The Writing Apprentice & the Toothless Alligator

Read everything–trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out.  ~William Faulkner

Faulkner may be an old dead guy. but he knew his shit. Think about it. We call ourselves writers because we write. And we write because of a passion for books–for the written word.

So wherever we find ourselves on the continuum of craft–from newbie to New York Times Bestseller, we must continue to learn and grow97358030 until we join the likes of Faulkner–in the final horizontal HOO-RAH, that is.

And to progress, to stretch our talents and skills, we must keep on reading.

In my years teaching creative-writing, we wrote a blue streak–but we also read during class. My students valued the time. And I do say we–I likewise read as I modeled the habits-of-mind of the creative writer.

Habits-of-mind, by the way, that should be like those of a toothless alligator (albeit one who is a snappy dresser and digs poolside beverage service.)

But before we get to the toothless but sharp-dressed alligator, a major supposition:

We creatives are a neurotic lot and it is easy to compare another writer’s talent or voice or easy success to our own talent or voice or uphill journey. Don’t go there. Remember, you are a badass. You are here to write your story your way. But there are still rules, conventions, and markets to consider.

Just the way you wouldn’t get up on an Olympic diving platform and attempt a back one-and-a-half somersault with a one-and-a-half twist in the free position without some study, practice and even coaching, you likewise need study, practice and even coaching as a writer.

That being said, know that if you’re going to make it as a writer, assume the habits-of-mind of a toothless alligator:

  1. When you receive criticism–even from yourself, digest it in the sunshine of a willing spirit.
  2. Do not snap blindly at the criticism of others with your strong jaw and sharp teeth.
  3. Do not retreat to the swamp when you’re feeling less than adequate. Keep reading. Keep writing.
  4. Develop the alligator’s thick hide. Be strong as 100% Genuine Alligator cowboy boots.
  5. Do not let criticism or insecurity steal your hunger for the craft.
  6. Eat or be eaten. Be strong and work harder.
  7. Finished with a piece? Then put on your snappiest outfit, and get it out there. Celebrate with poolside beverage service. Or a run to McDonald’s for a milkshake if you’re not on the James Patterson or J.K. Rowling budget.
  8. Continue reading. Even if all you have on hand is a People Magazine like Mr. Alligator (pictured above). Per William Faulkner, trash counts.
  9. Start a new project so you forget the other one is out there while you wait for a thumbs up or thumbs down.
  10. If at first you don’t succeed, or at fifth, or twelfth, or twentieth, don’t bite the thumbs that feed you–the agents, the editors, the gatekeepers, the readers. Keep writing. Like Faulkner said, “If it’s good, you’ll find out.”
  11. Finally, graciously ignore non-writers when they ask why you haven’t published a book yet. They know less about doing so than alligators know about Olympic platform diving.

You are not here by accident. God gave you talents, an intellect and a voice. Stretch your creative muscles. Write. Write. Write. Then share with a critique group or partner. Revise. Revise. Revise. 1

But also keep reading. Even when you’re writing. No matter where you are in your journey as a writer, own it and grow it.

A helpful tip: when you are writing fiction, try reading nonfiction and vice-versa. This way you will be less tempted to slide into someone else’s voice and style–especially if you’re still developing your own.

I’ll close with another quote by Faulkner–you can’t dislike a guy who wrote a short story about a spinster who kept the dead, decaying body of her suitor in bed with her. Necrophilia anyone? Talk about a climax and denouement–it always got a rise out of my American Literature classes–and informed them that as students, writers, and human beings, they might not have heard it all after all. (“A Rose for Emily” if you’re intrigued.)



Keep on reading and write on,

S.J. Anderson, Foxy Writer Chick





Photo credit:

Alligator cartoon, Getty Images, Andy Zito



3 thoughts on “The Writing Apprentice & the Toothless Alligator

  1. Sage wisdom, Sjam aka HFS! I often think there are too many lists, then I read one on a new subject and realize that they not only contain the marrow of the tome, but give a direction for further study. Your remarks about creative people and perseverance are on the mark, because ultimately you are a salesman and you cannot be uniformed o have a thin skin for that either. Kudos and godspeed in your quest. CAB dvc

    Liked by 1 person

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