A journeyman writer

* According to the OED, a journeyman is ‘a person who, having served an apprenticeship is qualified to work in an art, craft, or trade, for daily wages; a qualified artisan or mechanic who works for another’.

Both the Webster and Macquarie Dictionaries have pretty much the same definition.

In this blog I’m using ‘man’ in the sense of it’s Germanic roots… meaning person. I suppose you could have journeyperson but that doesn’t work for me.  Or journeywoman, but that seems even more contrived.  Certainly a journeyman can be a woman and although they were rare in medieval times, I think it is probable that now there as many journey-women as there are journeymen.  If you see what I mean.

In medieval times they drew a distinction between journeymen and the masters of their craft like master masons or master carpenters.

Many people I know reckon that you’re a master at writing if you’ve been published.  I don’t agree. I’ve been published many times, mainly by big, mainstream publishers yet I don’t think of myself as a master in the profession.

I subscribe to the theory that there are only two kinds of writer: bad ones – and those trying to get better.  Which means that none of us are masters.

If there are masters then in my opinion it would be those writers who remain in print years after their books were first published: classic writers like Jane Austin, Charles Dickins and Mark Twain, along with more recent ones like Evelyn Waugh and William Faulkner.

The rest of us are trying to get better, though I have to admit some modern writers seem to have got a lot better than many of us: writers like William Boyd and Thomas Harris and Scott Turow and Tom Wolfe: writers who tell riveting, well-crafted stories that are popular with millions of readers.

It has to be said that there’s an incredible amount of pretension in this business and many people disparage the word ‘popular’. They make unfavourable comments about it, especially when employing words like ‘literary’ and ‘culture’ and ‘art’ in glowing terms.  Yet writing is a craft and only a very few people have got so good at it that they’ve make it into an art. The rest of us are toiling to make our writing better.

A writer such as I am: at best mid-list, is definitely a journeyman. But that’s okay. I always wanted to be a writer – so I’m fulfilled – I’m doing what I always wanted to do; hopefully without making a big deal about it.

Much of my work comes from commissions from the big publishers, either as a ghost writer or as one of those strange people whose name, in very small type, and preceded by the word ‘with.’, appears on the jacket of the book after (in very big type) the name of the ‘author’.

I also get ghost-writing commissions directly from individuals; people who wish to tell their (often fascinating) stories.

I supplement my writing with lecturing in creative writing. I also run a lot of workshops for executives in business industry and government on simple writing.  I enjoy these enormously as I’m one of those plaintive voices in the wilderness protesting about the abysmal quality of bureaucratic, Kafkaesque writing coming from our organizations and institutions.  I’m certain to be blogging on that subject as I go on.

And of course, between all this, I squeeze in writing my own books.