Four Ways to Apprentice as a Writer

One of the things that struck me as I read Stephen King’s On Writing (besides his reliance on the “S” word!) was his depiction of some of his first steps as a writer. Back then, a fiction writer could cut his teeth, so to speak, writing for pulp magazines (Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, etc.), weeklies (Saturday Evening Post, etc.), monthlies (including so-called men’s magazines), and so on, before “hitting it big” with a novel like Carrie.

I’m much, much younger than Mr. King—please believe me—but when I started writing for publication, there were similar steps a writer could climb: Sunday school take-home papers, devotional magazines, denominational magazines, national publications, and so on.

Unfortunately, many of those opportunities—which served some of us as a sort of apprenticeship as we wrote, learned, tried, failed, and sometimes succeeded—are gone today. There just aren’t as many incremental steps to publishing success as there used to be – for crying out loud, some of the publications I wrote for in the past now prefer pieces by Joyce Carol Oates (whatever).

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to learn, grow, and develop as a writer. Here are three ways to apprentice these days:

1. Read, watch, and learn.

Stephen King refers to devouring issues of Writer’s Digest (which has existed since 1921) in his youth. Today’s writer has many more options. For Christian writers, I suggest not only subscribing to Writer’s Digest but also to The Christian Communicator, which is published specifically for Christian writers and speakers. But wait, there’s more! Aspiring and accomplished writers alike profit from writers’ conferences which offer classes, workshops, editorial appointments, and more (such as May’s Blue Lake Christian Writers Retreat and the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, where you can meet me!). There are also online learning options, such as the Christian Writers Institute (full disclosure: I’m the executive editor, until the boss, Steve Laube, fires me!), which offers 100 audio and video courses for writers at all stages of development. Or the Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild, which offers monthly or annual subscription options. And, of course, following blogs such as this one and author Edie Melson’s The Write Conversation blog will provide ongoing education and edification for anyone interested in writing and publishing.

2. Write for nonpublication.

A famous writer friend of mine (yes, I have friends, and some of them are famous) once told me that he never really wanted to write and publish anything but novels and novellas. So he decided that he would write his first four full-length novels for his eyes only. He figured that he would gain experience after a half-million words of writing that could then give him skills and confidence to write his first book for publication. And he did. He’s among today’s best-selling novelists.

That took a lot of determination, more than most writers have today (of course, it didn’t hurt that he had a glamorous and high-paying job before becoming a glamorous and well-paid author). But that kind of perseverance will serve any writer well.

3. Join a writers’ group.

Many writers have found great blessing and benefit from joining a writers group. One of the many good things about The Christian Writers Market Guide is the twenty-eight-page, state-by-state index of writers groups it provides. Some host their own conferences or retreats. Others, like the many Word Weavers International groups, provide a friendly forum for Christian writers to critique each other’s work and raise the quality of their writing, month by month.

4. Recruit a mentor.

Another of my writer friends (I keep telling you, I have friends; why don’t you believe me?) made a fast friend at a writer’s conference who was already a well-published author. So she asked the friend to mentor her—to read and critique her stuff, suggest paths and exercises for her development, etc. She has grown tremendously as a writer in a relatively short time, and probably more than if she had spent her time amassing publishing credits in Zombie fiction anthologies.

Writing for publication ain’t what it used to be. But then, even back then, it wasn’t what it used to be. And before that—well, you get the idea. But though the landscape has changed considerably over the years, there are still multiple ways—even more than I’ve mentioned above—to apprentice as a writer.


35 Responses to Four Ways to Apprentice as a Writer

  1. Daphne Woodall March 28, 2018 at 3:47 am #

    So who was #2?? And I love getting my copy of Writer’s Digest in the mail. Mentor’s are wonderful but a rarity to come by on a regular basis.

    I’d think it’s like dating. You need to spend time together to see if you’re compatible. Then the mentor has to be willing to give of their time and prayers. And the mentee needs to be open to their advice yet respectful of the mentor’s time.

    Love your post Bob.

    • Bob Hostetler March 28, 2018 at 6:20 am #

      Daphne, there’s a $15 entry fee for guessing #2’s identity. All proceeds go to the Bob Hostetler Enrichment Foundation.

  2. John de Sousa March 28, 2018 at 4:34 am #

    The Market Guide is a great resource. I found two groups near me, and I’m looking to attend my first meeting with one in April.

    • Bob Hostetler March 28, 2018 at 6:21 am #

      That’s wonderful, John! So at least one thing I wrote above is actually true. Thank you.

  3. Judith Robl March 28, 2018 at 5:44 am #

    Thanks, Bob, for this helpful post.

    If there isn’t a writers group near you, you can always start one.

    Last February, four of us met and decided to follow the Word Weaver’s method of critique. Spreading the word via a facebook group (Central Kansas Christian Writers Critique Group), we now have ten members. Critiques are lively, and questions are learning opportunities.

