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.
Carrie Pearson is a children's book author, writer-cheerleader, and mentorship matchmaker.