Mentoring

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Mentoring

Postby Mira » 14 Jun 2010, 07:24

I recently watched the movie Akallah and the Bee (great movie, btw) and they kept stressing how important it was for her to have a coach (she's a champion speller).

It made me think about the importance of teachers......

Has anyone had a mentor? How did it work out for you? Do you think it's a good idea? A bad idea? I'm just curious about people's exerience.

Other than one class and my experiences on the blogs, I've never really had a coach - I worry that it would interrupt my natural process, but I also wonder if it could be extremely helpful.

Any thoughts about this? Thanks -
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Re: Mentoring

Postby polymath » 14 Jun 2010, 09:11

I've not had a formal mentor since childhood. One of the more profound mentoring experiences from my parents' teaching was hard-won accomplishments are their own reward. Mastering the easy stuff is like picking carnival novelty prizes from a zirconium bedazzled tray. The easy way rarely is genuinely easy. It was a hard lesson to learn that the hard way is easier than the easy way.

My writing mentors haven't been formally my mentors. They've been teachers and professors and writers and fellow poets and others not directly engaged in writing coincidentally providing insights from sharing their learning and accomplishments and failures. I remember years after any one said or showed something that stood out that stuck with me. A high school writing, literature, and publishing teacher showed me the difference between a tension building plot and a defusing tension plot, though it would be years later before I fully grasped the concepts of tension, causation, and antagonsism. He also gave me some insight into the difference between an awkward metaphor and an estranging one, again, decades later I'd finally grasp what he tried to say succintly but I couldn't quite grasp.

I've done hundreds of hours of writing coursework, had many ancilliary mentoring experiences as a consequence, and taken a lot of time to grasp the full ramifications of the unintended, insightful, ancilliary bits. Mentors learn from their mentees because they learn by teaching. It's a dialogue.

Perhaps not too terrribly odd, some of my better mentoring experiences came from studying writing-related topics that have little immediate connection to writing. Social sciences, physical sciences, math, foreign languages, for example. Social sciences like sociology, political geography, psychology, and anthropology have significant influences on writing, and are themselves influenced by writing. Freud began his investigations into psychoanalysis with the literature available to his times. Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles 400 BCE playing large in Freud's emerging theories of psychoanalysis. One recently vogue area of literary theory and interpretation revolves around lay psychoanalysis of literature.

I'm disinclined to having or being a formal mentor. The relationship dynamics of formal mentorship become complicated by power struggles. I don't want to wind up a clone of someone else's viewpoints and attitudes nor impose my vision on someone else's. On the other hand, I prefer a dialogue relationship, where I give and take, locate a trail head, but leave trail blazing to the traveller. Have a trail head located for me. Then the journey is the traveller's, fresh, new, and vital because it belongs to the traveller.

The most profound mentoring experience I've had, started by my parents and early childhood teachers, continued by others throughout the journey of life, journey of a poet's progress, was the hardest won and most rewarding. I learned without being told or shown that the journey is the reward. The hardships, the sorrows, the all too few joys are the prizes. Reaching the destination is reaching the end of the journey. Even the most trying obstacles have been fun and rewarding to surmount. It's been too much fun to give any of it up.
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Re: Mentoring

Postby bcomet » 14 Jun 2010, 13:11

Hi Mira!

I've used coaches in the past. Not for any expertise, but to keep me on task through the boring parts.
(It's funny, because I just heard from one of them this morning at the same time as reading your post.)

I found having a coach to keep the writing moving forward is VERY helpful, especially when it has hit a snag.
Sometimes a project, like a novel, is so long and the writer is so alone with the work, that it can be very effective to have someone who you can say, "wrote a page," "edited two pages," "rewrote a chapter," etc. to on a daily basis. It can help keep the rhythm and move the completion process forward.
The hardest part for me is when it's basically written and has no where to go YET. I think when a piece has somewhere to go, someone waiting for it, etc., that it gets finished completely. The last dotting of i's, crossing of t's is hard to do just for yourself, kind of like framing a painting when it has no wall or show. The artwork is finished, but framing it for the closet can seem like it could wait. Therefore, the query process pushes me to do that final stuff (because it needs to be there by then) and working with a coach can get me past my own procrastination.

I think it is better if you know what you need and you personally direct the coach.
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Re: Mentoring

Postby Claudie » 14 Jun 2010, 20:11

I haven't had a coach, but my writing group sounds a lot like bcomet's. They are my motivator, because if I do not write, they will guilt me. We meet every week, we exchange ideas and we show each other what we wrote. None of us are professionals, however.

So far, I've learned mostly from exchanging with other writers. I seek out blogs from agents, writers and publishers, and I hang around forums like this one. It is, as polymath put it, a 'dialogue relationship', and I believe we all stand to gain a lot from exchanging on our craft.

