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.

Fail wail

Now this is a distinction. I am proud of this, though even typing those words to you I just paused to scratch my head. I am proud, it’s just possible that I shouldn’t be.

For it turns out that I am so good at failing, at completely screwing everything up and at being rejected and fired that I’ve just been interviewed about it.

The American podcast series The Successful Failure podcast has a new 45-minute episode devoted to just how badly I do things. Me. The whole show.

Okay, also to how I cope, when I do, and what coping mechanisms I have, when I have any.

The Successful Failure is really about taking bad things in one’s career and learning from them. Before I went on it, I listened to the previous episodes and the recurring theme is about specific failures that have then directly led to specific successes. Maybe I’m lacking in specific successes but where do you want to start with the failures?

I’ve known the producer/presenter Gigi Peterkin for years so she knew to steer me away from topics like my dress sense and hair style which will come back in to fashion, they will. Instead she focused on a few key writing failures and I will tell you she got more out of me than I’d intended to reveal.

I won’t tell you what. And you know how usually when someone writes to you like this, you know they’re going to end with a link and they’re trying to get you to listen?

Not this time.

I will include the link because I get twitchy if I don’t link you out to somewhere more interesting and The Successful Failure podcast is more interesting.

But I am truly fine if you never listen to the episode about me. Seriously, I’m good with that. Forget I ever mentioned it.

The Successful Failure podcast is on iTunes and also at its official site. One thing I can tell you from having done the show is that I’ve been told who else is lined up for an appearance. The show’s got some truly interesting people in the next few weeks.