One thing I love about this whole writing gig is that if you’re willing, you need never stop learning. There’s no map and no single path to get where you want to go. There are any number of ways to learn and endless topics to explore. It’s both a thrilling and daunting thought, but if you see an opportunity to accelerate that learning, seize it with both hands. It will raise your writing to the next level and expand your writing toolbox exponentially.
In July, I was lucky enough to be awarded one of only six writing mentorships through the Australian Horror Writers Association’s mentorship program. Mentors include the following award-winning authors: Lee Murray, Alan Baxter, Kaaron Warren, Shane Jiraiya Cummings, Deborah Sheldon, Greg Chapman and Charles Lovecraft.
My mentor is the talented and generous Deborah Sheldon, whose writing is as seductive and sublime as it is horrifying. Pop over to her website and check out her work. You won’t be sorry, I promise.
Every week, Deb and I catch up for a one-hour phone call, where she breaks down my writing and my writing practice. We examine the pieces to see what works and what needs work. I then email her questions to give her time to prepare for the next session. We cover everything from writer’s block, pacing, plotting, setting, short fiction, long fiction, characterisation, and how cows kill more people than sharks every year. The mentorship will run for a total of twelve weeks.
As an editor, it seems counter-intuitive that I would need someone to pull apart my writing and show me where I’m falling down. But that’s one of the unavoidable truths about being a writer: it’s often difficult to see the flaws in your own work. As you revise your own writing, you’ll naturally replay the story in your head, filling in the gaps, skipping over missing words and incorrect spelling. Your imagination will leap over the gaping plot holes and paint in the blank scenery, because you know the story you meant to write.
The value of a skilled mentor or editor is that they come to your work fresh. They bring years of writing experience and craft, and can suggest new ways to tackle the obstacles in your path.
So, what can you expect from a mentorship?
1) To work hard. As a mentee, it’s up to you to figure out what you want to gain from the mentorship and make the most of it.
2) To be challenged. Be prepared to examine your own processes and have your writing pulled apart. Be open to suggestions and critique: it will strengthen you as a writer.
3) To be surprised. At times tapping away on your keyboard all by your lonesome means that your writing process can turn insular. You might have found a groove that works or be stuck in a rut that doesn’t, but not have any idea how to jump tracks. A mentor who approaches writing from a different angle could help you to switch gears and venture down new paths.
4) To be inspired. A mentorship will give your writing a boost unlike any other learning experience. You’ll come away from each session with your mind buzzing, eager to get back to that manuscript that’s been languishing in the bottom drawer for months.
What Deb brings and what I value most, are lessons on the craft of writing. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share what I’ve learnt from each session. I hope they enrich your writing as much as they have mine.
Do you have an experience as a mentee or a mentor? Please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear about it.