That prams and art are not mutually exclusive.

Michael Leunig on creative apprenticeships


At a time when so many people seem to be writing – with every man and his dog starting a blog – we’re also seeing a decline in the number of apprenticeship opportunities for emerging writers. Journalism is the most public form of writing where we see this decline in the demise of the print publishing industry, but on a bigger level, young or emerging writers are being asked to arrive on the scene already cooked. I don’t believe it’s industry driven, it seems bigger than industry; like Chinese whispers, with Chinese proportions.

“You’ve got to build a platform.”

I wonder how many potential writers have fallen on their own sword after using blogging – an entirely public form of writing – as their apprenticeship? How many have given up while trying to climb the sheer face of the social media landscape, where quantity seems to override quality, and without the guidance and reassurance of having a mentor.

Michael Leunig articulates the dilemma for emerging creatives perfectly:

“Sometimes I feel for younger people now. There are so many powerful influences, so much glamour. In the face of that, how do you hold on to your originality, your inner sense of authenticity? Because that really is your ultimate strength. There’s a pressure to be slick. You’ve got to market yourself now. It’s hard to have your fumbling experimental thoughts, your vulnerable thoughts, your half-formed inconclusive ideas, but they’re vital. It’s vital to stay with it. Keep something really important for yourself to develop slowly and don’t be afraid of your vulnerability. That’s your creativity. Know that it’s right. Know that’s the way.” Michael Leunig, in frankie #49

How does one cultivate a sense of individuality, of intuition, as a newbie on the stage of the world wide web? How does one begin to hear and know the intricacies of their own voice in the cacophony of the Twitterverse and the blogosphere?

For further thoughts on writing and platform building, read this fantastic post from Allison Tait. She does her homework.

If I had my day again, I’d write a manuscript first, build a blog second. What do you think?

19 Responses to “Michael Leunig on creative apprenticeships”

  1. debbrightandprecious

    I think you know what I think about this, Karen, but I’ll tell you again anyway. 😉 Firstly, love that Leunig quote. How inspiring is he? It’s so apt to how I feel about my blog… fumbling, vulnerable, experimental… but vital. I’m sure blogging has been a good apprenticeship in that regard – especially because the glamour side isn’t so alluring as much as it is frightening – but also because it’s helped me step up and be disciplined to hone my skills in a way that writing on my own never could. There’s nothing like the thought of someone else reading your work to make you refine and refine and refine your words.

    • Rhythm & method

      True. That is the plus side to blogging, like an online writer’s group. This is going to be one of those posts where the comments section is more valuable than the original post … Thanks Deb. 🙂

  2. Life In A Pink Fibro

    I am glad I wrote my first manuscript before I’d even heard of blogging or social media. Not only my first full manuscript, but the two ‘practice’ novels I’d done, the short stories, and everything else. I think if I’d done it the other way around, I would still be faffing about with a half-finished story and a nice Twitter following.

    I used to blog every day. Then I realised that I had written more than 300,000 words on my blog in two years. The equivalent (and more) of two novels. So I cut back to three times a week, reckoning that I could put half of those words into other work. Having done that, I managed to finish the half-written manuscript (hopefully to be my second published novel *fingers crossed*) that had been languishing in my ‘bottom drawer’ for months.

    Blogging has definitely helped me to develop and define my voice. But it’s different to writing a book – novels require a more sustained, more evolved, more, er, ‘full sentence’ approach.

    The book is the most important thing. Particularly if you want to write fiction.

    That’s my two (okay, 22) cents worth.

  3. Gill

    In 1998 I worked for an editor who did had made her writing career the old school way – left high school for a traineeship and then chipped away and worked her butt off until she had developed her voice. I feel inadequate in the online world, i can’t articulate myself online. I don’t think I want to write online again, not until I figure out more about my writing life. It’s a personal journey for me right now.

