Monday Mumblings on Mentors…

July 26, 2010 at 9:14 am (Uncategorized)

Well, I did finish the first draft of the doll’s house story last Wednesday, but I realised over the weekend that it’s going to require some fairly significant changes, so it’s not going to be ready in time for a last short story competition I was going to enter before forgetting contests for the foreseeable future. At present there’s a constant game of internal tug-o-war afoot, in which on the one hand, I want to finish a piece of writing and turf it out on its ear at the first available opportunity, ignorantly hopeful of its eventually finding somewhere to live of its own accord, all very brisk, while on the other I do very much want to learn not to rush anything out the door until it’s well and truly ready to go. These competing instincts are confusing, and they impair my judgement. Part of the problem is that I am not confident I do or will ever know when the time is right, so there’s a lot of hoping and guessing, but no certainty, and the result so far has been so many false starts.

One of the chief motivations I have for ever sending anything anywhere is the simple hope of receiving constructive feedback in return, because I think criticism is a real asset to anyone’s commitment to improving their writing, but such efforts could conceivably go on forever, since every reader experiences every piece of writing differently. What I think I need to establish is some sort of continuity of feedback, instead of all the random strands I’ve gathered along the way as various people have read and commented upon my writing. Ask a hundred readers for their opinion, and you’ll get a hundred different opinions. It’s addling.

I’d like to follow the example of Darklings JB and Jenny by getting myself a mentor, but the search for the right person has so far come to nothing. At the very least, I seem to have wildly overestimated my old PhD supervisor’s affection for me: I emailed her last week to ask if there was any way in hell she’d consider such a thing – for the going rate or better – and thus far she hasn’t even emailed back to say no. Just the confidence boost I was hoping for!! I knew it was unlikely – she’s very busy – but I thought it was worth a shot, and it’s more than a bit abashing to receive nothing whatsoever in response, least of all a soothingly redemptive out-of-office auto-reply. Naturally I’m already having very ugly flashbacks to my thesis – a hardcopy of which I so reverently posted – being utterly ignored by Don DeLillo, whose work I’d spent nearly five years of my life analysing. Crushing! Being ignored is even worse than being outright rejected, don’t you think? I’d much prefer my old supervisor said, ‘I never liked you, and I wouldn’t mentor you if my life depended on it’ than nothing at all. Total silence lets all the ghouls out and invites them to run amok. I’m feeling pretty toothless already, and I think they’re gathering for a concentrated attack on my ribs.

Anyway, I’ve looked at the list of mentors on the NSW Writers’ Centre website – a couple of times now – but didn’t feel the necessary pull toward any of them. Since it’s going to cost money I don’t have spare, and I would ideally like the relationship to be ongoing, I feel like I should feel a little glimmer of recognition and/or connection. I think it’s important to be a wee bit simpatico.

There are plenty of other mentors about, but I also admit I’d have difficulty regarding as a mentor someone with less publishing experience than I have myself. Even though all my published work has been non-fiction to date, I’ve still been published quite a lot. I work as a professional writer, after all, plus I hold a research PhD in English, so I admit I do turn a slightly critical eye on a couple of these resumes, some of which are distressingly underwhelming. Perhaps I am asking too much, but I’d rather wait for the right person to turn up than rush into an arrangement that could do more harm than good.

So the search continues. There was one woman I did like the sound of, but because she is attached to an English outfit, her rates are in Pound Sterling (even though she lives somewhere on the Hawkesbury River just outside Sydney), and I can’t afford that, since they charge more even before conversion. That’s what used to kill me in London when I was still spending my rapidly disintegrating fistful of Aussie dollars: a pizza in Australia might cost $20, and a pizza in London might cost £20, so it looks like there’s some sort of parity, but in reality that London pizza costs an Australian $50. The same applies to these mentorship rates: if you’re earning pounds, I daresay it’s all perfectly reasonable, but in Australian dollars the cost is prohibitive. Which is a pity.

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8 Comments

  1. Lilian Nattel said,

    I found the same problem myself when I visited England, in terms of pounds and Canadian $. Di, I do think you’re on the right track. I agree that 100 readers will have 100 different opinions, and I’ve found it more useful to pick someone whose advice I decide to follow because that person seems to get what I am trying to do. There’s no rush. The right mentor will come along.

    • doctordi said,

      The pound is harsh, Lilian, isn’t it? It used to make my eyes water – and these rates were a potent flashback as to why!!

      I hope we’re both right in thinking the right mentor will eventually show up!

  2. Pete said,

    Di, I like Lilian’s calm words of encouragement there. I see it a bit like finding the right therapist. If you keep looking and know what it is you want, then the right one will come along. Do any of those writing forums appeal to you? I’ve not tried Litopia (since I don’t really write, have not had anything published since my journalism days) but it sounds promising.

    As for the doll’s house story, I was also a little worried that you would be sending it out so soon if you’d just writtten it. So it sounds good to sit with it for a while and to send it out when it’s good and ready. Best of luck with finding the right mentor. And I hope you hear from your old supervisor soon.

    • doctordi said,

      Pete, I think the forums are fantastic (oh World WIde Web, how writers do love thee!), and I know they come highly recommended from writers I really respect, but they’re just not quite right for me at this stage – I have group feedback already from the Darklings, I have other individual readers, but what I feel in my guts I really need is to develop that one-on-one relationship, ideally including some face-to-face time. It’s a mentor I need, I’m pretty sure of that.

      Nope. That story ain’t goin’ NOWHERE, never fear!

      Not a peep from my old supervisor. Talk about feeling like an utter gooseberry!!!

  3. Litlove said,

    I work with a woman called Jacqui Lofthouse (her website is called The Writing Coach and she does in fact manage a team of mentors) and I love her. In fact, if we weren’t actually married to other people, I would propose. So I am all for mentors. I agree that a stable, informed perspective is very helpful. Good luck with finding one – as Lilian says, I’m sure s/he will materialise in due course.

    • doctordi said,

      Laughing – that’s quite a rap, LL!! The Writing Coach… I don’t think that’s the same operation this Hawkesbury-based mentor is attached to…. nope, just checked and it was ‘Gold Dust’ (daggy name but a great list of mentors). I daresay the UK has several, you lucky things, but I’m glad you’re getting so much out of yours, it makes me feel even more persuaded that a mentorship – if not with my old research supervisor, then ideally with an experienced, published author – is really what I’m after.

  4. Pete said,

    Didn’t realise you did your thesis on Don DeLillo. I heard one of his stories (Bader-Meinhof) as a New Yorker podcast and he’s really good (duh). But obviously not that good in terms of replying to his devoted readers.

    • doctordi said,

      Really? Why did I think we’d discussed him in the past…? I guess I don’t wail about his ignoring my thesis (hard-bound in magnificent postmodern orange!) as often as I thought….!!!

      Yeah, I think the fact that I emerged post-PhD still loving his work says it all. He’s the man, even if he doesn’t care.

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