Women and Mentoring

This isn’t about women, it’s not about men and it’s only a bit about mentoring. Clearly I just like a good title. Listen, I don’t care whether someone is a man or a woman, if they’re a writer then I think there comes a point when they want guidance or mentoring. Or if I’m wrong, then I’ve just had a weird run of coincidence from writers who have the same weakness I think we all do.

So this week I turned down a man who wanted to hire me to mentor him. I have done mentoring on specific types of work or for specific types of writers and he didn’t fit either so I turned him down because I wasn’t the right person for him.

I did suggest things he could look into, though, and there was one particular point of his that I thought I could help with. He wanted to know whether he was approaching writing stories correctly, if he were doing the right thing. I told him who cares? If you end up with a good piece, it doesn’t matter if you write it in crayon on every second Tuesday of the year.

Half a beat later, a woman writer joked that what she wants most is someone to look over her work every quarter of an hour and tell her whether it’s going well or not.

You know she wasn’t joking. I know she wasn’t joking. She knew she wasn’t joking. So I told her in all seriousness that this would be a Very, Very Bad Idea.

She thought I was joking.

It happened again this week with another couple of writers so it’s been on my mind but I think these first two reveal a remarkably similar issue. They both want someone else to tell them if they’re right. That means, then, that they both think there is a right way to do something.

There’s something else, too, and I’m struggling to describe this. Let me try this way and you can tell me if I’m making sense. I think both of these writers unconsciously think that writing comes out in a straight line. That you get the first paragraph right and then you write the second. That you can show the first page, say, to someone, and they’ll give you a pass/fail.

But writing is a mess. No, more than that, writing is a fight. I don’t want to sound all male about it and I don’t equate writing to violence nor expect all writing to be conflict. Yet it is always a scrap. How’s that? It’s scrappy. You’re pulling this idea over there and nudging or shoving or easing it into another shape. You’re kneading the words and you’re fashioning one single loaf out of countless ingredients.

Possibly you’re making a really rubbish analogy and stretching it out in the hope that somewhere along the line it will make sense. Fail.

I won’t read your first paragraph because there’s no point until you’ve finished the whole piece. Then if I read, say, your script, then I do know from page one whether it’s working or not. That’s not some brilliance on my part, it’s because it is very quickly obvious when something is a fail. The only writer who can’t see it is the writer who wrote it.

But good or bad, instantly obvious or not, it needs the whole thing there or all anyone can tell you is if you type well.

That man I turned down, by the way, wrote a very good email. He’s a writer. I’ve read pieces by that woman and she writes with verve and life and vigour. She’s a writer.

They just both have to get on with writing. So do I. So do you.

I need a word for this

There’s got to be a word, or at least there really should be one and I would like it now, please. As ever with words, the reason we have them is so that we can describe something. So without the word yet available, this is going to be tricky to explain to you.

But you know I’m going to try.

There is this thing that very bad writers do and they do it most obviously on pretty bad television drama. Don’t ever get me wrong on this: the one-hour TV drama is my three-minute pop song, I am obsessed and adoring of the form. But when it’s crap, it’s very crap.

And one way you can tell instantaneously that something is going to be crap is this thing I can’t find a word for.

Usually it’s in a long-running series that tends to have a Story of the Week. This features some guest character we’ve never seen before, will never see again and in all honesty couldn’t really care less whether we see now either. But there they are. It’s always a story that doesn’t impact on the regulars but the writer kinda sorta thinks it would be better if it did, and isn’t allowed to.

They’re the writer who thinks it’s madness that they can’t make the hero be a drug addict. The truth is that you can, just that they can’t. Because they’re looking at this one episode and don’t see that if the hero is a drug addict this week but wasn’t last week or next, this is not searing deep drama, it’s a Just Say No advert.

These are also the writers who base their ideas on previous television dramas instead of on anything they’ve actually experienced. So they write searing deep drama about having an alcoholic guest character but they have not one single clue how foul and wretched a situation like that really is. They’ll have a regular character suddenly have a drunk brother and it’ll be really funny until, gasp, it’s really serious and then, shock-plus, everything is sorted out because the brother just cares so very deeply about his family. Give me a hug. Pass the tissue.

I’d say something like kill me now but I’m not an idiot.

Kill the writer.

Even this is not quite the thing I want a word for. I’m after a word to describe a specific thing – but it’s not a specific thing. It’s a prop or a device or a recurring something.

It’s when you see a guest character who always carries a pot plant. Or they’re a grown woman who can’t be in a scene without her teddy bear. Maybe they make ship models and for some unfathomable reason need to bring them everywhere.

That’s the thing I want the word for. The pot plant/teddy bear/ship model/thing. Could be a verbal tick instead. Could be that they happen to be obsessed with spanners and, oh, wouldn’t you know it, the only way for them to rescue the puppy dog at the end of the episode is by adapting their beloved favourite spanner into a rudimentary pulley system.

Watch for this thing. Watch the actor trying to make it all believable.

And then agree with me that there already is a word for this thing.

It’s No.