Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The Joy Of Mentoring

This writing business is hard, isn't it? While anyone who is literate can arrange words on a page, actually creating an effective piece of writing, whether it's a poem or a brochure, a novel or an email, is really very difficult.

I've been writing for decades, with some small successes: a national competition won, a handful of magazine articles, a very boring non-fiction book, a PhD thesis and three short stories published. For most of that time I've thought I wanted to write a novel. About six weeks ago I changed tack and am now working on a narrative non-fiction memoir, based on events in my life 12-14 years ago.

This has proved to be relatively easy in some ways and surprisingly complicated in others. The easy parts are that I know the characters really well because I know them in real life, and I can lift some scenes from previous pieces of writing so I'm not doing it all from scratch. The hard parts are the new writing, and disentangling threads that were important in my life from the threads that are important for the story.

So what does all this have to do with mentoring, you may ask? It's something I've considered doing before, and I've been very interested in JJ's experiences and those of Shaun Attwood as reported by PI. But I had stern voices in my head saying things like 'you should be past that stage after all these years' and 'you shouldn't spend MORE money on your writing' and 'mentoring is just wussy hand-holding anyway.' Three weeks ago I decided those voices are neither mine nor helpful, so they could shut up and let me get on with my life. Funnily enough they then went all quiet!

Having decided I wanted to dip my toe in the mentoring water, the next question was, who should I approach? I thought of a few possible organisations and individuals but my first choice was Debi Alper, who did such a helpful critique on the last draft of my novel. I wasn't sure whether she did mentoring, so I emailed her to ask how she would feel about taking me on. I was thrilled when she emailed back to say she would be happy to work with me.

I sent her my first 10,000 words, and they came back with suggested amendments and a written report a few days later. Debi's feedback was so useful that, if I had had any lingering doubts about the possible value of her mentoring, they would have been instantly dispelled. In particular, she identified a superfluous character. If I hadn't had her help at the start, I would have written that character right through the book, and it would then have taken much more work to edit him out. Also, she's given me several useful stylistic pointers: for example, I need to be careful not to use too many adjectives, or to overdo descriptions of body language. I'm learning such a lot from her advice, and aiming to put it into practice as I write the next section.

I've just emailed Debi the next 10,000 words and I'm looking forward to her response. She has mastered the art of constructive criticism, not only saying what I need to do but also explaining how to do it. She also seems to have a very thorough understanding of what works, and what doesn't, when it comes to writing and books. I'm so pleased I've finally taken the plunge. If you want to join me, I'd recommend it - it's lovely once you're in!


JJ Beattie said...

That's absolutely marvellous. I am so pleased you found my journey helpful. I must say, so did I!

That you had to be careful not 'to overdo descriptions of body language' made me chuckle. I do that too.

Good luck with the next report.

Carol said...

That is superb news....I think Mentors are absolutely invaluable!! I too have followed JJ's progress and she has come on leaps and bounds since getting her mentor!!

From personal experience, I ran a Social Enterprise in Salford before we moved to Thailand. When I took over I put out feelers for a mentor because running a business is tough...especially with no experience!! I got the most wonderful mentor, Mark, who guided me through my plans for the business offering advice and help. It was a lot less scary knowing that I had someone I could turn to!!

C x

Anonymous said...

That sounds great - I think mentoring is a good thing all round!

PI said...

'you shouldn't spend MORE money on your writing' and 'mentoring is just wussy hand-holding anyway.'
Not those exact words but similar I have been hearing whilst preparing to jump in.
After your experiences I've more or less made up my mind - just got to find the right mentor for me.

Debi said...

It's such an enormous pleasure for me to be this closely involved with the process of crafting your book, Queenie.

The relationship between author and mentor is a very special one and most definitely a two way street. We're going to go from strength to strength and we're going to go there together. What a team!

Must dash - another chunk has just arrived in my inbox! Can't wait ...

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

Ooh, this is fascinating. I'll be interested to see how it develops, and to reading the finished product of course (after purchasing it from a cute indie bookshop).

HelenMHunt said...

Fantastic idea. I look forward to reading the result.

Queenie said...

BS, I'll keep you posted.
Helen, I look forward to you reading it too!