If You Don't Feel Like a Writer, Be an Apprentice

If You Don’t Feel Like a Writer,
Let Yourself Be a Writer Apprentice Instead

If You Don’t Feel Like a Writer, Be an Apprentice. Written by Jess Davidson. Painting: Detail from “Jeune fille grecque” by Charles Amable Lenoir

I have no idea how to tell this story.

This thought pops up somewhere around, oh, day three of prep week for my first short story. (My goal is to write three in the next three months. I’ve got a very official looking six-part plan for prepping and writing each month, complete with weekly deadlines, etc.) But halfway through the first week of this new adventure, and there I am, feeling like a fraud, completely paralyzed.

Are these characters right? She’s kind of cliché … Is she just me? The relationship between these two characters is too complex for a short story. How am I going to express it in a few pages? Am I making a mistake setting the scene this way? Maybe it should be told from this new character’s point of view. Maybe this story is too important to be the first one I try to write.

That last thought? That’s when I know I’m picking up momentum in a direction I do not like. Instead of feeling the joy of finally allowing myself to be creative again, instead of affirming my reclaimed identity as a writer, I’m beating myself down, and I’m trying (desperately) to rationalize my fear of being outside my comfort zone as meaning that I’m actually not ready to be outside my comfort zone. And I know that that’s just not true.

Writers write. But also, apprentices learn.

I am a writer, and so are you, if we write. Plain and simple. But if we can’t allow ourselves to write because we’re too busy being wrapped up in all the insecurities we have about being beginners, then maybe we just need to come at it from a different angle.

So I can’t quite feel comfortable claiming being a writer yet. Okay. But I do feel like I can be a pretty decent writer apprentice.

As a writer apprentice, I get to do the work without the pressure. I get to focus on the process of learning to write the stories I want to write, of learning to write the characters that I want to read about.

I went to the library and checked out some short story collections: The Unreal and the Real by Ursula K. Le Guin; Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman; The Best American Mystery Stories of 2016; a couple others. As a writer apprentice, I’m letting myself observe how other writers perform their craft, how they tell their stories, how they convey their characters, how they pace their scenes. It’s okay for me to not know how to do these things yet, because as an apprentice, I’m a professional learner.

As an apprentice, I’m a professional learner.

As a writer apprentice, I get to have the opportunity of gaining experience through practice, of building habits, of experimenting and letting myself try things that, y’know, might not work out how I’d hoped. And as a writer apprentice, that feels more welcome. As a writer apprentice, all the writing I’m doing — even/especially when it feels outside my comfort zone — is just making me a better apprentice. And someday, I’ll be a better writer for it.

Thinking of myself as a writer apprentice allows me to do the work I want and need to do — writing — without getting hung up on those feelings of not knowing enough or being good enough at this yet. If I’m paralyzed by my own ambitions of being a writer, of what I should be creating (or able to create) as a writer, then I don’t even get to start.

So, for now, I’m a writer apprentice. And, for now, that’s good enough.