Hi. I'm Jenna McGuiggan.
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Entries in apprenticeships (2)


Dealing with Writer's Doubt (and the If-Then Loop)

There's something just as bad as Writer's Block. In fact, I think it's probably what leads to a lot of cases of being blocked. It's insidious and pervasive, and if you're a writer, you probably know it well. I'm talking about Writer's Doubt.

Let's say that the writing has been hard lately. Say that the doubts about your ability have been boisterous. Say that you've considered giving up this pipe dream of being a writer and buckling down into a more practical field, maybe nursing or dog walking. Say that you feel like a fraud, an imposter, a wannabe.

Say you're stuck in an If-Then Loop:

If I could just take more writing classes....

If I could just get an advanced degree....

If I could just get this story published....

If I could just finish my manuscript....

If I could just get an agent....

If I could just get a publisher....

If I could just get a great review....

If I could just get more publicity....

If I could just figure out what I'm going to write next....

The problem with this If-Then Loop is that the "then" is an empty promise. If this, then what?

We think that if we do or have or achieve something on the list, then writerly fulfillment or fame is just around the corner. Perhaps. But perhaps not.

I've had several conversations lately with various writer friends and clients at various stages of their writing careers. We've talked about facing Writer's Doubt and the ways those doubts chip away at our motivation and self-assurance. The fascinating thing is that I'm hearing the same kinds things from writers across the experience spectrum, from relative beginners to published authors.

So many of us, no matter where we are on this spectrum, keep thinking that the writing will get easier, or that the rewards will somehow increase if we can just close the gap between if and then, between here and there.

But we're all coming up for air a bit bedraggled with the realization that there is no "there" there.

You can't get there from here because there is nowhere to get to. 

Here's the best advice I have for both myself and others right now:

I hope you'll work through or just leave behind those doubts you've been feeling. I say "leave behind," as though I know how to do that myself. Let's be honest: Doubt is part of the creative process. Hell, it's part of life, I suppose.

We doubt and worry about the things we care about. Maybe those don't ever really go away, even after we've been practicing our craft for a long time, even after we've seen our own progress and celebrated some successes. But I think we can learn to acknowledge that the doubts are there and then keep on truckin'.

I think that being a writer (or any kind of creator) means that we're always chasing a moving target. The target is somewhere across that gap between our creative taste and our creative abilities that Ira Glass talks about.  

As we practice writing, we do narrow the gap, but then the target (which is called how-good-we-want-to-be) moves, so that we never close the gap for long. This can be a source of great frustration, or it can become a source of comfort for us. Maybe we can find a way to use it to stay enthusiastic and in love with our craft. Maybe we can use it to quiet the voices of Writer's Doubt.

Here's the thing: If the gap never really closes, then we're never really failing.

We're just always on the creative journey. We're doing our work, we're diving deeper, taking creative chances, putting in the time to learn and bloom. We keep following the star or ember or distant shimmer that we're always chasing, and we writing it down as best we can in that moment. We keep doing it, we keep doing it, we keep doing it. Doubts and all.

So, you ask: If this, then what?

I don't know. But if not this, then what else?

I can't cure your writer's doubt for you, but I can show you ways to move through it to the other side.

I offer mentoring, coaching, feedback, and editing services for beginning, intermediate, and advanced writers.

If you'd like some support for your writing life and creative work,I'd love to talk with you about scheduling a single writing mentoring session or customizing an ongoing writing apprenticeship for you. Interested in learning more? Please get in touch with me.


Introducing The Word Cellar Writing Guild Apprenticeships

One year ago I was in Montpelier, Vermont, getting ready to graduate with my masters degree in creative writing. In fact, I gave my graduating lecture on the Fourth of July, squeezed into the time slot between lunch and the annual VCFA Poets vs. Writers softball game. (I didn't play, but I hear that the Writers won and the Poets brooded about it.) A few days later I sat on a stage with my classmates while the college president conferred the status of "master" upon us, a term which makes me giggle and sigh with a shake of my head every time I think about it. Master. What a weird, loaded word. (Sometimes I like to feminize it: Mistress. That makes me giggle even more. I have a Mistress of Fine Arts. Better yet: I am a Mistress of Fine Arts.) (Sometimes, when I have too many to-do lists scattered arond the house, I consolidate them into one "Mistress List.") (Get it?)

The term "Master" is almost embarrassing. It implies that I've, well, you know, mastered creative writing. It insinuates that there's an endpoint to the learning and the practicing of this fine art. But, of course, there's not. I still have much to learn, to read, to write.

And yet, I have learned some enormously important things about writing during my two years of study, and I've grown tremendously as a writer over the past decade. I love to share what I've learned because it's fun and fulfilling to see people light-up with creative spark and have their own little literary epiphanies. In addition to teaching and sharing through my Alchemy e-courses and small group workshops, I've also been working with individuals to provide coaching, feedback, and editing services.

This summer, in honor of my one-year anniversary as a Master Mistress, I've launched The Word Cellar Writing Guild, three-month apprenticeships during which you receive personalized mentoring for every aspect of your writing life. Basically, I've bundled together my feedback, editing, and coaching services and created a mentoring program that address the four key areas of your writing life: writing, feedback, reading, and support. 

I've modeled The Guild apprenticeships on my experience in a low-residency MFA program. I took the best parts of my experience (accountability, support, inspiration, resources, practical advice, and the opportunity to practice writing) and created a doable, affordable program for other writers and wish-to-be writers. All of the apprenticeships include the same level of individualized support and feedback, but there are three tiers to choose from, based on how much writing you want to do.

At the Introductory level, you write 5-10 pages per month. For the Intermediate apprenticeship, you'll write 10-20 pages per month. And if you choose the Intensive apprenticeship, you'll submit 20-30 pages each month. Since the apprenticeships last for three months, you'll  end up writing (and getting feedback on) 15 to 90 pages. That's a wide range, but it means that you can set the goals and dreams that fit what you need right now.

Full details about The Guild and apprenticeships are over here. I've also listed some mini-mentoring sessions near the bottom of that page in case you'd prefer a single session of coaching or editorial feedback.

I know I'm playing up this idea of "master" and "apprentice" by calling these three-month gigs "apprenticeships." In the Medieval system of guilds, there were three levels of craftsmen: apprentice, journeyman, and master. A journeyman was a paid member of the guild who had completed an apprenticeship and was working on his masterpiece, which he hoped would grant him the rank of master. The term "journeyman" comes from Middle English word journey, meaning "a day's labor," which, I presume  derives from French, since the French word for "day" is jour. Nowadays, "Journeyman" is used to mean someone who has learned a trade and works for another person, usually by the day.

But the word "journey" by itself has a different connotation, doesn't it? In my mind, it hints at an ongoing path, a quest, a neverending sojourn. Graduate degree notwithstanding, the writing life is a journey.

So what if we feminized and modernized "journeyman" and made it journeywoman? I like the sounds of that. I'm a woman on a writing journey, and I've learned some things along the way that I'd like to share with you. If you could use a traveling companion and guide, I'd love to walk with you.