Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Mentored by Mentoring
I thought about it for a little while and looked up the school online. Her request seemed simple enough and the requirements seemed reasonable, so I responded in the affirmative.
I signed the "Mentor Agreement" and emailed it to her teacher. Then Kelsie and I planned how to implement the mentoring long distance. We opted for email and Skype. We set our first meeting for just after Thanksgiving, and she emailed me what she'd written to that point.
I had no idea what to expect. She'd sent me what she'd written and her plans for rest of the story. I immediately realized her story line would overflow from a novella to a book and could likely be turned into a series. Her story idea was solid and interesting and her writing showed promise. Her writing intrigued me.
Our first meeting, we chatted for a few minutes and then dove right into the work. She listened intently and answered my questions. She asked me a few questions. We discussed what she hoped to get out of the experience and how to achieve her goals while staying within the guidelines of her assignment.
She wrote. I read what she wrote. We met and discussed her work as well as her struggles to find time to write. Her deadline loomed in front of me and stressed me as much as her mainly because having experience writing I knew the project would likely take longer than she anticipated, especially if she tried to fit her full idea into the book. At one point, I asked her to email me her daily word count for a week to get her in the habit of scheduling time to write. I encouraged her to try different methods of writing to complete the project. She tried writing without editing, editing as she went, the aforementioned daily word count accountability, etc. I pushed her to explore what worked for her and discussed not only what worked for me but what worked for my writer friends. It's easy for us to think our way is the only way or at least the best way. Sometimes when something didn't work for her, I had to step back, look at it, and think about other options to recommend she try. Everyone is different, and writing is an individual undertaking.
We discussed issues with grammar, typos, timeline, and plot. I pushed her on a couple of plot points to see if she would stand up for her work. She did!
After each meeting, I felt energized, encouraged, and inspired. I often found the advice I gave her applied to something I was working on. For example, a few days after a discussion about the importance of describing her characters, I edited a short story and realized I'd completely forgotten to describe my main characters but had described a minor character! When I confessed this to her during our next meeting, she smiled. Sometimes showing our mistakes is as important as showing our successes.
Mentoring Kelsie reminded me why I write and to embrace the joy I find in writing. It awakened the intoxicating feeling of a new story taking shape as the words move across the page. I've been editing and delving through some of my older work for quite a while. I find sometimes in the process I'm harder on myself than I should be. Encouraging Kelsie reminded me to see the work where it is and move forward rather than getting mired in where it began even as I paid homage to its origins.
I looked forward to each installment of her novella, The Planet Jumper (later Escape), in which a young girl who can travel between planets and the journalist who befriends her try to outrun the government who intends to exploit the girl's ability.
As we neared the end of the time allotted for the project, I edited the first part of Kelsie's manuscript reminiscent of the way a professional editor would. I must admit I felt a bit nervous, and I think it showed, as we went over the pages with my comments that I had emailed her. I know professional writers who don't don't react well to having their work dissected line by line. As we discussed my comments, criticisms, and suggestions, I watched her face closely to see how she reacted. To my surprise, she handled the intense editing like a professional. She listened intently, asked questions, and seemed to actually welcome the feedback. At one point she even reassured me that my feedback was helpful and not too harsh.
When she went into hyper-drive mode to finish the project on time, I encouraged her via email but we didn't meet again during that time.
There were times throughout the process when I wondered if I was doing enough or if I was giving her what she needed. I encouraged her to tell me what she needed from me throughout the process, and I often asked her if there was something more she needed. I thought about what I would've have wanted someone to say to me when I wrote my first novella and used that to inspire what I told her. Often though what I planned to say fell to the wayside as I responded in the moment of our meetings. Eventually, I realized that my role as a mentor was as much about hearing what she was saying as it was about guiding her.
I attended her Senior Class Presentation via Skype. She gave a great presentation. Her teacher and the panel who listened to her presentation asked me to stay for a few minutes after the presentation to answer some questions. I did. We discussed the mentoring process and how I perceived Kelsie's performance and attitude throughout the process. It felt so final.
The rewards of mentoring Kelsie far outweighed the time commitment it involved. I worked with her and often asked her what she needed from me rather than just telling her what she needed to do because I wanted to make sure she was getting what she needed out of the process. I hope she did.
Mentoring is about empowering someone else. When we empower others, we empower ourselves. Give yourself permission to mentor someone, and you just might find the experience mentors you in some unexpected way.
T. L. Cooper grew up on a farm in Tollesboro, Kentucky. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Eastern Kentucky University. Her poems, short stories, articles, and essays have appeared online, in books, and in magazines. Her published work includes a novel, All She Ever Wanted and four books of poetry. When not writing, she enjoys yoga, golf, and traveling. Currently, she resides in Albany, Oregon.