Guest Post by writer Laura Sleep
In late 2011 something happened which was either a huge coincidence or fate. Depending on how life is going I pivot between these two view points. The email was to tell me that I was down to the final two of the ‘Marie Claire, Inspire and Mentor Awards’. The ‘fate’ part is because I had entered the competition nearly six months before and had forgotten I’d entered it and for some reason I had entered it from my old work email address and I happened to be back there freelancing the week the email was sent out. A week either side and I would have missed the opportunity of a lifetime.
The award gave me the chance to be mentored by a published author for a year, in this case it was to be Jane Fallon. The two finalists were invited to Marie Claire’s offices to meet Jane and in early January I was told I had won. Cue much celebration and then the realisation that I now had some hard work to do. Three years on and I can honestly say it was one of the best things to happen to me. I can not recommend mentoring enough and here’s why.
The focus it gives you is enormous. I had decided to go freelance in my career in order to give me more time to write. Inevitably I pretty much just worked and fitted in writing where I could, which wasn’t often. Knowing that I had a year of mentoring made me knuckle down and actually produce something. Also knowing that there were other people out there who had wanted it gave me a healthy dose of guilt and a belief that I should not squander this opportunity. The mentoring coincided with starting a full time job but the deadline of a year made me get up early, stay up late and dedicate entire weekends to writing. When I had won the competition I had a first draft of a novel and I had decided that I wanted to use the mentoring to make it something readable/publishable. I ended up rewriting the entire thing – the main characters name stayed the same though!
Jane’s advice was invaluable. She was able to offer perspective and encouragement but also give notes that really got to the crux of the matter. It is common as new writers that the people who are reading our work are friends and family who’s opinion doesn’t go far beyond ‘I like it’. Jane was able to give notes that were helpful and opened up new avenues of work. Early on she told me that she thought I would be better off writing in the third person rather than the first person. It was like something unlocked and writing became a hundred times easier. Being guided by someone who has trodden the path before you means that although you still stumble and sometimes go down a dead end, you have someone cheering you on and telling you that you are on the right course.
I wrote in chunks and Jane read each section and gave notes and advice on each one. She also gave the finished book a good going over – which was really helpful as at that point I never wanted to see it again.
I can not recommend mentoring enough. I am still in touch with Jane and I have also explored mentoring in other areas of my writing life. I am working on some scripts and have been helped by people who are slightly further along in the production process than I am. I also am in a sort of peer mentoring relationship with friends who are also working on their own creative projects. It is not only support we offer each other but criticism and advice that can really only come from people who are trying to achieve similar things.
So was it worth it? Well, my book The Joy of Depression was self published on kindle and is about to go in to paperback. It is selling well and the sense of pride I get from it is enormous. It is about a girl who’s life is out of step with her peers and decides to mimic their lives in a bid to be ‘happy’. She finds herself increasingly trapped and unhappy in her new life and has to take decisions as to what ‘happy’ truly means.
I am also working on several scripts, writing for a few websites (including my own – www.angelofharlow.blogspot.com), appear semi regularly on the radio talking about anything and everything and am making a short film. Every single one of these ventures can be traced back to mentoring.
Thank you Laura for sharing your experience. The word inspirational is over-used, but today is a day when it’s justified….