Monday, May 7, 2012

Working with a Writing Mentor, Part 5: Dances with Mentors

You can dance by yourself, and that can be creative and fun, but it’s much more fun to dance with someone else. Why? Because the pooled energy of two people working out a dance together is much more than the sum of the parts. You find yourself inventing steps you didn’t realize you could do. You have cartridges of adrenaline you didn’t know existed.
It’s similar when you’re working with a creative writing mentor. The concentrated energy of having a person focused on your work for a sustained period of time produces results you would have a hard time achieving all on your own. Just knowing that someone who is knowledgeable about the field of literature is waiting for your new work is an enormous incentive to do your best and even to exceed your own expectations for yourself. That kind of directed concentration on all the details of your work is a rare opportunity.
Use that energy you get from your mentor’s attention and interest in your work to produce both more and better work than you’ve done previously. 
That doesn’t mean at all that you have to imitate your mentor’s dance steps. You have your own dance as a writer, and that’s what you’re developing. Your dance may in some ways mirror the steps of your mentor’s work, or the concerns of your mentor’s work, but it also needs to be your own, or you risk stepping on your mentor’s toes. 
In what ways does your work have to be your own? In the same way that your childhood is your own, or your ancestry is your own, or your family history, or your cultural and religious heritage, or your circle of friends, or your values. You have so much that is your own to draw on, there is no need to imitate anything about your mentor’s work.
Your mentor can also step on your toes in this dance. A mentor can overstep his or her authority, making comments that are too personal or too much in the vein of asking you to write the way he or she does. But if that happens, that’s your mentor’s problem.
Your job is to explore your own project as a writer as deeply as possible, even more deeply than you thought possible. Your job is to polish your work as thoroughly as possible, even more thoroughly than you thought you were capable of. That’s where that attention from your mentor gives you energy you didn't know you had.
Eventually, you need to move on to dancing solo, to filling the stage on your own. But even when you’re dancing solo, your mentor is still in your mind sitting front row center, watching every step, and the first to lead the applause for you if you’re dancing the way you know you can.
Later on, you can also regain some of that dancing energy by collaborating with other artists, creating texts that can be acted, illustrated, sung—or even danced.

Other recent posts on writing topics:
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3 Part 4Part 5

How to Get Published
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe Tanka

Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer

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