Friday, April 28, 2017

Returning the Favor: Helping Fellow Writers

It's cherry blossom time in Poulsbo, the Little Norway of Washington state. The left hand shot is of the first blossom that's popped on the weeping cherry tree that Hatshepsut is inspecting (right hand photo). When the blooms finally all open, the tree will be a mass of pink. I'll try for another photo at that point. It's pretty spectacular in bloom. May even have to break out a real camera for that.

You'd think that my cherry blossom obsession had nothing to do with the topic of mentoring or giving back to the writerly orgs to which most of us inevitably belong. You'd think incorrectly because I can make anything about anything. It's a gift. Brace yourself for a crappy analogy:

When it comes to mentoring, I feel like I'm bringing a cell phone camera to an opportunity that calls for a massive DSLR

Yeah. That was it. My analogy. Aren't you glad you stuck around for that? What I'm saying is that while I try to do my darnedest to contribute, I want to be ultra careful about holding myself up as any kind of authority on anything writing. My knowledge and skill set are still equal to a middle of the road cell phone camera. There are loads of writers out there in the world with the amassed ability that's equal to a super hi-res Digital SLR camera. Sure, sure. I've held offices for various organizations. I've judged contests and critiqued entries as kindly and as constructively as possible. I will volunteer during conferences for any and all tasks that will help things go more smoothly. Need bags stuffed? Count me in. Files sorted and organized? Sure. Boxes carted? I'm there.

But frankly, at this point, I am more in need of mentoring than I am in need of mentoring others. I still have so much to learn and so many opportunities to breathe some new life into a career that's been in a bit of a holding pattern. Maybe when I manage that, I'll have a great story to tell other writers about how to do it - or at least the story of how it worked for me.

Sure, I've taught workshops. I've taken far more. Mainly, I think, because while I get a lot out of workshops, I find offering workshops to be too impersonal. My great joy is sitting down in a group of writers and listening to everyone's work. This happened recently. A writer with a great manuscript came to critique. We read her opening chapter. Everyone gave feedback, then I said, "You know, based on this chapter we've read, here's the story you're setting up." She stared at me. "That's not the story at all." "Yeah," I said. "I think you started the book in the wrong place. From what you're describing about the plot, your story starts here." I was trembling in my boots, because WHO WANTS TO HEAR THAT???

Her eyes were wide. She sucked in a breath and then shouted, "Oh my GOD! I knew something was wrong and I had no idea what it was! Thank you!" 

So that's my sweet spot. Getting to offer up an opinion about how a story is off track and offering options for putting it back up on rails. It isn't massive value to massive numbers of writers - but if it helps one single writer get her work to market, I'll be happy. Actually. Scratch that. I already am happy. It's alarmingly satisfying to identify story issues (in someone else's work where I'm not blinded by trees and forest) and to come up with potential resolutions. It's giving someone a leg up in their work. It's also excellent practice for me - solving other people's story issues makes it more likely I'll be able to ID my own. Maybe.

What I really want to know is if you could get any workshop from any writer(s) what would it be about?

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