I've wanted to interview writers at all stages of their careers for this series because I find every viewpoint insightful. When I asked Ingrid Law (a writer at the top of her game) if she would be interested in participating in the discussion, her answer was a speedy, "yes." But because she hadn't been a formal mentor or a mentee, she wasn't sure if she was the right woman for the job. I am completely sure she is. Visit her at www.ingridlaw.com to learn more about her and her books.
Please share a brief bio of you and your work.
2009 Newbery honor recipient, Ingrid Law, is the New York Times Bestselling author of the middle grade novel Savvy, and its companion, Scumble. A fan of words and stories, small towns and big ideas, Ingrid lives in Colorado with a horde of imaginary pets and a very real and very interesting family. Currently, Ingrid is working on a new ‘savvy’ novel while trying her hardest to keep at least one plant alive.
Have you been a part of a formal mentoring program through SCBWI or any other organization?
Having always been a rather shy and private writer, I’ve never really been involved with any specific mentoring programs. Many, many years ago, I attended a four-day writing workshop at BYU. There, the attendees were split into small groups every morning in order to work closely with a published author. My group was fortunate enough to work with Tim Wynne-Jones. Except for the writing that came out of the exercises Tim had us do, I never showed him any of my work, even after he invited those of us in his group to do so. I was simply too nervous. Back then, just thinking about sharing my writing with someone who was already published made my heart feel like it was going to hammer its way out of my chest and fall thumping to the floor for everyone to see. I was certain it would kill me dead. Do I regret it now? I honestly don’t know.
Do you agree or disagree with distinguished author Margaret Atwood’s statement about writing: “Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own?”
Hmm. Yes and no. I’ve found that writing is very solitary work that becomes very public once actual publication becomes involved. At the heart of it, when a writer sits down to get those first ideas and words out of her head and onto paper, she is very much on her own. Though even at that stage a trusted friend or colleague can help talk things out of the imagination and into being, if a person is open to it. Then, of course, once an editor gets involved, a writer starts getting pages and pages of feedback… yet still, when sitting down to absorb that feedback and then deciding what to do about it, we are still ultimately on our own.
In what ways have you been “helped a bit?”
I have a lovely agreement with another author right now. Not a mentor, per se . . . more like a peer “encourager.” The agreement is that I must send this other author no less than five hundred words every Friday, no matter what. Then I get an email back a few days later that says: “Hooray! Keep going!” Five hundred words doesn’t sound like much, I know, but it’s amazing how quickly a week can slip by without anything worthwhile getting written. But the best, most unexpected result I’m finding from this agreement is that it is helping me conquer my anxieties around sharing my work before it is polished and ‘perfect.’ It is also showing me that I can keep writing while I’m waiting for that “Keep going!” email to come. I don’t have to sit and fret and chew my nails, wondering what someone else thinks of the work I just shared… I just go back to writing. I’m hoping this experience will help me feel the same the next time I need to send writing to my editor (which is soon).
If you were a mentor, what strengths would you bring to a struggling author?
I would try to find ways to encourage the person I was mentoring to let go of their fears and write the thing inside of them that demands most to be written. This is a very difficult thing to do. And—as with so many things—is far easier said than done.
If you could be mentored by any writer throughout time, who would it be and why?
Such vast possibilities! But ultimately I’d probably choose a poet, even though I write novels. Perhaps I’d want my mentor to be one of my favorite living poets... Mary Oliver or Billy Collins. Why? Because I am incessantly wordy, and poets like Oliver and Collins are able to create such vivid, potent moments in time with so few words. To move people with less than a page of text—that is genius.
I've found ANOTHER friendly and helpful person from Austin: Andy Sherrod. He's shared his insights on being a mentor and a mentee and offers his take on editorial feedback. Andy is also a go-to guy on the issue of boys' aliteracy. Even more information about Andy as a writer, writing coach, and public speaker can be found on his website: http://www.andysherrod.com/Home.php.
Andy, please share a brief bio of you and your work.
I came to writing late, 1999 to be exact, when I turned 40. I write for middle grade and most of that is historical fiction. The intent of my writing is to take boys back in time to experience history. I speak to groups about boys’ aversion to volunteer reading and cite research that identifies the literary components of a good boy book. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and I wrote my thesis on boys’ aliteracy.
Why did you decide to become a mentor?
Pure and simple, I love to teach.
How many writers have you officially mentored?
Mentoring is different than just offering a critique, and I’ve done a lot of that. So really I’ve only officially mentored one person through the Austin Mentoring Program. But beyond that, I’ve mentored one other.
What strengths do you bring as a mentor?
