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What Does it Take to be an Expert Author?

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

The other week I managed to finish two things; the first "final" draft of my current wip, and a second reading of Roger Kneebone's 'Expert'. Which started me thinking - what does it take to be an expert author? (Warning, spoiler alert - I still don't know).

There's an old piece of lore out there that says to become really good at anything, you need to do it 10,000 times; it's a trope reinforced by sportspersons of all stripes, and I think of Michael Jordan specifically who said (something like) that for every winning shot he made, there were ten fails and a hundred practice throws underneath. All well and good for sports, but for writing? I can't see myself (or anyone) writing 10,000 books, and some of the successful and best written were first time efforts (think 'To Kill A Mockingbird' and 'Gone With The Wind' - and I won't mention Harry Potter, I promise). So perhaps it's no hard and fast rule for authors, no exact limit but more an affirmation that to succeed you have to try and, presumably, fail. A few times. Or a few hundred. Or thousand. Ouch.

Then there's Kneebone's viewpoint. For him, the 10,000 times is only the start. He posits that gaining technical proficiency only makes you a good Apprentice; that is, someone who can do a task up to standards, with the aid of others to guide and correct, and where the emphasis is on yourself, and building your skills. For him, the next step is the Journeyman; taking responsibility for your own work, developing skills and your own take or 'voice' on your trade while changing emphasis towards your audience / customer's needs, not your own. Kneebone adds a final stage, which he calls Master, where you pass on knowledge and skills, help others develop, and take the craft in new directions.

So what does that mean for an author, if anything? I think most of us look to the Journeyman point as the end goal, to be proficient, market-relevant, and having an identifiable voice; and I think that, with time and effort it's achievable. But does Kneebone's take on what it is to be an expert, the 'Master', apply to authors? If so, there's only ever been a handful of them out there (and yes, I'm being harsh); there are plenty of teachers, technicians and mouths prepared to tell you what to do, but Masters? True experts? Is it even a goal to be aspired to? I'm not sure.

So, what does it take to be an expert author? Does the concept of 'Master' mean anything as an author, or are we a breed apart and this does not apply to us? What do you think?

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