I have not taken classes in Creative Writing, but I intend to start a short one-year program in Autumn 2011. We'll see how that goes.
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Re: Mentoring

Postby polymath » 14 Jun 2010, 21:44

Claudie,

If you're inclined to reading up on writing, the Science Fiction Writers of America Web site hosts a diverse collection of writing advices and tips, also known as poetics or narratology, plus writing business topics. Though a lot of the content directly involves science fiction writing, much of it is applicable generally to writing. It's freely accessible and accessible user friendly-wise. Orson Scott Card's books on writing are also some of the more user friendly poetics texts. His concept of MICE, meaning Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event narrative emphasis, offers a crash course on SPICE, meaning Setting, Plot, Idea, Character, and Event driven narratives, that more complicated, less user friendly narratologists discuss, like Aristotle, Freytag, Chatman, Friedman, Swain, Bickham, Lukeman, Maass, Wood, Lubbock, and Toolan, etc., and many many more. (I wish I could name a few female narratologists for gender balance. McIntyre's, Cherryh's, and Moon's advices are available at SFWA.) Then there's the seven hundred or so writing how-to's in print published by author services companies like Writers Digest. Many written by women.

SFWA writing page index;

http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/information-center

For a laugh or two to take off a little bit of the strain, if it weren't also so tragic, "The Sobering Saga of Myrtle the Manuscript" by Tappan King.

http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/the-soberin ... manuscript
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Re: Mentoring

Postby Claudie » 14 Jun 2010, 22:28

That looks so useful I don't know where to begin. No, wait, I do. *adds to her writer-y bookmarks*

On topic, and because polymath's suggestion reminded me of this: I'm convinced that with the resources available across the internet today, becoming a self-taught writer of some talent is quite possible. It demands time and hard work, as all things should, but it is possible.
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Re: Mentoring

Postby Mira » 15 Jun 2010, 08:11

Claudie - I totally agree that it's possible to teach yourself, given all the resources and writing community. I think a really good critique group mentors each other, too. You sound like you've got a great group - you're lucky!

Hi Bcomet. :) I think having someone help me move past snags is part of my interest. I tend to get blocked so easily! I also think you're right - it's good to know what you're looking for and ask for that directly.

Polymath - thank you. Thanks for the resources, and I also found alot of what you said moving. 'On the other hand, I prefer a dialogue relationship, where I give and take, locate a trail head, but leave trail blazing to the traveller. Have a trail head located for me. Then the journey is the traveller's, fresh, new, and vital because it belongs to the traveller.' That's really eloquent and beautifully said.

I'll think about all that. Maybe writing is different from a talent like 'spelling' or athletics - where people traditionally have coaches. Writing is a very personal and individual journey. And I certainly don't want someone trying to send me down the wrong path! But I still find myself looking for something...... I've personally had some bad experiences in critique groups, so I'm feeling leary of them right now. Some of my writing is a bit off-beat and not everyone gets it. So, I guess I'm looking for something different than a critique group.

Thanks for the discussion - I appreciate it.
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Re: Mentoring

Postby polymath » 16 Jun 2010, 12:20

You're welcome, and thank you, Mira.

I'm through with the downs and outs of negativity. I'm a lot easier to get along with flying on the wings of positivity, inspiration, and encouragement. Life is so much more rewarding and companionable now that I'm not such a depressing curmudgeon.
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Re: Mentoring

Postby Mira » 16 Jun 2010, 12:39

Ah, but maybe you were a loveable curmudgeon. :)

Positivity, inspiration and encouragement are amazing in their potential to heal and empower. But there's power and truth in the darker things too - if channelled correctly - it's good to find a balance.

What I strive for is clarity, and the thoughtful expression of it.

Hmmm. Although that probably doesn't even relate to what you're talking about. :) I did find your post inspiring - thank you.
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Re: Mentoring

Postby polymath » 16 Jun 2010, 13:27

Mira,

Life threw me a world of hurt over the last two decades. I lost my balance for a few years. I was the proverbial naysayer, doomsayer, grouch, grinch, and scrooge all wrapped up in one mouth. The way I found forward was through expressing ironies. Like, something I privately loathe, but for reasons beyond my ken, others find the height of currentness, I'll effusively praise, and in overstated praise condemn it, make it into a cliché, come to terms with my loathing, perhaps change my viewpoint. Sometimes I use understatement, verbal irony. I'm a klutz sometimes when my mouth gets ahead of my mind, I express comments I know what I'm saying but can be readily intrepretted differently than I intended, situational and dramatic ironies. I laugh along. The message gets across anyway. I'm working on using situational and dramatic ironies intentionally, to my advantage.

