He was a Fulbright scholar, had an MFA and a PhD, a published writer and winner of several poetry competitions. He was a literature professor in our tiny college. I was so motivated that I—
Did nothing to contact him for 12 months.
I had all these insecurities and fears. What would he want with little ‘ol me? What if he asked what I’ve recently read and I’ll blurt out, “Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic.” Or what if he’ll espouse all these deconstruction, postmodernisms, feminism, marxisms and all these all other –isms and I’ll just say, “Huh??”. And he’d get so disgusted, why is he wasting his time that he’ll have nothing to do with me. I’ve heard some people to say—
Now you know why I have never asked a guy out.
I’m socially inept. The thing is most people who know me would not entirely agree. They’d say I was little Miss Sunshine. Nothing could be further from the truth if they really knew me deep inside. And the wired world knows that inner self all too well. That’s why I often lurk at sites. I don’t post at forums. Heck, it took me a year just to get my courage to comment on sites. Honest. And once they’ve gotten a great discussion going on and it’s a tight knit community, I thinking I don’t want to go there. I have all these insecure thoughts that run in my head, “What’s this social retard doing here buttin’ in on our conversation?”
It’s like high school all the time in my mind.
Maybe it was all that listening to Tony Robbins the whole week that got me fired up. Or perhaps I was evaluating and taking stock of my life more, journaling, doing some serious questioning, stripping down and spring cleaning the shit out of the inner closet in my life. But by gosh, if I was really committed to my goal then I’d have to face the music, show I’ve got what it takes to do it.
So I adjusted my girdle, wrote the professor an email and he was kind of enough to invite me to his place to take a look at his books and materials. I did not faint when he did spout all the –isms except he loathes them. He was an infinite source of wisdom.
That’s why it’s great to seek out a writing mentor. Someone who’ll show you the ropes. Someone’s who’s been there and is passionate and can guide you to where you want to be. A how-to article can only do so much. An instruction video can just give you the facts. A mentor has been there, knows the challenges you’ll soon face, the ins and outs of the business, the upcoming triumphs, stages of depression, rejections, and times when you really have to hang in there. You can choose to model his approach or to modify it. Most importantly, you can learn from his mistakes. A mentor can cut your learning curve by half.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned from him:
- Trash the SASE. It’s a total waste of money. Yes, I know the neophyte writer in me is shocked. It’s like someone just told me the world is flat.
- Unless you’re a genius, there’s often a slim chance you’ll get accepted. So persist.
- Luck is a big factor.
- Don’t be too technical when you’re submitting. It’s the work that matters. Oh, and also if you happen to be the editor’s friend or the judge’s student.
- The editor would do anything, and I mean anything to put your work in the slush pile so don’t give him that chance! They want to get their reading pile done so they can call it a day.
- It’s okay if you get a coffee stain in your post-it sized rejection note. It just shows that the editor was reading it and was relaxed in doing so.
- Do not ever submit to the New Yorker first.
These are the things you learn first hand from a real live breathing person. Another thing about also meeting with a mentor is that chances are he’d also be so passionate about the art of writing that it couldn’t help but rub off you as well. We just talked and talked and by the end of it, I had to come up with air because it was too much. I see him before me already at the top of the mountain but it’s too high. I’m just glimpsing it. And I swore, I’ll reach that pinnacle too.
He’s already given me some short stories, the Poets and Writers 2005 edition magazine, and a copy of Fiction Writers Workshop. I’m still skeptical of entering one, terrified at how it will affect my writing but I’m willing to get out of my comfort zone.
Where can I find my own writing mentor?
You can try looking for a mentor among your colleagues or someone who might know another writer. You might also try your online or local writing group or some clubs or groups like Toastmasters if you’re into public speaking. Or find someone on writing blogs or forums –a friendly soul (an expert or who’s already done what you want to do) who’s willing to take you in and give some advice. Although nothing beats personal 3D interaction with a mentor. Do not rush in immediately demanding mentorship. Build a casual relationship or get some information about the person beforehand (I realize this might be hard for some people who still have to seek out their mentors. But do get to know them first and then set up a meeting with them). The Mentor and I met in a couple of parties and joked about getting through the milk situation in China so we were already acquainted before I approached him.
I’m still looking for another writing mentor who has published a novel because that’s what I’m aiming for in the long run.
So I’m sitting there drinking the words as he fired off sentences that spun and coiled like gold thread curlicues in the air and I’m trying to catch them one by one:
Art is sexy. It moves. It shimmers. It intoxicates. And people who destroy it are envious because they know they don’t have that sexiness. They don’t have that charisma. So they annihilate it in the hopes that people will look up to them instead of the creators.
What did you say? I’m scribbling fast in my notebook here.
Always look beyond the 9th or 10th word. Don’t settle for the 3. 3 is mediocre.
3 is mediocre. Got it. How about 5? 5’s gotta be ok, right?
Writing should connect to people. It should discover and strip you naked to the very core. It’s a process of self discovery, of finding out, “Who are you?” “Why are you here?” “What is love?” “What is sadness?” And when you’ve established this intimacy, this connection then you’ve done it.
Yikes! I didn’t get that! Would you mind repeating?
When you’ve found the right word, everything comes together.
Does that include articles?
Now he’s looking at me intently like he’s staring at an imprisoned guinea pig. He asks me the all too important question, “Can you write?” The only he way he’s going to know that is for him to read a sample of my work. From there he can either give me the thumbs or “You’re hopeless! Go back to kindergarten!”
You obviously know which one I’m hoping for.
Now I’ve given him a sample of my writing. I’m nervous. I’ve got butterflies in my stomach. But I know it’s going to be alright. Whatever happens, I know I’m still committed and I’ll go all the way to see this through.
Other mentoring resources:
The Writer’s Blog– a site by freelancer Dana Prince who offers mentoring advice as well. Great for for those writing newbies like me.
Writing Mentoring Service– Freelance writer Sharon Hurley offers mentoring service for writers
Mentoring by Steve Pavlina- great article on mentoring catered to the general audience
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