The Journeyman State

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the journeyman state. When you decide you’re going to learn a new skill, you begin as a beginner, a rank amateur. You don’t really expect anything good to happen as you write or paint or sculpt, you just wonder and delight at the fact that you’re doing it at all.

After a while, maybe a year or two, maybe ten, depending on how much time you dedicate to your new craft and how much exploratory work you actually output, you learn the basics. Sometimes the things you make are actually pretty good, although they are never quite as good as you wish they were. And sometimes, every once in a while, you will successfully sell your art to someone. I’m not a beginner anymore, you think, I’m getting there. It’s going to happen. You’re a journeyman now, honing your craft. And you think, because you’ve got all that beginners stuff down, that it will happen soon. That you are close.

You are not.

And unless you are stupidly, freakishly lucky, you are going to be a journeyman for a long, long time. Take the time you spent in a beginner state, and  triple it. Now you start to get the idea.

And I’m writing about this now, because I dearly wish someone had explained this to me five or six years ago. Now, here’s the other half of the secret:  It’s okay to be a journeyman. It’s fine – it’s great, in fact. Because this is the place where you learn whether you love something so much that you just don’t care whether it loves you back. This is the place where you find out if your passion is made of smoke or steel. This is the place where you soldier on.

Ira says it better than I can:

I have just begun my querying process for my novel, and I am already trying to accept imminent failure. This is not pessimism; it is pragmatism, hard learned. There have been times in the past where I thought I’d come to the end of this stage of my journey, and was dead wrong, and suffered for it. I don’t want to set myself up for that pain of false expectation again – it’s just too bitter.

I am a journeyman writer. I write, and read, and write some more. I submit my stories, and once in a while, I sell something. Maybe I will sell this novel. Maybe it won’t be till the next one. Maybe it’ll be the tenth one, or the twentieth.

There’s only one way to find out.