Sunday, 6 June 2010
To mentor or not?
I wrote in a bit of a vacuum, in fact most of even my closest friends and colleagues didn't know that I aspired to be an author. Where I grew up people just didn't do such things. It wouldn't have been seen as being a manly thing to do in some eyes, or just a pipedream in others.
For that purpose my only mentors were the books I read, the movies I watched and the things I experienced. My first attempts at writing were in trying to emulate my literary heroes, first Willard Price, then Robert E. Howard and later writers like Don Pendleton and George G Gilman, before I found a style of my own and began working on it. Later on I began reading the current crop of writers but I'd past the emulation stage by then and was trying to find my own voice. No one can teach you that, I guess, and it's very personal to you as a writer.
Nevertheless I'm not suggesting that having a mentor is a bad thing. How could it be? As long as said mentor knows what they're talking about. Nowadays I'm blessed to have a knwoledgeable agent and some superb editors who all have an input in my writing and have tought me a lot. Plus, I have made some great friends through the writing game, and have learned an awful lot from them, being mega sellers or aspiring authors. One thing that has helped me tremendously is in the conversations I've had with aspiring authors who ask such probing questions it has forced me to think about my answers and thus I've learned and absorbed much from my answers.
I'm the first person to admit that I'm not highly educated - I'm not saying I'm thick, I just didn't get the opportunities - but I do think I'm intelligent enough. I couldn't speak knowledgeably on the construction of a book or on the make up of a perfect sentence, but I've a natural ability to string words together in a coherent and hopefully engaging manner and know how to put them down into a book. I've also the will and determination and stamina to sit at the computer and do the work. So if people seek my opinion about writing then I'll happily give it (within reason). But does that make me a mentor? I don't know. I'd rather I was just seen as a sounding board. My opinion is my own and not necessarily right. I am very nervous when writers ask me for advice on the professional aspects of their writing (that is, anything to do with how they should deal with their agent or publisher) because if I say the wrong thing and it backfires then I guess I know where the blame will be levelled. Hint: please don't ask me these kind of questions.
I think having a group of like-minded peers is a fabulous asset. Having trusted friends who will support, but also be truthful if your writing is cack, has to be a great thing. I started my other blog, Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, in an attempt at giving something back to all the aspiring authors out there trying to build their own platforms. I didn't have such tools at my disposal before I was published - being a Luddite I only went on the internet so I could get an email address so I could communicate with agents easier and didn't know what a blog was up until then. So in effect, though I'm just posting people's stories and offering support to them, I suppose that makes a mentor of me in some abstract respect. Or maybe not. I guess a mentor is someone who guides and teaches, and that's probably more like what I set out to do here at this blog. Not that I'm trying to teach anyone anything, just relating my highs and lows along the way, and hopefully giving an idea of what it's like to be published. I've learned a lot, and maybe some of my little nuggets have rubbed off (as cautionary tales?) and will help someone deal with similar travails as they arise. But, I'll say again, I dunno, I'm just speculating.
I've been asked about writing courses and writing groups and the like and if they're a good thing. Again, I'll admit that I don't know. I've never had a lesson and never been to a writing group. But...how can it be a bad thing? It has to be good. If it helps your technical ability, makes you feel like you've gained something useful or have forged friendships with likeminnded individuals then it has to be worthy.
Off topic slightly, I'll tell you where I was a mentor. For the best part of twenty years I coached dozens if not hundreds of people in martial arts and took some of them all the way up to black belt and beyond. During that time I wasn't just trying to impart how to defend yourself but also how to conduct yourself with respect and humility and I seemed to have done so admirably. Some of my students are lifelong friends and I've watched them grow and flower into decent and dignified people. Maybe by offering the little nuggets of hope here I'll do the same for some aspiring authors, and help them achieve their own writing aspirations - not that you're not dignified and decent all ready ;-)
In re-reading that previous paragraph it sounds a little pompous, I didn't mean it to, but have left it in place as I trust in my own sentiment.
Also, if I am allowed to backtrack slightly, I'd like to redress a comment I made earlier (it's late at night, and I'm just writing stream of consciousness thoughts and stuff is still coming to me). I said I went without benefit of mentors. I think that statement was ill-informed on my part. There have been a few people who showed me kindness along the way or did impart some sage advice, and since I became a published author, some have continued to do so, so I guess that I did have mentors, albeit the type who just stepped in and out of my life at different times; but their words of advice were taken on board and have helped me get where I am today. Not all of them were writers, but their lessons have rung true.
So...mentors. Good or bad?
Just make sure you get the right ones! 'Mentors' who you have to pay extortionate amounts of money to, or you have to swear undying loyalty to, or to whom you have to give a litre of your lifeblood or first born child to, these I'd steer clear of.