Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On Being Mentored-Our Responsibilities

As a young married person (several years ago), I decided to cook a fabulous dessert for my husband from scratch. I flipped open a cookbook and turned to a recipe which called for ingredients I already had in my kitchen. I chose banana bread. Yum

Ignorant and green as can be in the kitchen I followed every detail, assumming the outcome would be good, (c'mon the recipe was in a BIG cookbook!).

The sweet aroma filled our tiny apartment and made our stomachs growl. Yes! I AM CHEF.  After my creation cooled, I proudly presented my prize winning, delectible dessert.

My husband and I took one bite--wrinkled our noses, choked down the bite,and threw the rest away.  I think the powdered orange Kool-aid ingredient might have been the problem.

Duh, you say? Well, yeah, I know that now. But I didn't then. I assumed the expert who compiled the cookbook gave perfect advice. 

Lesson learned: Regarding advice, I must reseach, think, practice, not assume--the list trails for miles.

Have you ever had a well meaning friend, family member, or crit partner give you advice for your WIP? I have.

I have a world of mentors. Each, bless their hearts, has taken time to correct my novice mistakes and direct me back to the road of publication. I so appreciate them.  Unfortunately, not all advice is good. Let me repeate that--not all advice is good. (think orange Kool-aid in banana bread from a BIG cookbook)

This last month I talked with published writers, unpublished crit partners, family, co-workers, friends, online sites, anyone who would listen to my plethorea of questions regarding my WIP.  I felt like a little puppy excited to please each helper by implementing their advice into my work. Puppies can do crazy things when they want to please.

My mistake: choosing to please rather than do what is right. (sometimes right means to follow advice given even when you don't want to, FYI)

At the 2011 October ACFW Montana chapter meeting, Sharon Dunn, author of Night Prey (Love Inspired Suspense) and 2011 Carol winner, chatted with me about this topic. She said, "It's important to know the perspective each crit person brings to their comments. Perhaps one crit person's passion is description, another plot, yet another grammar. These same crit persons often add additional suggestions that may seem inappropriate. Thats when caution is wise."

Lesson learned: don't disregard a crit when incorrect advice is detected (add grammatically incorrect words, backstory components, and etc.) Instead, search each comment for possible golden nuggets which might enhance the product. One golden nugget could make a difference between publication and dust.

Contrary to my banana bread flop, let me share a FAB advice session:

At the 2011 ACFW conference my registration slip indicated my time slots for three mentor appointments would be Friday morning. I chose to start my morning at Jeff Gehrke's class "Plot vs Characters rather than figit in the waiting area.  
Thirty minutes into the class I left for my first mentor appointment. Gayle Roper, kind and gracious as can be, listened to my pitch, asked a few questions then tipped her head  and said, "Well, Mary, did you consider..." She found a hole in my story! I thanked her and went back to class.

Oddly enough, the next point Jeff discussed addressed the issue Gayle mentioned. He spent the next 30 minutes teaching the class how to solve the problem! I modified my pitch in time for my next mentor appointment.

A half hour later I met with Tracie Peterson, intuitive and compassionate as can be. Aha, I thought. I'm ready. The hole Gayle found has been filled. Tracie listened to my pitch, asked a few questions then folded her hands together and said, "Well, Mary, did you consider..." Really? Another issue?  I thanked her and returned to Jeff's class.

I kid you not, Jeff's next point addressed the problem Tracie mentioned. He spent the next 30 minutes teaching the class how to solve the problem. Once again, I modified my pitch in time for my last mentor appointment.

Moments before Jeff's class ended, I went to my third appointment. Camy Tang, delightful encourager and passionate author listened to my modified pitch. Her eyes went wide and she laughed. "Mary, this is a great story."  She liked my one sheet, and couldn't stump me with any question. The conversation ended after five minutes. Well, I wanted to use up my whole fifteen minutes so I asked for suggestions. She taught me a new idea then we chatted.

Advice from mentors educated, experienced, enthusiastic,and enlightened in the writing craft coupled with a technique class sped me back to the road of publication--unlike orange koolaid advice.
Lesson learned: I am responsible to glean wise advice from those God sends my way.
So-how about you--share wise advice you've received--don't be shy, I don't want to learn it on my own:)


Jeanne Takenaka said...

