New Dogs, Old Tricks and Right Times

Writing ‘credentials’ fascinate me.  If I’m reading a book I’m enjoying  (and this is where paper is preferable over screen I think) I’ll flip to the Author page and see what they’re all about  - unless it’s a writer I’m already familiar with, or am friends with already (oh yes I rub shoulders with some good ‘uns) .  And if I see that they have a Degree in Drama or English Literature then I nod sagely; ‘ah…so this is why it’s written well’, and if I read that they have worked in Theatre or at the BBC or anywhere else remotely creative and Arty then I think the same; they have the experience, the education, the knowledge to produce something of this calibre.  But show me a page where the author says they’ve got an MA in  Creative Writing or spent years under the mentorship of JK Rowling* and that’s when I’ll show you some scratched off skin (mine).

These are the itches that I can’t leave alone.  And oftentimes I wonder if the itching is purely because I’m cross and jealous that MAs in  Creative Writing didn’t exist in ‘my day’ – heck, forget the Bath College of Fine Art, I’d have sold my parents and  brother and thrown the gerbils in for a place on a Creative Writing degree course in the 80’s. (I’d have kept the dog of course).

Similarly I would have been/would be very pleased to be considered a suitable candidate for Mentoring at any stage of this Writing Career I have chosen for myself.  Well, wouldn’t I?
Because in my head (you’d better bring a cagoule – it can get messy in there), a Creative Writing degree would help me hone my craft, polish my phrasing, enhance my metaphors and sharpen my shynopshishes. Maybe.

And wouldn’t having a Mentor be the next best thing to having an agent on-side all the time? A staunch and loyal supporter who encourages, rallies, cheerleads and hands out shoulders to cry on at the drop of a cliché? Isn’t that what they do?
Another part of my internal tussle the n invites my Art Teacher, the very arty farty Mrs Black, godlove’er, who used to peer over at my latest ‘piece’, point and suggest slight alterations.  Which she’d then go and suggest to the next art student, and the next and the next, until we were all basically producing pieces of art a la Mrs Black.  Which frankly even back then I couldn’t see the point of and made me want to slap her.  I did tell her once to leave me alone, this was how I wanted to do it and I loved the result.  I even got a commission  from the Head  to produce a print for his office.  Glory days.

I bet nobody poked their nose over Van Gogh’s shoulder and told him to make his sunflowers a bit more realistic. Can you imagine Mrs Black telling Picasso he should really make his nose stay in the middle of the face and not stick an ear on the nice lady’s neck?
I mean, where would it all end?

So is there a Right Way and a Wrong Way when it comes to creativity?  Did Jane Austen get her work scrutinized by a Master or a Mentor before publication (I don’t know actually… she might have done for all I know). 

Lately I’ve been seriously considering getting myself a Mentor.  I did enter a competition earlier in the year when a successful author was offering her services as a Mentor over the course of a year which included meet ups, skype/phone calls, e-mails, help with editing, revisions, introductions to agents and publishers and I very nearly internally combusted with excitement because I thought surely, at this stage in my writing journey I must be ripe for Mentoring.  Surely there can’t be much more left I need to learn… surely….. “… (stop calling me Shirley”).

I poured my bleeding heart out into that competition application.  I told her how long I’d been writing; how close I’d come to getting an agent; how many books I’d written, how I’d give an arm and a leg (the parents are long gone and the brother’s got a family now so I don’t think he’d appreciate being a bartering tool these days) for the opportunity she was offering. I emailed the covering letter, the application and a sample of the book I was working on  at the time. And waited.
I was so certain.
And I’m the least certain person I know.

Added to the fact there were 6 winning places on ‘offer’ and a further 8 ‘runners-up’ who would receive some special assistance in their creative endeavours, I imagined it was only a matter of waiting for the deadline to arrive.
This...THIS is why I should have the miniscule Bone of Belief amputated from my stupid body.

Not only did I not gain any of the 6 winning places –which had been upped to 12, I also didn't qualify as a runner up either – of which there were now 15 (or something like that).
I was rubbish.
If proof were ever needed as to how positively sh*te I truly was, then here it was in black and white.  Or rather it wasn’t. Anywhere.
I can’t tell you the number of times I read the names on that l-o-n-g list of successful applicants and I can’t tell you how many of them I Googled – just  to make everything hurt even more.

But today, after months of wound-licking, I have finally realised and rediscovered the hole in my shell where my head is supposed to poke through, and I stand before you and ask: do you think Mentorship is a good idea? Or should this experience just be sucked up and got on with in preparation  for the Right Time?

Oh, and if anybody has a watch capable, can they please tell me where the Right Time is?!

 * Other stupidly successful authors are also available :)


Susie Nott-Bower said...

What a FANASTIC post, Debs! I felt your pain at the end, since it's one that is so bloody common in the writing world. I've come to the conclusion that it's simply a matter of luck when you reach a certain point: and no amount of mentoring or courses or honing or sharpening can shape luck. So hang in there. Somebody, somewhere out there, will find you.

Debs Riccio said...

Thanks Susie, bless you, yes it IS painful isn't it - it's a flippin' good job I'm not a bloke cos I hear their threshold is WAY lower than ours! I'm intending to go for the 'No Pain No Gain' mantra for the forseeable and see how I fare :) x

DT said...

You'll have to imagine a virtual hug and virtual chocolates in your vicinity. I empathise to the empth degree. However...often we're so busy focusing on what we think we lack that we don't push ahead with what we have and what we do well.

The bottom line, it seems to me, is that - like all those dead flies from the attic - writers exist in a vacuum. There's no measure of our 'worth' until (in our eyes) someone offers us a contract.

We're all looking for a sure-fire way out of the maze and up to the light where the published writers sit and eat Turkish Delight (other treats are available). Susie has it right. Luck is a major factor, and so is deciding what constitutes success for us. Meantime, you know what to do...pick up the pen, gnaw it a little at the dry end, and get writing!


Debs Riccio said...

Thanks Derek - that 'virtual' chocolate has become a reality - very clever of you ;) we really do give ourselves such a hard time don't we? I wish I could install a 'chillax' setting somewhere handy about my silly person :)

Lindsay said...

Great post. I've toyed with the thought of doing an MA in Creative Writing but to be honest think I'd rather spend the money on my other ambition of joining the Travellers' Century Club (or should I say being qualified in that I'd have visited 100 countries). I'm not convinced that MAs in Creative Writing produce better writers, although if someone would fling me the dosh to do one I'm sure I would learn a lot. I think it's writing and writing and maybe joining a peer critiquing group that produces good writers, and yes, there is a huge luck element. I've come second in two or three comps. In one, I read the winning entry and thought 'I wish I'd written that.' In another, I'll admit I thought my entry was the superior! But the judge didn't! Luck or judgement? Keep writing I'd say and good luck.

KathM said...

Oh Lord, that rings so true for me and I'm offering up squares of chocolate as we speak. Keep at it!

Debs Riccio said...

Glad I'm not the only one, Lindsay (not the Travellers' club - the MA deliberations) - let me know if you come across any dosh-flingers and we can make a reasoned decision as to what to do with it!
Kath, I'm glad it rang true for you too - makes me feel less lonely - thanks :)