Tag: mentoring


The next generation of writers

 Earlier today I met with a young writer. Some time ago, I was contacted by her elementary school to serve as a mentor and we meet every few months at her school. She’s in fifth grade, a time when most kids are probably trying to get out of homework assignments, much less coming up with their own. I hope I’ve helped her, I know she has helped me.  The biggest take away is look both ways. Find adult mentors for young writers, and if you are a writer and have a chance to mentor a developing writer, do it!  “O” and I don’t have lessons in grammar, and there are no assignments. Instead we talk about writing. “O” brings her stories and poems and we discuss. I mark them up with no regard to her age, there’s no grade so she can sort out the ‘tasks’ she wants to address. Then, once matters of punctuations and clarity are out of the way we discuss the creative process.  At one of our very first meetings, I mentioned that her story lines are a bit dark. “O” replied, if bad things don’t happen then the story isn’t interesting. Clearly she understands the basic concept of storyline and plot. (One story had an amazing deathbed scene. Brief, yet a tear jerker. I did a little checking with her teachers and found that “O” has a happy, no-dark-stories, life. Since then I’ve not worried when her Thanksgiving tales are stories of disaster. As she tells me, it’s fiction.)  “O’s” journey is pure joy. She writes because she can’t not write. She has multiple projects going at the same time. She takes everyday ideas like the painful wait through the last five minutes of class and creates an entire fantasy world. Similarly, she takes the idea of snow in August and builds a storyline from there.  She is the epitome of ‘write what you know’ in a bold, unrestrictive way. She takes the emotions of loss, vulnerability, friendship and wonder, and makes that the core of the story, not caring if the story is set in Japan, a place she’s never visited. I hope to be invited when she receives a national book award on her 21st birthday. But even if that doesn’t happen, being part of the early journey has been inspirational.     

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During the summer I don’t go into NYC to teach for Gotham Writers, which is what I normally do. Instead I work for Gotham’s Mentoring program, which is to say I work one-on-one with students over the phone. Every Monday at 6:30, for example, I talk to one writer from New Hempshire who’s working on a cozy mystery. She’s just getting started, so we’re at a brainstorming stage and if anyone were listening to my side of the conversation they’d find me insane.   Does her uncle have a reason to kill her? Does that poison cause you to have convulsions? Could he secretly love her? Is there money involved? He seems nice, but who is he really? We spend our time speculating over murderous topics, and I feel like our energy feeds off each other. I always feel inspired about my own work when I’m done talking to her, and judging by how many pages she’s written, she’s inspired too. Then there’s an older gentleman from California, who’s been working on a short story for some time. Anyone who doubts whether writing can be taught should read his work. He’s gone from being somewhat long-winded to writing something that’s really good and he’s going to be sending out to literary magazines. Not all my students are published, but some are, and it’s always a triumph. Today I’ll be talking to a new student, and that’s always exciting. Who is this person and what are her dreams and what can I do to help her? It’s always a bit of a puzzle to figure out. A little bit like constructing a mystery.     

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