Because I love to teach, I think I’m patient with people. That said, I feel I must tell a writer exactly what I see in their manuscripts that need improvement but I can do so in an encouraging fashion. My philosophy is that anyone who is serious about writing can take a strong critique. Only pointing out those aspects of a manuscript that are working doesn’t help a writer improve one bit. Serious writers want serious critiques. So I give it to them.
Have you been a mentee? If so, what from that experience helps you be the best mentor you can be?
For the two years I studied at Vermont College I was mentored by four fabulous writers. Uma Krishnaswami, Ellen Howard, Sarah Ellis, and Marion Dane Bauer. From them I received incredible support for what I was doing well and firm admonition to improve. I have striven to carry that balance into my own mentoring relationships.
If you could mentor any writer throughout time, who would it be and why?
What a great question! I can think of a host of writers I’d like to be mentored by but the one I think I’d like to actually mentor would be G.A. Henty. Henty wrote over one hundred historical novels for boys. His story line seldom changed. His boy protagonists could have been all the same kid only the name and time in history were changed. He is a great writer and I would recommend his books to anyone but I think I could have helped him a little with variety.
If you could be mentored by any writer throughout time, who would it be and why?
There are so many writers whose work I admire. Gary Paulsen is my hero. Gary Schmidt is brilliant. But I think I’d like to be mentored by C.S. Lewis. Lewis’s strong Christian faith pervades his work without overwhelming it. I like that.
This Monday, we take a peek at the other side of the mentor partnership with Jessica Lee Anderson. She's an accomplished author who is part of the Avante-Garde Mentoring Program (http://austinavantmentors.com/) organized by SCBWI-TX, Austin. This program connects talented mentors with aspiring children's book writers. Anyone would be lucky to work with Jessica Lee Anderson. Check her out at: http://www.jessicaleeanderson.com/index.php.
1. Please share a brief bio of you and your work.
Jessica Lee Anderson is the author of Trudy (winner of the 2005 Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature), Border Crossing (Quick Picks Nomination), as well as Calli (2011, YALSA's Readers' Choice Booklist Nomination). She’s published two nonfiction readers, as well as fiction and nonfiction for a variety of magazines including Highlights for Children. Jessica graduated from Hollins University with a Master of Arts in Children's Literature, and instructed at the Institute of Children's Literature for five years. She is a member of The Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels and hopes to be more sweetheart than scoundrel. She lives near Austin, Texas with her husband and two crazy dogs.
2. Why did you decide to become a mentor?
This has been a natural transition as my background is in education and I’ve always been passionate about helping people. There are few things quite as exciting and energizing as watching your student or mentee succeed!
3. How many writers have you officially mentored?
I don’t have an official count, but as a former ICL instructor and an active SCBWI member, I’ve mentored a good number of writers. In addition, I’ve also helped writers by offering critiques and providing guidance as a member of The Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels.
4. What strengths do you bring as a mentor?
I like to think of myself as a patient person and also very positive. This year, I celebrated 10 years in the writing industry, so I hope to have some helpful experience to share as well.
5. Have you been a mentee? If so, what from that experience helps you be the best mentor you can be?
I consider myself to be lucky to have had such amazing mentors throughout my writing journey! My mentors have all been models in patience and encouragement—they’ve really set a great example that I hope I can exemplify.
6. If you could mentor any writer throughout time, who would it be and why?
Hmm…there are so many writers I’d love to connect with in any sort of capacity! Harper Lee ranks right up there for me, especially as there are some projects she set aside indefinitely.
7. If you could be mentored by any writer throughout time, who would it be and why?
I think Shakespeare would have such amazing insights to offer. I admit I could use plenty of poetic guidance!
"We can help a person to be himself by our own willingness to steep ourselves temporarily in his world, in his private feelings and experiences. By our affirmation of the person as he is, we give him support and strength to take the next step in his own growth."
-- Clark Moustakas
Four years ago this fall, I won the SCBWI-MI Picture Book Mentorship Award judged by Newbery Award winner, Lynne Rae Perkins. This was a turning point in my career as a writer and author. The nod from Ms. Perkins validated that I had a story worth telling and that she, a gifted author who won the highest honor in the industry, enjoyed reading it. She helped me recognize the value of my words on paper. Could there be a better gift?
My new weekly blog series will spotlight the importance of mentorship in our field and how the act of helping one helps us all. I'll interview people who have been menteed as well as mentors.
I believe everyone, even those new to the field, has something to offer. Mentoring, whether formal, like the annual SCBWI- Michigan Mentorship Award, or informal, such as offering to give thoughts on a new chapter, is all worthwhile. Who knows what next step you might help someone take?
Watch for my first interview with Melissa Shanker, winner of the 2012 SCBWI-MI Mentorship Award on Monday, November 7th.
Carrie Pearson is a children's book author, writer-cheerleader, and mentorship matchmaker.