Thursday, October 13, 2011


One of the joys of living in Portland is the community’s vibrant literary scene. Last weekend was no exception, and I spent two days at the literary festival Wordstock, listening to a wealth of authors talking about their craft and their passion for writing.

One of the highlights was hearing Barry Lopez speak. Lopez writes both nonfiction and fiction and has won numerous honors for his work. The San Francisco Chronicle has called him “the nation’s premier nature writer.”

When he spoke about writing, he referred a lot to place—and his attempt as a writer not to be an authority, but to “apprentice” himself to a place and seek out the story to be found there.

When I think about an apprentice, I think of Luke Skywalker in the bog with Yoda, or Mickey Mouse trying to control all those the bucket-wielding brooms. An apprentice is someone brash and enthusiastic, who still has a LOT to learn.

Until now, I’d never considered that an author is an apprentice, not just to an editor (though we are that, too) but also, when beginning a new project, to the story we are trying to tell: we bring our enthusiasm and the brash assumption that we will be able to tell it. But we still have a lot to learn.

In the section “On Writing,” on Lopez’s website, he says:

“If I were to offer any advice to young writers, it would be this: be discriminating and be discerning about the work you set for yourself. That done, be the untutored traveler, the eager reader, the enthusiastic listener. Put what you learn together carefully, and then write thoughtfully, with respect both for the reader and your sources.”

Untutored, eager, enthusiastic: in other words, an apprentice.


Peggy T said...

Hi Barbara,

I love the idea of a writer being an apprentice to a place, a subject, a story. A good reminder to open up, observe, and follow where the story leads you.

Melissa Stewart said...

Lopez is definitely a master of nonficiton craft. Thanks so much for sharing this post, Barbara.

Barbara Kerley said...

Yes -- he was a GREAT speaker. If you guys have the chance, go hear him!

Deborah Heiligman said...

I think I'm going to make a sign for next to my computer: You are an apprentice to your subject.

Thanks, Barb. Thanks, thanks Barry.