We’re often told to learn from others, to take (role) models and to emulate either the path they took, or some of the key lessons they learnt along the way. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to figure out how someone reached a particular goal, or they actively work to prevent you from seeing the struggle that took them there.
This is as much the case for sedentary pursuits like fiction writing as it is for active things like climbing. You can watch a video of someone like Alex Honnold, someone known for his lack of self-aggrandisement and who always seems to downplay the stakes of what he’s just done, and find it hard to see the work, the sweat, or the basic realities of what he did to reach this point. (In his case, years of practice/experience possibly combined with a disposition towards risk-taking.) His book was frustrating for exactly that reason: you had only a minimal sense of the stakes of what he did.
For fiction or many other kinds of rewriting, the whole work of editing, rewriting is more or less deliberately geared towards removing the friction, removing the sense that someone toiled to put this story together. As readers or consumers of stories, we don’t want to sense the seams, don’t want to be aware of how something was constructed. But as practitioners or artists, we need to see those seams to be able to learn our own craft.
So there’s a tension, and that tension instructive in helping you find good models. I’ve been trying to write more about my own failures on this blog so as to balance things out. Whenever I’m learning a new skill, I try to find different types of models. Firstly, people who have reached the heavens, who are trailblazers and who break new ground in their particular skill / discipline. Secondly, those who are a few steps behind, and who really have had to work to get there. It’s this second kind of model where you’re more likely to see the seams of their journey, and you’ll most likely be able to learn from them.