categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour
I’ve been thinking a lot about apprenticeship lately, though I’m not sure exactly why (old age? sentimentality?) I don’t think I ever actually used the word “apprentice” when I was one: all I really knew or thought about was making the book I was working on great, and getting it published so that it would change the world forever. As it turned out, I wrote three books before getting the fourth one published, which ended up taking about thirteen years, and the world did not seem particularly changed.
Of course looking back I somewhat romanticize the time before book. I’m not a groovy type, and I don’t pay lip service to “process” over results, but I do think the period of working hard without any rewards was perhaps the most important, if not the most pleasant, period of my life. It is important, too, for my job today, since I spend a lot of time with young writers who are in exactly the position I was in then. When I work with them, I try not to forget what it really felt like: the energy, the frustration, the thrill of small breakthroughs, the bitterness.
Since I’ve been thinking about it a lot, I thought I’d kick off Cocktail Hour with a few pieces about apprenticeship, that is, about getting started. The first is Bill’s great essay, “On Apprenticeship,” which gets right to the heart of the matter. The second is a piece I wrote just a couple of weeks ago, a direct address to young writers with the timeworn title of “Letter to an Apprentice.” I’m worried about playing Polonius in this essay—“O Listen to me, the wise old sage”—and I’m worried that I’ve ripped you off, Bill, since a lot of what I know about so-called apprenticeship is stuff I’ve learned/stolen from you and your books. But I’m going to publish it anyway.
The last piece I’m more confident in. It’s called “Pep Talk” and it’s in my new favorite genre to work in, the cartoon essay. It springs, as it says in the cartoon, from a recent talk with two former grad students, though I should point out the cartoons of the students intentionally don’t look like them, to preserve their anonymity (so don’t worry about anyone recognizing you, Emily and Kimi.) This is the first of a monthly cartoon series I will be publishing called “Talking to Ghosts,” which you can find in Bill and Dave’s Lounge.
By the way, there’s lots of other stuff in our lounge (or at least there will be soon). For instance, Bill will be filming a monologue about his days as a musician called “I Used to Play in Bands” and we will post podcasts and movies and a bunch more cartoons. Since we are writers, most of it will focus on writing, but we hope to swerve away from the subject into whatever else we feel like talking about. Bill and I have found, during the dozen or so times we have run into each other, that we love getting together to talk, often over drinks, and that love was a large part of the inspiration for this site. Since Bill lives in Maine and I live in North Carolina, we thought the site might serve as a meeting place, a place to shoot the shit with each other and other writers. “The ritual of cocktail hour represents the communion of all friendly minds separated in time and space,” wrote Conrad Aiken. That’s it exactly. And this site, we thought, would be a good place for our virtual cocktail hour.
So, cheers. And here, without further ado, is “Pep Talk.”