Like the apprentices of medieval times, my writing apprenticeship began with lots of observation. In other words, reading. I still think that reading widely is one of the best ways to learn, but one drawback is the way styles and conventions change. I was a closet writer for about sixteen years before I ventured to share my words with anyone. While it wasn't the worst writing in the world, it certainly wasn't the best either, and much of that was due to my reliance on classics, while not paying attention to what current best practices entailed. I came to a rude awakening when I submitted my first manuscripts. Rejection followed rejection and things that I had never even thought about before came glaringly to light.
The next stage of my apprenticeship relied mostly on this painful trial and error method. Rejection was followed by revision, resubmission and inevitably more rejection. Forgive my use of the cliche, but it really was a 'rejection-revision-resubmission-rejection' merry-go-round, and it lasted for about seven years. Looking back, I am sure I could have learned most of these lessons by taking a course or joining a critique group, but I didn't have the time, the finances, or the contacts. (Hindsight says these options would have been easier and faster, but c'est la vie...)
And the Beat Goes On.
The apprenticeship continued, however. I was suddenly thrust into the world of marketing and self promotion; social media and networking. Talk about a steep learning curve! Since that first book came out in 2009 I am amazed at how much I have grown and learned about all aspects of the industry - and also appalled at how much I still need to learn! I often feel like I am one step behind the pack, struggling to keep up.
Not only has the learning continued on the business side of things, but my writing has changed and grown as well. (At least I hope I can say that!) I have a fairly long list of published work from novels to stage plays to non-ficiton, yet, it seems I am always finding things that I wish I could change. Too many adjectives, too many elaborate dialogue tags, too much exposition ... these are just a few things I see in some of my earlier novels that make me cringe. Until the rights to those works revert back to me, however, there is little I can do about it. While the average reader doesn't seem to notice, I NOTICE - and that means this apprentice is still growing and not ashamed to admit it.
If I was to do anything differently I would probably make sure I joined a critique group sooner. It is so important to have other eyes look over one's work and some of the mistakes that irritate me now might have been avoided if I had had more honest criticism. Also, I think I would be more diligent in making sure each contract is the best it can be. I was so excited to even get a contract the first time that I didn't really care what it said. Seven years is a long time to wait for the rights to one's own words. Similarly, formatting mistakes I have found in another series of my books are beyond of my control.
My writing apprenticeship has been long and sometimes winding, spanning more than thirty years. I use the verb 'has' because I still feel like I am a long way from mastery. Maybe that's the key to keeping things fresh.