The Learning Journey All Writers Take
I wrote this a couple of years ago when Michel Roux Junior presented Masterchef, but I believe it continues to have relevance.
I’m a bit of a Masterchef addict, partly because the men in my house are always glued to it. There’s a benefit to this, (apart from the fact they are now both better cooks than I am and have ousted me from the kitchen) it’s a bonding half hour where we all sit in one place in our otherwise fragmented evenings. And as a result of watching Masterchef I have acquired a real admiration for Michel Roux Junior. Not just because he’s bilingual and a great cook. It’s to do with his humility. There he is, no doubt one of the top chefs in the country, the world even, and yet he expresses genuine surprise and admiration for new, younger, and less experienced contestants’ creations. When one of these thanked him for his comments and admitted he was still learning, Michel responded, ‘So am I from you, and I will continue to learn from others all my life,’ with disarming honesty.
For a while after my first novel was published I thought I was supposed to know it all. I felt I had pulled the wool over the judges’ eyes with my pasta course and they now expected me to produce another great concoction but without any access to the support and guidance I’d had with the first. And all because I’d made one reasonable dish, the literary equivalent perhaps of a fresh spaghetti pesto or carbonara. Publishers want their authors to constantly produce something new and better than their last book, but authors (new ones especially) may well be drawing on a depleted larder – having used up all their ingredients and ideas in their first creation.
Of course nobody thinks you’re a chef if you’ve only produced one meal. And neither are you a novelist if you’ve only written one novel (unless you’re Harper Lee maybe.)
Michel Roux confessing that he continued to learn from others even at his stage in his career was a revelation. Rather than acting as if I knew what I was doing, and feeling a complete fraud, I realised it was not a failing to turn to other writers, readers, people with more experience and expertise out there, in order to continue to learn. Even experienced novelists benefit from an ongoing education in writing (or in other things that may inform their writing.) We learn from experts sometimes, or from each other, or from less experienced, or younger, or fresher-faced people than ourselves. We also learn from new experiences, and from talking to people from all walks of life
In order to continue to develop in any profession, but especially in creative ones you have keep on learning. After my first novel came out I can see now I was only at the very beginning of a career in which (if I wanted to stay in it) I would have to keep on learning, working, soaking up the wisdom and criticism of the people around me.
One of my resolutions for this year is to sign up for a course in something I need a little tutoring in. It might be a different sort of writing course, script writing maybe, or poetry perhaps. I also intend to have new experiences, go somewhere I’ve never been before, learn something I’ve never tried before, speak to people I’ve never met before. Whatever, my thanks go to Michel Roux and his inspirational humility, as he launches his young chefs on what they like to call their ‘learning journeys.’
As he shows us, you are never too old or too experienced to learn.