The Magic of Mentoring: 3 weeks, 10 lessons

  • Iimages-2 hardly saw Meriam this last week, but it’s only because she’s been so busy. Here’s an update on her progress as an author and a report on my walk down memory lane. First, let’s look at what Meriam has accomplished:
  • 1) Revised dialogue making it less formal/creating distinctive voices.
  • 2) Completely revamped one main character and deleted another (the latter is being saved for another book).
  • 3) Rethought/reworked at least one full chapter in the book (many writers – including me – can’t bring themselves to delete or minimize large sections of their work. Kudos, Meriam.)
  • 4) Knocked chapter endings making them both compelling and strategic
  • 5) Policed herself on show/don’t tell

At 25,000 words and counting, this is a milestone draft for Meriam. A document that read like a character sketch of The Witches of New Moon Beach is now taking on the form and substance of a book.

While Meriam has had an A+ week, I did a little legwork of my own. After reading her blog last week and hearing that she had a few ‘ouch’ moments during my critique, I pulled out my rejection letters, my first editorial letters, and one of my early books. It looked like Meriam and I had quite a bit in common. All those years ago, I had a few ‘ouch’ moments of my own. This is what I discovered about my own writing.

  • 1) I wrote predictable dialogue. High emotion was equated with tears and raised voices.
  • 2) I wrote the characters that I thought people wanted to read instead of characters I believed in.
  • 3) I did not ask myself the tough questions: does this situation, dialogue, place, and time frame make sense?
  • 4) I, too, was told to do write my book over, and over. As one editor said, ‘do it over not just for a reader but for yourself ‘.

It seems, that I haven’t been teaching Meriam how to write her book; I have been sharing lessons that I learned long ago. I was mentored by editors who took my raw material and helped me sculpt it into a book. Not only do Meriam and I share a common history in terms of craft, we also share a trait that is critical to success: stick-to-it-iveness. Perhaps that is the most critical piece of the writing and mentoring equation.

Meriam also taught me a lesson this week, number ten on our list: people learn in different ways. Some are visual, some audio learners and others are hands on. Early last week Meriam and I changed the way we worked together. I stopped making notes on her digital file because this proved too restricting. I lapsed into the shorthand of an experienced novelist and that made the to her notes confusing. Last week, we met at a local wine bar. We each brought a hard copy of her book. In a quiet corner we went through her manuscript page-by-page, brainstormed, played devil’s advocate and, finally, left with both of us feeling as if we had made huge strides in moving her book forward (not to mention the wine made it all delightfully fun).

They say that writing is a lonely profession. Maybe it is, but no one can do it alone. I for one am grateful for every editor who advised me, reader who left a review encouraging me, and writer friends who share their knowledge. In a few months, The Witches of New Moon Beach will be published. Once it is, I know that Meriam will write another book and it will be better than the first. I also know that she will keep the chain going, passing along what she’s learned to another writer and that is the magic of mentoring.

Meriam Wilhelm is an educator who has written books for the parents of grammar school age children. This will be her first work of fiction.







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