When I started telling people that I’d received an ASA mentorship last year their first question was always the same, “So, what’s a mentorship?”
At this point I had no idea. I had researched and applied for the program but I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it would improve my writing craft and my manuscript but I wasn’t sure how. Now that I’ve finished the program, I can tell you how I think it works.
What is it?
A mentorship is like having a private, ongoing novel writing class on your manuscript. It’s about finding the weaknesses in your writing and overcoming them. It’s about learning to research, write, re-write and edit your manuscript until it’s worthy of publication.
A mentor will discuss with you what you want to get out of the mentorship. They’ll read through your manuscript (or partial) and give you their opinion. They’ll tell you what you should work on for your next draft and you can discuss/fight it out by email, phone or face-to-face. Then your mentor will send you back to your computer until you have completed the draft or installment for them to read. Then that process repeats for as much time as your mentorship allows.
Ooooh. A mentor? What’s that like?
Pretty awesome. Having a mentor is like having a writing teacher, a best friend, a manuscript assessor and a personal trainer on your team but all rolled in to the one person.
My mentor, Sue, showed me areas that lagged in my writing craft and exercises to work on. She settled my nerves when I thought I’d never get my manuscript together. She read over installments of my manuscript and emailed it back covered in track changes and comment bubbles. She also kicked my ass, usually by email, telling me when I was repeating mistakes or generally trying to get me to work even harder.
Sounds amazing! Is there anything else I need to know?
Yep. I’ve got a few warnings before you dive in to a mentorship.
1. It’s all about tough love.
If you think you’re going to be sipping coffee and listening to your mentor proclaim how amazing you are, a mentorship is not for you. A mentorship is about having your ass kicked. It’s like training for a half-marathon: you’ll see progress but it’s hard work and there will be times when you might hate it.
2. It’s better if you’re not a beginner.
Mostly because it might be too depressing and also because a beginner probably isn’t ready for it. I would say that the process is perfect for writers on their second/third manuscript (or later) as well as people who have had their work critiqued regularly. Otherwise, the mentorship is going to hurt really bad.
3. You need to listen to your mentor.
Remember when my awesome beginning was scrapped during the first meeting in my mentorship? It was one of many, many scenes that were cut from my manuscript for all different reasons. You wanted a mentor’s professional view of your work, so don’t be quick to throw it in their face. It’s a mentor’s role to dissect your writing and tell you what’s not working. Of course you can disagree with them, but you need to listen to their opinion first.
That sounds like hell! Why would I endure this foolishness you call a mentorship?
1. It’s going to make your writing so much better. It’s like a fast-track program and it’s easier to notice your progress from so much one-on-one contact.
2. It’s better that a writing mentor helps you through your embarrassing mistakes and teething problems than an agent or a publisher. Mostly because an agent or publisher will probably have to reject your work rather than take you on and coach you. (It’s not their job to teach you to write no matter how cool your idea is.)
3. The confidence and the thick-skin from the process feel really good. Seriously, I wouldn’t want to be charging into this industry without a certain amount resilience and self-esteem, and I believe a mentorship has the potential to help you with that. Plus, do you know how good it feels when a professional writer compliments your unpublished work? It’s. Totally. Freaking. Awesome.
As Sue was constantly telling me, ‘It’s a baptism of fire. Those who come out on the other side are the really good writers’. That phrase has always stuck with me and as painful as a mentorship can be, I would definitely go through it all over again.
**For people that are interested, I will be writing a series of posts to give you ideas for your 2010 writing goals. If you want to keep updated, become a google follower or subscribe to the rss feed. Otherwise I’ll tag all these posts, ‘goals’ in case you miss one.**