Vaughn Roycroft, stalwart leader of the WU Facebook group’s “Mod Squad” and longtime community member, takes the wheel today to talk about the importance of mentorship. Please check out Vaughn’s bio at the end of the post. Enjoy!
This post started out as a review of a craft book. A few weeks ago I was enthusing on the WU Facebook group page about the book in question, Rock Your Plot, by Cathy Yardley, and Therese was kind enough to offer me this slot to share it with all of you.
Thinking about how this book helped me gave me pause to reflect on my relationship with its author. Cathy is my mentor, you see, and I thought sharing a bit about our mentor/mentee journey would not only be of value to other writers, but would help to illuminate what I find special about the book.
Opposites Attract: Cathy and I met on the WU Facebook page shortly after its inception in January of ’11, but I’d taken note of her before. I’d been finding her comments on this blog and on the Facebook page insightful, wise, and kindhearted. In the first of many auspicious connections to come, I received both a friend request and a message from her on Facebook as I was typing a message to her. The message I was typing and hers were nearly identical, something like, “I appreciate your insight.”
On the surface, we couldn’t have been more different—a newbie writing epic fantasy and a seasoned pro writing romance and chick lit; a Midwesterner and a West Coast gal; an ex-businessman and a self-described Berkley hippy-chick. Of course those things are superficial, but none of it helps to explain what drew me to her. I started following her blog on Rock Your Writing, and quickly decided her philosophies on writing and promotion felt right, and that her advice was worth listening to.
Another chance has been engaged, To throw Thoreau and rearrange. ~Michael Stipe (R.E.M.)
Yes, Rock My Writing, Please: At the time Cathy and I were getting to know one another, I had finished a second rewrite of my epic fantasy trilogy and had gone through a second batch of rejections on book one of that trilogy. I’d already started a fourth manuscript, but I’d also decided the trilogy was worthy of an effort to salvage it. The problem was I didn’t exactly know how to go about it. I knew I needed help. I spoke to my wife about hiring someone, and mentioned Cathy. She went to the ‘Services’ page on Cathy’s website and read aloud, starting with this: “Maybe you’re too close to your project. Maybe you’ve been working on it so long, you can recite passages from memory, and yet you still think ‘it’s all crap!'” And ending with this: “If you’ve finished your novel and suddenly feel paralyzed when faced with revising it, you might want to consider a full manuscript critique.” My wife kept glancing at me as she read, and said, “You were nodding the whole time. I think we’ve found an editor.”
Criticism and dissent are the indispensable antidote to major delusions. ~Alan Barth
The Sting of Truth: I’d had beta readers, but none of them were even writers let alone an industry pro. When I got my book one manuscript back, I feared the worst. But I was pleasantly surprised to find the first note in the critique was complimentary. As you might guess, there was plenty of hard stuff to hear, but every bit of it rang true to me. I knew in my gut she was right each and every time. And Cathy had a way of taking the sting out of the negative with a balm of positive notations and encouraging suggestions.
I tackled my rewrite with renewed enthusiasm and unprecedented direction. When I finished I knew the revised work was much improved. I was so happy with the progress, I hired Cathy to help me with my submissions package and to continue working on the trilogy. I submitted book one again last May, and this time received several requests for partials and some helpful feedback from a few of the rejecting agents.
Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, a push in the right direction. ~John C. Crosby
Seeking the Next Level: In large part due to Cathy’s teachings, I knew the manuscript still hadn’t reached its full potential. There’s another way she and I are like opposites. I wrote the trilogy as a dyed-in-the-wool pantser and Cathy is a plotter extraordinaire. Much of the revisionary process we’d undergone together was in pursuit of identifying the elements of story structure within my complex work and honing them. The work had come far, but I knew it wasn’t quite there yet. It was a sinking feeling.
The best teacher is not one who knows the most but one who is capable of reducing knowledge to that simple compound of obvious and wonderful. ~ H.L. Mencken
The Book That Rocked My Plot: This was the very moment Cathy’s book made an appearance. The greatest review I can think to give is to tell you how well it worked for me. Rock Your Plot is clear and concise. It walks you through a specific process, from testing your premise, through your characters’ goals (both interior and exterior), motivations and conflicts, and carries on through each plot point. Apt examples and explanations are provided at every step.
I’d heard much of the information before, but Cathy’s presentation is so methodical, her examples so relatable, it was like hearing it all for the first time, like having a pro walk you through, simplifying what had seemed an overwhelming task. She’s made a downloadable companion workbook available, but I prefer to go old-school pencil and notebook. I sat with Cathy’s book and my notebook, I scrawled copiously, got up and paced and scrawled some more. After reading the book, I had more revelations regarding my book one characters and plot than in the three years since I finished the first draft. Seriously, it’s the best three bucks I ever spent (less than the cup of coffee some of you are drinking at this moment).
Mentor Mélange: Of course there are many types of mentors and levels of mentorship. I consider WU a veritable hotbed of mentorship. I consider Therese and Kathleen mentors, as well as Donald Maass, Jane Friedman, and Barbara O’Neil among many others. I even consider admired authors and bloggers like Steven Pressfield and Jacqueline Carey to be mentors, even if they’re unaware I’m a mentee. Many of my writerly friends have stepped into the role as well. But the relationship Cathy and I have is something beyond any of those.
Going Pro: Some of you might consider it odd to name a hired critique editor a mentor, but for me the payment is a vital component. It makes it reciprocal, defines the relationship as a professional one. It not only shows that I respect her time and expertise, but it ensures a depth of comprehension and empathy for both of us. When we communicate, we are both focused. Through three manuscript critiques, two hour-long phone conferences, and numerous exchanged emails, Cathy has gained an intimate knowledge of my characters and my world, and a firm grasp on my work’s issues and themes. That knowledge and grasp is a priceless commodity.
No one learns as much about a subject as one who is forced to teach it. ~Peter Drucker
Reciprocity Plus: I know from my years in business, a mentor gains much more than just a paycheck. I learned early on that it was best to know each of our employees’ jobs and every piece of equipment they operated, as well as every use and installation technique for the products we sold. The problem solving that occurs in the mentoring process, as well as mastering the ability to communicate the means to overcoming and avoiding problems, provides a mentor with a unique level of expertise.
Through the course of our journey together, Cathy and I have gained something special. We are teacher and student. We are friends. We are one another’s advocate. We are better for our association. We’ve gained the mentor/mentee benefit.
Who are your mentors? Have you experienced the mentor/mentee benefit?