Saturday, June 29, 2013

Mentoring: Honing my inner Hawk

            For the last three months I have been under the gentle wing of a mentor. As a hawk on the hunt, I have been learning to focus. My initial instincts were to flee in fear of my first meeting, to hide under the table in the coffee shop and pretend I wasn’t there. Having had my work scrutinised by a knowledgeable editor and finding myself waist-high in a rewrite of grand proportions, I was uncertain how helpful the mentoring would be. I was following the editor’s instructions and juggling with new ideas bred from that process. I found my bravery and embraced the experience.

            Our monthly meetings in a local, quiet coffee shop were an hour well spent in deep discourse. Having had an editor’s eye, critique from my writing group and feedback from Beta readers, I doubted whether there would be much said that was new. However the personal and constructive criticism was fresh, inspiring and exciting me. My attention was drawn in to individuals and their roles, not merely within the scenes we covered but within the novel as a whole. My writer’s sight was sharpened and I saw aspects I had not previously seen.

            Within the three months I have removed an entire plot arc and a minor character, which were cluttering up the storyline and confusing the reader; another minor character has been given more importance and the first page is having a facelift. I feel great fulfilment knowing we have met the goals we set out at the beginning. I am more aware of my own mistakes and therefore able to correct my writing to avoid them in future. I have a better understanding of the standard of my own work and my capabilities as a writer. I no longer fear the removal of beloved pieces of prose, if I know they will do nothing to move my story or my characters along.

            I had lost my way, my confidence waning and the ideas running dry. Being able to share my work, one-to-one with a trusted writing companion was the discipline I needed. When I most needed it, structure and focus came to my aid. As we all know, we writers are a peculiar breed; each of us unique and demanding of ourselves in different ways. My grandmother always said, “A change is as good as a rest.” My 3 months’ rest has refuelled my mind and my heart. I am free to hunt again, my prose my prey.


  1. Fantastic post sweetie. So glad you gained a lot from the mentoring experience & love where you've taken the story with all these changes :)

  2. Thank you. I'm eager to implement the amendments and finally finish! I'll let you know how I'm doing. :) x

  3. I can so identify with you Elaine. And I think the key here is not being fearful of removing whole scenes if they don't further your plot.

    I'm getting better at it now, but found it horrendous if I'm honest. I felt I was hacking the life out of my work, but actually I wasn't, I was in fact making it stronger and better.

    It takes a while not to be precious about your own work, but once you get your head around it, you won't regret allowing yourself to consider someone else's well meant suggestions.

    I am very envious that you had a mentor though... :-)

    Thank you for sharing with us.

    1. Thank you Maria. It's nice to know someone else has shared these dilemmas. It certainly is not easy to remove something you have laboured over, in particular the more poetic pieces your heart is tied to.

      However, as you say, it makes for stronger writing and a better book if we can be brave. And in terms of considering the suggestions of others, I've been through an editor and a mentor, as well as Beta readers. If I'm not hardening to it now, I should be!

      In the absence of a mentor, I'd say that any other writers, with whom you can share your work/writing problems, are mentors. Many hands make light work, my Nan used to say. Writing allies are those many hands, holding pens. :-) x

  4. Your Nan's words are wise indeed. Beta readers are relatively new in my world. I know only a handful of writers who have used them, and would be interested in your views.

    A lady in my writers group, has written a historical novel and has put out a call for readers. I feel quite guilty but I do not have time to read her novel, and it wouldn't be fair to her if I said 'yes' and couldn't read it quick enough. I am a horrendously slow reader. It takes me a while to finish a novel.

    Have a good week writing.

  5. I too discovered Beta readers only recently. I heard a friend online discussing their use of them. As it happened, I was at a juncture where I needed another viewpoint on the start of my novel. I wanted some interesting feedback, so I chose a range of ages in both genders and asked readers within and outside my genre (which is historical fiction).

    I tested 2 sample chapters with my readers, so that I could receive a quick response. Despite the variety of readers, I did have recurring issues and was able to fix those items. It also meant I could test my audience. When I have completed my edit/rewrite I'll choose a trusted reader for the entire book.

    All the best with your writing and I hope that I have given you some food for thought on Beta readers.

  6. Interesting and thought-provoking post.

    I have found test readers very helpful so far, but do find the open questions that arise from their input hard to reconcile. A few weeks of thinking time has been needed to get my head in the right place before being able to tackle edits. I also found I needed more depth for my characters to went off and wrote back stories for them. Hopefully this will add an extra layer of depth to the story as I add some detail when redrafting.

    By the way, I've added your blog to my blog list on my site. :-)

    Keep up the good work.

  7. Thanks Matthew.

    I love the idea of writing the back stories for your characters. I usually create profiles for each of my characters, down to eye colour and height. For one character I even have a battle-scar 'map' to remember where he has been injured/scarred. This was for fear of an injury suddenly leaping from left to right arm, or vice versa. I think it's essential to know as much as we can about our characters, their history or their likes/dislikes. The more we know them, the more realism we can inject for our readers.

    Thank you very much for adding my blog to your site's blog list. :-)

  8. A battle scar map sounds like a good idea! I noticed on re-reading my manuscript that one scar jumped from under the protagonist's left eye, to over it!