Sharing the Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer
Rather like teaching creative writing, I’ve found mentoring a rewarding way of contributing to a community that’s nurtured my own writing. And it has benefits for me too. It’s quite a privilege to engage with another writer’s process and progress, and both mentor and mentee benefit from breaking down the loneliness and struggle of the long-distance writer, building a kind of partnership based on mutual interest in the writing project. It also encourages me to reflect on and realise my own practice and experience and as such there are always new opportunities to learn.
It’s quite a privilege to engage with another writer’s process and progress.
The idea of mentoring is a one-to-one pairing of writers over a contained period of time, when one of them is making a particular transition, and the other has more experience or expertise connected to this. Both parties need to be well-organised and to commit a reasonable amount of time to developing the dialogue and moving towards agreed goals.
A mentor offers encouragement, feedback and critical support for the improvements the mentee desires. A number of my mentoring relationships have been conducted entirely through written communication, but for the Scottish Book Trust mentoring scheme, the process takes place over the course of a number of face-to-face meetings. I've found the informality of these meetings and time for extended discussion invaluable and good for building the necessary trust. I back up discussion with a written version of my feedback and have taken to offering this a few days in advance of the meeting. This can help the mentee to digest comments which might be overwhelming when all delivered on the spot. They can be prepared with further thoughts in response, or with questions, and have time to put into perspective any impulse towards defensiveness or nervousness about what they will face at the meeting itself.
As a mentor I might also suggest further reading, alert the mentee to appropriate initiatives or suggest where they submit their work. Occasionally, I’ve found opportunities to champion their work; for example I was able to nudge one writer towards their first story broadcast on BBC Radio Four, because my own contacts at the BBC were receptive to recommendations.
Mentoring gives me a special relationship with someone else's writing
Mentoring gives me a special, and warm, relationship with someone else's writing, which is particularly enjoyable when they scamper off towards the horizon in leaps and bounds. Lucy Ribchester was introduced to me as a potential mentee through her short story 'The Glassblower's Daughter'. I immediately loved its sumptuous prose evoking the textures of 17th century Leith and the girl who lives out her dreams of the sea through the sailors she encounters. Later I came to know the story, and Lucy's intentions for the narrative, inside out. She trusted her own instincts and went through some professional re-crafting in response to feedback. When it was deservedly shortlisted for the Costa short story award last year, I glowed with vicarious pride. Now I'm going to ask her to mentor me with my novel writing!
To find out more about what it's like to be mentored, read Linda's blog From Novella to Novel.