The Apprenticeship Model 

October 10, 2022 § 11 Comments

By Angie Chatman

As a writer teaching writing to adults in colleges, universities, and community organizations for over a decade, the most frequent question I get from my students is, “When will I get my paper back with your comments?” Never mind that it’s on the syllabus that I return papers within a week of submission if they are submitted on time. For many of my students, that is never soon enough. 

The Instagram/Tik-Tok/YouTube/Twitterverse has trained us to expect feedback, satisfaction, gratification, or a clap back within seconds. Social media has shifted expectations, so that a response to even the most mundane topic not only needs to go viral, but it must also do so within minutes, or it doesn’t have value. Now, people see “likes” as the path from novice to master, and they want to get there as quickly as possible.

I also blame, in part, the US education system. At all levels, people consider learning as a series of tasks to master followed by a multiple-choice test where the correct answer is hidden amongst a bunch of red herrings. The progression becomes: learn the information, regurgitate it on a test, get the grade, move to the next level.

Creative writing doesn’t fit that paradigm at all. Like any art form or taught skill – learning how to dance, make music, mold clay, knit, crochet, embroider, carve – writing is best done via the apprenticeship model where you acquire skills from others who have more experience than you. 

It also takes time. Lots of time.

There are no “grades.” No right or wrong answers. There are critiques, and suggestions, and guidance; however, apprentices don’t sit around and wait for feedback before taking the next step with their craft. Instead, they keep working, keep trying, keep experimenting. After years, and years, one may become a master, though even when that level is reached, writers recognize that there is still more to learn. 

I had the pleasure of listening to cellist Yo-Yo Ma discuss the role of music in developing leadership skills for scientists. In that talk, he shared that he still practices for hours every day. 


Why? Doesn’t he already “know” the music? Of course, he does. He’s certainly memorized the notes. He has the awards, honors, and “good grades” to document his mastery of the instrument. He has reached the highest levels for a cellist in the world.

Ma said he continues to practice a piece because there’s always more to access, more to interpret, more to feel. He considers his concerts a form of service. For him, it’s “part of the business of being human” to play to the best of his ability every single time. Not every single concert. Every single time he puts his bow to the strings. 

There is no quick answer to how to be an artist. There is only being an artist. Don’t judge your work by how many likes you receive, how many times you’ve been published, in which literary magazines your work appears. Write because that’s the business of being a writer. Write to nurture humanity. And most important, write to nurture your soul.

Angie Chatman is a writer and storyteller. She appeared on the Moth Radio Hour episode, “Help Me.” Her essays have appeared in TaintTaintTaint Magazine, Literary Landscapes, the Rumpus, Pangyrus, Hippocampus Magazine, and fwriction: review. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and won a WEBBY award for storytelling on GBH/World Channel’s Stories from the Stage. A Chicago native, Angie now lives in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston with her family, including rescue dog, Lizzie. She earned an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte.

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