April 03, 2016

An Apprentice Acrostic by Steph Beth Nickel

Just what makes a good writing apprentice anyway?

It doesn’t do us any good to accumulate vast amounts of know-how we never apply. There will always be one more “indispensable” book on the craft of writing, always one more “must-read” blog post. And while there are hundreds—even thousands—of amazing resources out there, one of the most important things is to start applying what we’re learning as soon as possible. We can’t wait until we know it all or we’ll never put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

This goes hand-in-hand with application and reminds us we won’t get it perfect right out of the gate. It takes time to develop a new skill, writing included. And there are always more facets of the craft to learn and practice along the way, no matter how long we’ve been writing or how prolific we are.

I know this is very much like “practice,” but I want to give a little pep talk to those of you who are ready to throw in the proverbial towel—or perhaps toss the actual computer. There are times—no matter how often we write or rewrite a book, a paragraph, even a sentence—we just can’t get it the way we want it. Should we walk away from writing and doing something easier—tightrope walking or motorcycle racing, for example? Maybe for a time, but if God has called us to write, we must persist. Michael Chang was onto something when he said, “If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try, try again. http://www.brainyquote.com/

So far we’ve talked about “doing” and that is important, but so is “not doing.” There are times we need to walk away from our writing, to set aside the how-to books, to clear our head. Exercise. Go for a walk, camera in hand. Watch a movie. Go out to dinner. Or physically rest, as in take a nap. As we all know (and too often pretend we don’t), it takes energy to write, and energy comes from doing something restful and / or revitalizing.

A good apprentice is constantly evaluating any number of things. Is the advice they are receiving helpful, applicable to their project? Do they have time to add one more skill to their current workload? Is their work more finely crafted than it was last month? Last week? Yesterday?

As we develop the craft of writing, we must navigate some challenging waters. What should I write? What skills are most essential? How should I publish? Who’s my audience? How can I best market my work? The list goes on and on. Instead of seeing it as the mountain we can never climb or the sea we can never cross, let’s consider it an adventure. (After all, we’re actually apprentices for life. Let’s do our best to enjoy the journey.)

This can be one of the most difficult things to do. We may want to toss our old writing projects. After all, they make us shake our head and ask, “What was I thinking when I wrote that?” It’s important to at least save some of our old work. After all, how can we track our development, our improvement if we delete all proof that we’ve made progress?

Writers are apprentices to several individuals along the journey. Maybe it started with that first casual remark: you have a way with words; you should be a writer. From there, we encounter teachers, webinar instructors, and authors of how-to books.  We may even join a critique group whose members instruct us how to make our work better. We must continue to seek and apply insightful instruction as long as we continue to write.

There’s a right time to step back, take a look at the work, and declare it finished. It’s better than when we started and it’s ready to send into the world. It isn’t always easy. We may second guess ourselves. We may see imaginary flaws in the workmanship. But if we’ve done our best to be good apprentices, there comes a time to release our work and rejoice.


As we are encouraged in our writing (or in any area), it’s vitally important that we offer encouragement to others, maybe even someone who isn’t as far along the journey as we are. That individual just may become our unofficial apprentice, learn from us, and continue the cycle.


  1. Some excellent points to ponder Steph. Thanks

  2. Great way to present writing as an apprenticeship - acrostically speaking, that is! Super points. ;)

  3. I like well done acrostics- a lot of great encouragement-Thanks!

  4. Thanks for this excellent post, Steph. You put the acrostic format to good use. You had me hooked from at the letter A. You are so correct to say that there will always be one more book or one more blog to read, or one more course to take. Each of these are presented with so much hype. Gurus promise to turn us into best-selling authors at the drop of several hundred dollars.

    That is why I agree so strongly with this statement of yours: " . . . One of the most important things is to start applying what we’re learning as soon as possible. We can’t wait until we know it all or we’ll never put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard."

    It's like learning to play the piano. You learn the names of the keys and notes as you go. You can't become a concert pianist in a year, so how could you write a great book when you are a beginning writer. I suppose a person could, but this is the exception rather than practical. We need to put in the practice. Too much theory at the beginning could make us like the caterpillar figuring out how his feet work.

    Blessings, Steph!


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