I had a deep literature discussion with a librarian at the checkout desk today. The dialogue shifted from literary theory to young adult fiction. She condemned Twilight. I agreed with her views, which I really do, but praised her demerit points as qualities that the audience happens to like. My concluding remark, at least they're reading something. Maybe they'll continue reading and their tastes and critical thinking mature as they grow. Perhaps her viewpoint softened a little. Mine remains open-minded. The one reason I read the novel was to be able to intelligently discuss it.

I've thought about a comment you made previously, "I've personally had some bad experiences in critique groups, so I'm feeling leary of them right now. Some of my writing is a bit off-beat and not everyone gets it. So, I guess I'm looking for something different than a critique group."

Me too. I'm working on developmental editing for my own benefit, and narrowing my creative processes into a synthesis of my interests and messages. I've ruled out the crumudgeonly spectacles of journalistic scandals, like oil spills and failed celebrity idols and financial fiascoes. So many somebodies have that down beat covered. I've ruled out a lot of currently popular down beat culture, but not excluded anything outright. Where I am on the developmental editing front is encouraging.

A fairly well reknowned regional nonfiction nature author I know had agents and publishers tell him his latest manuscript was too personal. He didn't understand. I suggested that perhaps it's personal without being meaningful. He said, huh? Make it less autobiographical author surrogacy and self-idealization and self-efficacy, more about private struggles and insuperable dilemmas, I said. Show your vulnerabilities, your crises of conscience and identity you instinctively avoid in your writing, make it more personally meaningful. He's still thinking about it, but he's seeing daylight.
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Re: Mentoring

Postby Username » 16 Jun 2010, 13:42

The only person who can teach you how to write is you - in private study.
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Re: Mentoring

Postby Quill » 16 Jun 2010, 20:46

Polymath, I would want you on my team if I had one.

More often than not I smile wide when I open a thread to one of your posts. You're just so damned knowledgeable on every aspect of writing. You bring whole realms of stuff to the table I didn't even know existed.

I sure hope all that knowledge helps when you write. I think it would be daunting to write, having analyzed the craft to that degree. But I bet it isn't for you.

I'm starting to wonder like hell what your fiction looks like.
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Re: Mentoring

Postby polymath » 17 Jun 2010, 07:47

Quill,

If I was much of a belonger, I'd want to be on your team too, and Mira's, and more than a few others here at Mr. Bransford's. But I'm not. I have an irrational fear of groups, the mob kind of agoraphobia.

Yeah, there's a lot kicking around in the old brain box. I've just finished reading up on a selection of advanced poetics topics. It got pretty deep, Mariana's Trench deep. I'm spending some time assimilating what I learned while working on applying it.

With hundreds of thousands of choices in my think store inventory, I can see how it could cause a persitent feedback freeze up. But it's more liberating than stifling for me. I've got a full set of answers for the questions that hunches raise.

I'm but an apprentice fiction writer, a modestly successful professional nonfiction writer, a successful editor and self-publisher. I sidelined my nonfiction writing and publishing tracks to delve deeper into fiction writing. Nonfiction doesn't hold enough satisfaction for me, writing or reading. Now that I've got a handle on fiction writing, I understand why. Nonfiction isn't as beholden to the basics of storycraft as fiction, mostly in plot mechanics for their power to stimulate emotion. I don't like writing nonfiction without implementing all the creative devices available. Perhaps that's a way for me to go forward in nonfiction.

For the last decade most of my fiction has been kept private. I send out a piece or two now and then to test the audience waters. No joy yet. Although I believe I've reached the end of my studies, not the end of studying, the end of confusion and uncertainty. I can relax on striving to learn, and get fully into striving to achieve. Perhaps in the near future, my fiction will make its mark. If not, because my preferred themes and messages might not appeal to contemporary audiences, I might become a promotional review critic, or a literary critic, never a lifestyle arbiter of taste critic, one of the few areas where I say never. Maybe a writing and literature professor. Choices.
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Re: Mentoring

Postby Margo » 17 Jun 2010, 08:33

Username wrote:The only person who can teach you how to write is you - in private study.



Totally disagree. I shudder to think how long it would have taken me to grasp certain concepts and techniques were it not for the generosity of a few professionals who took the time to 'pay it forward'. That being said, the writer must still work to actually apply the techniques, which is entirely a matter of getting in there and writing.
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Re: Mentoring

Postby Margo » 17 Jun 2010, 08:35

polymath wrote:If I was much of a belonger, I'd want to be on your team too, and Mira's, and more than a few others here at Mr. Bransford's. But I'm not. I have an irrational fear of groups, the mob kind of agoraphobia.


(Tearing up the $1 million dodge ball contract I was about to offer polymath.) Fine.
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