Sunday, 1 June 2014

A Writing Mentor Saves My Life

Still from Tom's Midnight Garden courtesy of

My confidence scraping rock-bottom, I doubted the wisdom of going to meet a new writing mentor now, fearing that one more discouraging knock might sink me altogether. What if her appraisal (initially of my first 3 chapters) found so many problems that I'd have a rewrite to do on the scale of the last, which took me two years of work crammed into evenings, mornings and chore-filled weekends? Maudlin with worst-case scenarios, I pictured myself following her damning comments with a plea,

'Is there anything you like? Do you think I have any chance of publication at all?'

Minutes into our two-hour consultation, all such fears fell away. This was not only because there was so much she liked (I had to master a self-deprecating 'thank you' to repeat as she revealed her enthusiasm for many aspects of what I had written) but also because I could immediately tell what an excellent grip she had on what was wrong in my first chapter, and how I could put it right.

Writers know that the first few paragraphs are all that matters, whether it's an agent, a publisher or a book-buyer who is assessing your work. If this bit doesn't entice them, they are not going to read your synopsis, ask to see your whole novel, or buy your book. Knowing this, I had thrown my all into the opening, trying to cram in as much exposition, character backstory and general pazzazz as possible so that prize judges and others would be hooked. The writing groaned under the strain. As my writing consultant pointed out the jumps from one point of view to another, the amount of backstory jammed in and the interruption of the action as characters harked back to the past and the further past, this became clear as day.

It is incredibly hard to judge your own work. If you have been working on something for a long time, certain phrases, rewritten, honed, polished and read umpteen times, stop registering in your mind at all. As you read over them, a kind of numbness grips you, but you don't know if it's because the passage is too familiar, or because it isn't working. That's when you need a pair of expert eyes to guide you.

I came out of the consultation elated. I have work to do, but I know where I'm going now. Most important of all, someone else believes in the project; someone whose expertise I trust. We got on like a house on fire and discovered we have loads in common. Most delightful of all was the opportunity to have someone else discover the world I have created and in which I spend hours wandering around, with only my fictional creations for company. Here was someone else admiring the view, commenting on this, caring about that, taking a liking to a character or recognising something I've pointed out. I was like Tom in his Midnight Garden, discovering he was not alone there.

It was hard to be stuck down by self-doubt, just when a setback had shown me how much writing matters in my life. You are not supposed to use blogs for whingeing - it puts readers off; but last week I couldn't help myself, and it was interesting to see that a post with 'disaster strikes' in the title got so many more views than most!) Well, here the whingeing ends. I have a writing mentor. I have a plan.

The writing life is good again.


  1. Mentors and plans are equally helpful! And it does seem to take the former to get a good grasp on the latter.