    Another method of honing your writing skills is to volunteer as a beta reader. As you look for what does and doesn’t work in someone else’s manuscript, you get ideas of what to look for in your own.

    • Bob Hostetler March 28, 2018 at 6:21 am #

      Great point, Judith. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 28, 2018 at 6:33 am #

    Great ideas, Bob…and I do agree that Stephen King should cut the s*** and keep a more professional demeanour.

    I feel like I have an apprenticeship…to cancer. Pain sharpens (I hope!) my thoughts, and now it informs my words by demanding economy because it literally hurt too much to type.

    And I do not resent this. As I said to Barbara just last night, “It’s making me a better writer, and it gives me insights for compassion for those who are in far worse straits, struggling against odds that darken their world. I can still feel love and joy and delight, and I hope that by intentionally doing so, I can make the world a brighter place.”

    She smiled. “You’ve been watching ‘Gandhi’ again, haven’t you?”

  5. Lori Altebaumer March 28, 2018 at 7:29 am #

    Ha! Just finished my first manuscript and I’m pretty sure it’s for non-publication. But I have learned so much over the course of writing it. I have a writer’s group, subscribe to publications, follow blogs, and am a member of Jerry’s Writers Guild. All tremendously helpful. But the thought of approaching some one to be my mentor intimidates me. I’m sure most talented and successful authors (like yourself Bob) are inundated with requests for mentoring. What can I bring to the table so that a.) I’m not a drain on their time and b.) they receive value from the relationship?

    • Pearl Allard March 28, 2018 at 7:54 am #

      Lori, awesome! A fellow Jerry Jenkins Guild member! I have two ideas of how to approach someone to mentor you.

      1) Join a book launch for an author you respect. Maybe it’s a debut author. There are always book launches going on. I’ve been on three so far and have gained valuable insight into the process of what’s involved to launch a book. Often times there are closed FB groups for the launch members so you gain interaction with the author and others. It’s a win-win way to serve someone and learn at the same time.

      2) Offer to work for an author in exchange for occasional critique or input (or whatever you’re looking for). Offer to help with scheduling their social media stuff so they have more time to devote to writing or ask what they’d like help with. I just took a job doing exactly that for an author and I’m super excited!

      Best of luck to you, Lori

      • Lori Altebaumer March 28, 2018 at 8:26 am #

        Thank you, Pearl! Those are great and very encouraging suggestions. I can do this! And I do love being a part of the Guild, but I feel like I am only scratching the surface of what it has to offer. So much to learn.

        • Pearl Allard March 28, 2018 at 9:58 am #

          Yes, you can definitely do it! Baby steps, right? And oh my words, I’m right there with you thinking I’ve only scratched the surface of the guild’s resources! What helped me was finding a thread in the forum that connected me with likeminded writers. Over time it ended up turning into a small accountability/encouragement group! Don’t be too scared to jump in. I think everyone is a little!

          • Lori Altebaumer March 28, 2018 at 2:13 pm #

            Another worthwhile suggestion… find a thread to get involved with! So if you see me wandering around on a thread somewhere, be sure to say hi! Thanks again Pearl!

  6. Sharon Cowen March 28, 2018 at 7:33 am #

    Thanks, Bob. Yet another Ctrl. P.

  7. Mark Stevenson March 28, 2018 at 7:34 am #


    Thanks for the advice. Where does one get subscription info to Christian Communicator? I already get The Writer’s Digest and The Writer in the mail.



  8. Katie Powner March 28, 2018 at 7:43 am #

    Starting a blog has given me “experience” in writing because it has taught me to write even when I don’t want to and has helped me learn what my audience does and does not respond to. I’ve been able to hone my “message” based on feedback from my readers.

  9. Pearl Allard March 28, 2018 at 7:45 am #

    Bob, thank you. I expected to read this article, roll my eyes, and wonder what I’m doing calling myself a writer. Instead, I was so encouraged I’m doing some of these things already. Carry on, writing warriors!

  10. Carol Ashby March 28, 2018 at 8:00 am #

    I’ve tried several times to try to start an ACFW chapter in New Mexico, but with fewer than two dozen members spread over a state of 120,000 square miles, the logistics of even having the first organizational meeting are daunting. There’s not more than 6 people within 30 miles of any location, and it’s more than a 3 hour drive one-way to “centrally located” (180 miles from Farmington, 220 from Las Cruces) Albuquerque for some members.

    I’m thinking of trying to link members who are close (within 60 miles) to each other instead of trying for a state-wide meeting to start. If anyone has ideas on what would work well to link up Christian writers here, I’d love to hear from you through my website. Even if we turn into a Skype-type community after it starts, getting started probably requires some real face-to-face time.

    • Shirlee Abbott March 28, 2018 at 9:20 am #

      Would you get more people and better distribution if you didn’t limit it to fiction (or to Christian)? I have learned lots critiquing and being critiqued by writers of fiction (I do non-fiction). I debated joining a critique group that meets at our local library, but it didn’t fit my schedule. I work with non-Christians, I thought, why not write with them?

