It can be an amazing journey for a writer to create a fiction or non-fiction book. It can also be quite a scary and unfamiliar ride. There’s a lot involved depending on the genre and style. There’s the matter of creating characters that don’t all sound the same or wooden. Settings and descriptive passages have to have the right blend to create a scene without becoming boring and losing your audience. Timelines and plots have to be workable and believable. Skills have to be wielded artfully to create the right tensions at the right times. Climaxes have to have that ‘on the edge of your seat’ feeling, and there has to be a satisfactory ending with all the plots coming together and being resolved. There’s also research, backstories, and making sure the book satisfies the purpose of writing it in the first place.
A writer can become quite lost during the process and can benefit greatly from an experienced and trained individual to lead the writer through. A mentor can’t write the book for the writer, but can guide the writer through the darkness with quality advice and constructive criticism. It’s a mentor’s job to ask questions, possibly ones that the writer hadn’t even considered before. The answers may not be a simple yes or no reply. The answers may not come instantly; they may need to be explored and considered for some time before a satisfactory response is given. What the writer needs in this instance is a sounding board.
Imagine trying to find your way through an unknown location in the dark and without a torch or map. A gentle hand on your shoulder and a comforting voice steering you home would be a blessing, and that’s the mentor’s job. It’s not to write the book for you, and it’s not to tell you what to write. It’s to guide you. A mentor could be a fellow writer, a teacher, or even an editor. They can all help light the way, but make sure it’s someone that you trust and has skills and experience in writing.
Workshop groups are a great idea and can provide many voices offering opinions. It can help the writer understand the audience’s interpretation and if it’s what the writer wants at a particular point or overall. If the majority of the audience think in the same way but it’s different to the writer’s intention, then the writer has the opportunity to adjust the work. While workshops are important and hold invaluable learning attributes, many participants can be inexperienced writers and may not see all the angles, which is why it’s important to seek out professionals as well.
In workshop environments usually you’ll find one or two people that will offer plenty of feedback, but it may not be specifically what you are after. You have to be firm and ask for feedback on the specific element that you’re concerned about. Take it all in, but make sure your questions are addressed.
Pick a mentor that you can connect with, someone who understands the story you want to tell and your style. If you have a clear idea as to where you want your story to go, don’t feel pressured or bullied by others trying to get you to change it for their own reasons. It’s good to explore other options and possibilities, but if it’s not what you want your story to be about, or you don’t want your character to experience a suggested event then don’t include it. Be true to yourself and to your work. If you end up changing it drastically just to please other people, you may find that you no longer love that story and the enjoyment to write it will evaporate.
Mary Broadhurst © 2014