Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More on mentoring

I thought it was about time to come back and tell you about the mentoring process as I’m experiencing it with The Literary Consultancy. I'm far enough into the process now to see some of its results.

I can submit up to ten thousand words, six times to my mentor. She (in my case) will report back within two weeks (usually around a week in my experience.) You can find further details of what the mentoring deal includes here.

Someone once said to me that I was brave submitting a first draft to anyone to look over, but the truth is, it’s not a first draft. I write the ten thousand words and then I edit them. They aren’t finished, but not are they as rough as a first draft either.

My first ten thousand words were ready to go as soon as the agreement was made. I had been working on these for such a long time that several friends were concerned I was only ever going to have ten thousand, fully polished, words. While I waited for the first report to come back I worried. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to write another ten thousand words in six weeks; I worried what the report would say. The report came back with a good balance of positive and critical comments.

I did manage to write the second ten thousand words and I sent them off after the six week interval. I worried again. This time I worried that the first section had been a fluke. I thought that my mentor would come back and say ‘Oh, what happened? The first section showed promise … what happened to these words?’ The second report came back and instead of the above, there was a good balance again of positive and critical comments.

I was beginning to believe that I could get the words down. I had written two lots of 10k of words… I could probably write another 10k, couldn’t I?

However, the third ten thousand words were much harder. I really needed the growing belief that I could do it. The novelty had worn away a bit and it was hard slog. I had quite a few personal issues to worry about. It was Christmas and I was going away with my family but I would have to work while on holiday as I was a behind with the words. I sent off the third section with a covering note saying that I had struggled with these words. My mentor wrote back saying that the process is flexible and next time to take a bit longer until I am happier. That way, her comments are extending me rather than correcting things I already know. When the report came back she had included lots of positive and critical comments and told me that in general, it felt underwritten. This was a crucial comment that helped me understand my pattern of work.

Bitterly disappointed that I’d let myself down, I sat down to write the fourth ten thousand words. Somewhere during this writing, I discovered that I had two distinct heads (metaphorical heads, silly!) The reason I hadn’t been able to get the third lot of words into order was because I had creative head on and in order to polish, I needed editing head and I simply hadn’t recognised that. As long as I knew which head I needed to sit down with I was able (mostly) to conjure the right attitude. I also realised that I always need to return and flesh out … hence the underwriting.

So here I am two thousand words into the fifth ten thousand words. I know what’s coming in the story but I have absolutely no clue as to how I am going to get there. BUT, I have a developed a relaxed attitude to this, a faith almost, that it will happen. I hadn't had any idea either how to get from one word to one thousand words, but that had happened and more.

It’s like being an alcoholic, one day at a time or in my case, one scene at a time.


Flowerpot said...

That sounds really good JJ - very very encouraging. Keep at it - you will get there!

Debs said...

You're doing so well.x

SueG said...

This is really interesting, especially te bit about knowing what's going to happen but not knowing how. That's the predicament I'm in now (and am so often in). For me the trick is to believe that the idea and the words will actually come to you, if ou can just get yourself to sit there and let it happen. I'm so glad the Literary Consultancy is working for you. I've been wondering about them for myself and this new book, to be honest....but well done! You really are doing great! xo

JJ Beattie said...

Thanks Flowerpot. I am feeling positive about it.

Debs, thank you.

Sue, I think the 'faith' bit is almost the most important thing to have come out of this. Not knowing how to get there could just stop me writing, but I believe it will happen.

I think TLC are great. My whole experience has been positive.

Did you see what I'm reading over on the left hand side?

liz fenwick said...

You have learnt sooooo much. Just knowing that you have 'two heads' is major. I never quite know how I am going to get to the end but I do have a vague idea of what the end is........

Anonymous said...

It sounds like it's really helped and focused you. Good luck with the 5th 10,000!

KAREN said...

It is odd how once you start writing, the words seem to keep coming and a deadline is a great way of making sure that they do! You're doing really well :o)

Queenie said...

I too find this really interesting. From my own experience, I suspect part of the reason it's working so well for you is the balance of positive and critical comments. I find I need the positive comments for encouragement (although they don't work unless I believe them, so they have to be real) and the critical comments for improvement. Both are essential for me.

It's also like being an alcoholic because it's so addictive!

sheepish said...

You really are doing amazingly well, I can manage the alcoholic bit with out any trouble!!!
But I must get my head down again and stop faffing around, I am determined to keep up with you.

HelenMHunt said...

That sounds brilliant. And you are making amazing progress x

Angie said...

That's a good way to approach the process. I think I struggle most in making the shift from the creative to the critical mindset, and I'm still sorting out how to make the mental jump.
I would love to find a group like the TLC over here.

JJ Beattie said...

Liz, I have. I've learned so much and the most important thing I've learned is that I can do it. I can sit down and write regularly.

M&T, thank you.

Karen, thanks. The key for me is the one scene at a time...

Queenie, it is, you've hit the nail on the head. The praise means I can stop worrying (a bit) about certain things and concentrate on worrying about the things that need more work. The critical points are hopefully what will make me improve but the praise has been important for my self belief.

Sheepish, thanks m'dear. Come on now ... because we always knew you could do it. It was me we were in doubt about. So keep up with me.

Helen, thank you. I hope I can keep it up too.

Angie, there must be somewhere over there ... although I'm doing it all online! I think I struggle a bit to change heads, but recognising it was a huge leap forwards.

B said...

Thanks for sharing this. I'm making mental notes for after I've finished my course :)