Mary, loved this post! Your banana bread story was a great intro. Hmmm, orange Kool-Aid. Thanks for the warning about that ingredient. :)

I have one writing friend who crits my work. She has lots of good suggestions for improvement. One lesson I'm learning is that talking with someone further along the jouney than I am helps me learn craft in hands on ways.

I have a reading friend who has an eye for detail. She reads my chapters (and re-writes) and helps me see things that aren't realistic or that don't make sense to a reader.

So, I guess I'm being careful who I show my writing to, and then when I do show it, I take the suggestions given and use what makes sense.

I like how you encourage us to look for the gold nugget in unlikely suggestions. That was good. So glad you had such wonderful appointments, Mary!

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

WOW Jeanne-great words:)

Oh that we could all be blessed with the crit partners that fill our need, and that we in turn could be the perfect crit partners for those we help. :)

Susan Anne Mason said...

Wow, Mary! Talk about divine inspiration! Amazing.

I was supposed to attend Jeff's class, but both days I had appointments and somehow didn't make it to the class.

Sounds like it was great. Sorry I missed it!

Thanks for the advice!


Mary Vee Storyteller said...

One of these days I will order the CD for the classes I missed. Power packed, they were (Yoda:) ) I'm thankful for the ones I did attend, but am curious what I missed in the others.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Terrific insight: "It's important to know the perspective each crit person brings to their comments."
This one sentence is a keeper.
Don't get me wrong, this whole column is excellent. I won't forget the jello advice either -- but the perspective piece was a gold nugget for me!

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

So totally, Beth.
I was a bit frustrated with a crit. Like my other moments given by God, He sent Sharon to show me the gold within my situation.
So glad it helped you as well:)

Joanne Sher said...

So, SO much good stuff! WOW. Thank you!

Julia said...

Mary, I LOVE your conference story and I'm so glad you shared it here :). Still gives me the shivers :)

LOL...on the banana bread. I have lots of learning to cook stories. I lived with my parents till the day I got married and knew very little about cooking. My husband was so patient. I think the highlight was an anniversary a few years back when I ended up calling the fire department while broiling a steak for my husband. :)

Pepper said...

Oh Mary
good stuff here.

I used to change my ms based on what EVERY person said...until I didn't even like my book anymore.
It's good to be discerning (not in a critical way, just in a wise way)

BEST advice that I keep on my computer:
1. WRITE, WRITE, WRITE. You can't edit or submit a blank page by Mary Connealy
2. WRITE TIGHT (you use too many words) by Ruth Logan Herne


Cheryl Linn Martin said...

Love the lesson here! I always try to find that "nugget" in critiques.

Sarah Forgrave said...

I love this story, Mary! One of my faves from the conference by far. :)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thanks sooo much for stopping by today. We loved seeing you:)

Fire department!! Wow Now there is an experience that needs to sneak into one of you books:)

Gotta love that seemingly conflicting advice (which really is balanced advice :) )

Oooo you're ahead of me--you already learned to find the nugget.:)

Thanks--I love telling God moments. :)

Casey said...

I LOVE that story! I will NEVER tire from hearing it and I love that I was one of the first to hear it from the lips of the writer herself. ;)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Mary, I love this post! Thank you for sharing it. You make such a great point in this story. It's so important to use our own wisdom when critiquing our story based off others' advice. WE know our story the best and what we're trying to reach readers with, so while we need to be open to changes we also need to know when to hold out and keep what's important. Thank you!

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thanks, Casey
Sure helps to have a super duper support team. Gotta give credit to Cara P also. She advised me not to see an editor when I told her I didn't think my book was ready. "Change to mentor appointments." She was soooooooo right :)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thanks Cindy.
It's kinda comforting to be able to make the decision, eh?
Routin' for rattlers :)

Camy Tang said...

So that's the story behind your pitch at our mentoring session! That's awesome!

Orange Kool-Aid??? Seriously???? Blech.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

I couldn't have done that pitch without all three of you..four of you...Jeff too. Hopefully next year I'll be pitching the completed book (no holes:) )

Blech is right. I must admit that same cookbook had my prize winning apple pie...... truly yum.

Keli Gwyn said...

Mary, what a wonderful story of how much much we can glean from generous, talented writers who are so willing to share what they know. I love how the Lord gave you the awareness of those weaknesses and immediately used Jeff to give you the how-to needed to address them.

I've been blessed by so many writers who have shared their expertise with me. I couldn't begin to name them all. =)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

So true, Keli. guess I'll have plenty of post material for a long time:)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

This is SUCH a great story!