But the downside of this method is if the writer doesn’t find the right fit, the writer could become discouraged about her writing. Some mentors are very expensive and even the reasonable priced one’s may be beyond the means of many writers. But if the writer finds the right mentor, the writer will write more, faster, and better.
What to look out for when searching for a mentor?
If you are just starting out, a good mentor looks like someone that can meet you where you are and stretch you to the next level just enough so that you are growing but not to the point that you panic. Growth is sometimes a challenge for the individual who is at the beginning level. It takes a lot of patience for even accomplished writers when they are mentored.
The advantage for the mentor to coach someone through these beginning stages is that they get to cover the principles of building a strong foundation over and over, and that information will sink in at a subconscious level. Covering the small finite details and principles of the craft will only enhance knowledge.
Positive Mindsets Exist
A good mentor looks at the student’s work and knows how to point out the positive and what she is doing right just as much as pointing out what isn’t working. The mentor balances the positive and the negative feedback so that the student is motivated to keep moving forward and trying.
The interaction of the mentor and the person coached is critical. Is the mentor positive and inspiring, or does the mentor motivate through fear, put downs, or shame? What style works best for you?
The Blessing of Hard
When some part of the craft is exceptionally difficult, it is beneficial to have a mentor that will help the student stay on task and keep working on the skill until eventually the student can accomplish what she set out to do. Some of the hidden benefits of sticking to it are that the student can penetrate the depth of the practice. If something comes too easy, it is common to overlook some principle that could be learned when a deeper concentration is used.
Having a mentor can help cut years off the writer’s learning curve. Finding the right one is important to overall experience and keeping the writer motivated to move forward.
Lisa will be presenting her workshop, Just Finish the Damn Book, starting on July 10th. Just in time to get that book finished for summer so you can start pitching in the fall.