Moving From Apprentice to Artist


You watch semi-talented singers being coached on American Idol and the Voice, right? They’re supposedly getting advice on how to make the best use of their talents, right? But if you’re a writer watching these shows, do irritable thoughts enter you asking, in effect, “Where’s this sort of help for writers?” Sure, there are workshops and summer residencies, but you’re just one more face in the crowd at those gatherings, so where’s the help? Writer magazines such as Poets&Writers, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer expend a lot of ink on how to get published, and they do offer some measure of advice on how to improve your craft, but what to do once you’ve assimilated those baby steps? And asking an established writer to mentor you, while being potentially helpful, is a long shot.

One other resource comes in the form of The Writer’s Chronicle, a magazine published by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and can help once you’ve passed your apprentice phase and enter the journeyman level. Virtually all of this mag’s articles are by established writers or creative writing instructors.

Uh oh, you say, here we go with the MFA malarkey. Well, not really. Many of these article writers do teach in MFA programs, but I suspect they write for TWC because they have a lot to say that MFA students find hard to assimilate. Which is why I mention the December 2014 issue of TWC. Now, I’ve been known to bemoan many of TWC‘s issues, because of  the heavy emphasis on poetry.

This issue begins with a conversation between David Shields and Davis Schneiderman as they try to talk their way through their writing lives. Their gab-fest comes loaded with arcane terms, but if you sweat your way through these, you just may find ways to understand yourself as a writer.

If you’ve ever been tempted into dabbling in historical fiction, you might wonder: How do I know the historical “facts” aren’t slanted to support a historical bias? In fact, can I really trust my own memory in writing about a significant era I’ve lived through? And doubly to the point, is historical fiction relevant? Here’s one thing to consider in this respect: Historians will write the chronology of events and eras, but their writing stops short of delving into the thoughts, the inner conflicts of historical figures, whether they be the famed or faces in the crowd. This, writes Hillary Moses Mohaupt, is where fiction enters the picture, as she quotes John Gardner:

“The first business of the writer must be to make us see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel…we must be drawn into the character’s world as if we were born to it.”

Robert Powers writes in this issue on the difficulties of creating literary narrative in our current era of constant change; i.e., how do we adapt our writing skills to reflect through narrative this constant state of flux? He does offer specifics, but this is the gist:

“Literature that doesn’t (only) entertain defamiliarizes the familiar; it calls into question deeply held convictions and changes the way we look at the world and our daily lives.”

It’s good to read, however randomly such occurs, advice that will move a conscientious writer from the journeyman level to that of the artist. Such is this issue of The Writer’s Chronicle.

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