  4. Green mama

    I think it depends on the purpose of your blog- mine is basically a scrapbook of my cherubs and my garden, as well as a way for me to retain my old rhythm of writing without the commitment, and I suppose without a sense of expectation. I don’t use it to hone my skills (the opposite, most of the time I don’t even proof before hitting publish). my real writing efforts go into writing. Don’t stop, though Karen, I love your discourse, and I love it all the more because I’m in my pjs, which I can’t do at the Vic writers centre 😉

  5. Cat

    What a clever chops that Leunig is. I often see the struggle for individuality with the students I teach as they’re mostly between 16 & 21. I used to think I wanted to really write. In a way I think blogging has filled that void for me. I don’t think I have it in me to keep at it with any tenacity or face the truth of my (in)abilities. Blogging helps me get things off my mind and in a way it helps me let go of what is ailing me and more than once has snapped out out of a funk or given me a new perspective – including a comment you once made Karen. It also has been an excellent window in to the world of others though I must admit I don’t find new blogs these days. There are almost too many conversations for my already cluttered brain. I think the ability to focus on your inner voice with clarity is a challenge for everyone not just those honing their writing. X

    • Rhythm & method

      So true Cat, we’re in the age of distraction aren’t we? I worry about the kids enduring adolescence at a time where all their awkward moments are recorded in digital glory. Take care. x

  6. gabrielablandy

    This is all so great – both the post and all the insightful comments. One thing I noticed when I was thinking about starting a blog and coming up with names – being told that such and such a name was already taken – were how many sites that had clearly fizzled out after only a few posts. This was sad – especially as so many started off with such energy and hope.
    ‘How many have given up while trying to climb the sheer face of the social media landscape?’
    This question says it all for me. Writing is such a daunting task that those expecting too much too soon can lose hope pretty quick when they shout into the ether: is anyone there? and nothing comes back. Staying private with your manuscript gives you time build a little momentum, but also to tap into why it is we write. If we can stay with that, stay true, then we have a chance. I think without that then there is a danger that we are lured by the glamour Leunig talks about – and then we’re doing it for all the wrong reasons.
    Thank your for sharing – it’s wonderful to come upon such a worthwhile debate about this ‘thing’ that we do, and to see how we can stay true in our endeavours.

  7. Carli

    Well I’m probably not considered a young person anymore but I found comfort in Leunig’s words. How does one have fumbling experimental thoughts through blogging and social media when you are continually bombarded with “niches” and “building your brand” and not saying anything “negative” – whatever that means? I love blogging because it has helped with my writing but in many ways it directly conflicts with my studies (communications). I need a mentor! Great post.

    • Rhythm & method

      Thanks for your comments.
      I need a mentor too Carli. I find myself listening intently to writers speak about their work, and by the end I have to stop myself gushing at their feet and asking them to adopt me.
      Niches and the social side of social media are a whole topic on their own. How do you navigate that tricky pass?

  8. Bumba

    Of course Leunig is correct. I’ve been blogging for the past year, but it’s not “real” writing.

    • Rhythm & method

      I agree to an extent. I think we see a spectrum on the internet: some really bad, and some very good. Quality control is in the hands of the writer, and even though it’s a time suck crafting blog posts, I like to think most people are trying to be better. There’s no reason blog posts should not constitute ‘real writing’, and if we’re here trying to improve our writing, creating quality posts is what we should be doing. I also think it makes the internet a more valuable place if we step out wearing our ‘Sunday best’.

  9. ameliadraws

    maybe as everyone gaffs and stumbles on the net a different empathy will emerge. With no sleep, the blog has helped me hone and gain confidence. And i am too tired to take on giant…. the blog also suits my art. I hope. I think the luenig quote is valid but in the end only time will tell. However… my journal suffers because of social media: the twitterverse steals my words and blogs test them 🙂 great comments y’all

    • rhythm & method

      I feel exactly the same way; when my manuscript is raging, the blog is smouldering ashes and vice versa. I really like the way you blog, as though your constantly negotiating new boundaries within the medium; experimenting and testing.

  10. thegork

    I have read this Leunig quote before, but a timely reminder- thanks!

    As for the manuscript vs blog question. It’s a good’n and i’m still thinking on it….


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