      • Carol Ashby March 28, 2018 at 2:07 pm #

        Probably, but ACFW is specifically Christian fiction, and members must agree to a statement of faith. There’s a pulse of new members into ACFW associated with the deadline of the Genesis contest (big discount in entrance fee if a member), but since we have no active NM chapter, many leave at the end of their membership year. Starting an unaffiliated writers group would probably not be that difficult, but I volunteered to try to start an ACFW chapter.

        • Lori Altebaumer March 28, 2018 at 2:15 pm #

          I have often dreamed of retiring to NM (Red River area to be exact). If I ever do I would look you up and join your group 😉
          Don’t give up!

          • Carol Ashby March 28, 2018 at 2:29 pm #

            That’s a gorgeous area: Colorado pretty with New Mexico prices. It would be great to have you in the group, Lori.

    • Tisha Martin March 28, 2018 at 11:40 pm #

      Carol, you’d be surprised at how fun Skype is, and it may work well for you since you’ve limited writing pals in your area. I Skype with my international writing group (some are international) and it’s quite enjoyable. I do wish you all the best!

  11. S. Kim Henson March 28, 2018 at 8:47 am #

    Number 4 has been invaluable in getting published. Without my mentors, I don’t think it would have happened because writing grade A research papers in college is very different than writing pieces for print. All good advice!

  12. Lora Zill March 28, 2018 at 9:22 am #

    What I heard from Ricky Skaggs at his bluegrass concert (with his band Kentucky Thunder) applies here. He spoke of the musicians he learned from, like Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and others. Even if they weren’t active mentors, he learned from them and their influence shaped his artistry and craftsmanship. That’s what is sorely missing in the writing world. The willingness to serve in an apprenticeship and learn from the masters. Dancers, painters, sculptors, all apprentice. How do writers succeed without it? So I appreciate your point about apprenticing!

  13. Marcia Laycock March 28, 2018 at 9:50 am #

    Another great post, Bob! I’ve found entering contests also helpful as I was growing as a writer. The critiquing was usually thorough and helped me find my weaknesses. I also found taking courses of all kinds was a good idea. That’s why I now teach – to help those who are young in the process. Many of my students have gone on to publish so I find it very fulfilling. My online devotional course teaches some basics and gives some good tips for all kinds of writing. Hope you don’t mind me mentioning it but the next course starts April 9th. Go here for more info. –

  14. Karen Sargent March 28, 2018 at 11:20 am #

    We really are blessed with so many opportunites to improve our craft. Thanks for listing several of them. Stephen King didn’t have internet and all the writing resources at his fingertips that we have. But, obviously, he didn’t need them. 🙂

  15. Edie Melson March 28, 2018 at 7:48 pm #

    Bob, I’m beyond honored by your mentions! Thank you!

    • Robin Luftig March 29, 2018 at 4:36 am #

      He ain’t wrong.

      Even though you say not to, I’ve printed out several of your posts. The support you’ve given to writers is immeasurable. I don’t want to miss a beat.

  16. Tisha Martin March 28, 2018 at 11:37 pm #

    Bob, such a great blog post. Thanks for the links. I recently purchased CWI’s Secrets to a Great Author Website presented by Thomas Umstattd. Well worth the $10 for the value in the engaging education. Also had the chance to recommend CWI at Mount Hermon this past weekend.

    • Judith Robl March 29, 2018 at 4:34 am #

      Tisha, do you have a link to CWI’s Secrets to a Great Author Website?

      I was unable to find it with a search. My poor website needs the help. Thanks so much.

      • Bob Hostetler March 29, 2018 at 6:10 am #

        Judith, the Secrets to a Great Author Website presentation is on Should be easy to find.

  17. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D March 29, 2018 at 11:28 am #

    Bob, thank you, thank you, thank you. I also watched a video interview you did about working with a co-author that was incredible advice.

  18. Judith Robl March 29, 2018 at 12:38 pm #

    Thank you, Bob, for the address. I frequently miss what’s right under my nose. I was searching the wrong things.

  19. Rachel March 29, 2018 at 3:29 pm #

    I’m interning for a third year with best-selling author Kathi Lipp. I work 10 hours a month (doing things I would need to learn anyway for my own writing career), and receive 1 hour of personalized coaching and 1 hour of group coaching per month. It’s a great trade off.

  20. Kayla James November 2, 2018 at 3:14 pm #

    I apologize for coming so late to this post, but you see, I just found it. I was pleased to find out I am actually doing okay in my first year as an apprentice writer. I am in the group Faith Writers and the Harlequin writers group. I am also very fortunate to have a writing mentor who has also become a friend.
    I need to work on the other steps. I will as soon as I get the cash to do it all.
    I enjoyed this post very much.:)

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