Lessons from a Mentee

It is an honor to close out Mentor week here on YA Muses. It’s been informative, inspiring, and well-written.
As a survivor…I mean, graduate…of the Nevada SCBWI Mentorship Program this last spring, the words mentor and mentee have crossed on my lips a lot over the year (am I right, Muses?). So in prepping for this post, I had a lot of flashbacks. The moments of terror pressing send to my mentor (hi, Susan). The deep, dark points where I had no idea how to address tough feedback. The elation of encouragement on the polished product. However, one memory sticks more than the others.

They hold the Program’s final retreat at an old haunted hospital in Virginia City, Nevada (yes, it’s both as creepy and fun as it sounds – some folks dare to spend the night). That first night, Susan and I sat down in a drafty hallway to go over some final points before the presentation to the big-time editor the next morning. In the conversation, she mentioned that I was ‘a mentor’s dream.’ It was a side-comment, but it floored me. Hands down, this one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received – a nugget I’ll hold close for a long time.
Why did it hit me so hard?
I think it boils down to being a mentee is hard, hard work. This comment wasn’t just about my writing, but a compliment on my mindset. So for this post, I’d like to share a some leanings about being a mentee.

· Ask yourself (over and over) do you really want a mentor? No, really, ask yourself.
Originally, I had visions of my mentor reading my 1st draft and calling her industry contacts to let them in on the next great manuscript. When the actual feedback came…well, we had lots of discussion and none of it revolved around my impeding bestseller-ness. Susan was very nice, but it was shocking, discouraging, and energizing all at the same time.
My lesson here was that mentors CAN be cheerleaders, but they are more than that too. They’re there to slap you on the back at the appropriate times, but also to smack you back in line. They are there to push you into uncomfortable places. They are there to stretch you. Most of the time, these things sting. Be ready. Be willing. But be honest with yourself.
· Hold *almost* nothing sacred
Leading into the program, I had a core concept for my Mentorship Program manuscript, a.k.a. the idea that I had to write. After that 1st tough meeting with Susan, I took a new approach to my craft: Experiment like a googly-eyed, mad scientist. I changed tenses, slashed scenes, created new characters, and alternated POVs. Some of it worked better than others, but all of it made me a better writer. However, throughout the process, I kept the core concept as an anchor.
So figure out what you value (go ahead, I’ll wait… kidding, obviously, this takes time). But once you’ve got that, protect it. Now, wave happily as the rest goes off to the butcher shop.
· It’s YOUR manuscript, not theirs
When I first started working with Susan, I wanted someone to pinpoint exactly what was right/wrong with my work. Then how to fix it. However, I quickly started to realize my mentor’s job was not to write the dang manuscript for me. She wanted to help and would whenever I needed it, but when I was sitting at my computer, my choices were the ones that counted.
So I learned to listen to her feedback on the issues, but often figured my own solutions to them. True, if I blindly did what she said, then my manuscript would’ve improved, but not me.
· Get ready for a thrill ride
Emotionally and mentally, being a mentee is difficult – but it’s also excellent practice for this industry (okay, for life). It’s riddled with highs, lows, self-doubt, self-congratulation, and everything else publishing (life) comes packaged with. I learned to hold strong through the stinky days and appreciate the happy ones. I’m lucky to have an amazing support network (hi, dear Wife and Muses) and I leaned accordingly.

I made it out of the haunted hospital and the Mentorship alive. I got some nice remarks from the editor and my manuscript reads light-years better than that first draft. But the work is far from done, because I know being a mentee is never finished. These lessons are my foundation for upping my game with every critique and editorial letter to come. And they’re the most valuable thing I’ll take away from my Mentorship Program experience.

Though the one a.m. trip to the creepy graveyard was way cool.
If you want to learn more about the amazing Nevada SCBWI program, check out their website (http://nevadascbwi.org/Mentor.html for the 2010/11 program details - I believe the next session details will be up soon).


Kristen Crowley Held June 24, 2011 at 8:06 AM

Thanks for stirring up some wonderful memories, Bret. I'm so looking forward to our mentee/mentor reunion in LA! But, seriously, how did I miss the trip to the graveyard?!

I learned so many of the same lessons! And they're hard, hard lessons to learn, but so worth it in the end. Not to mention, I got to meet some wonderful other mentees. :)

This is excellent, everyone who is mentoring or has a mentor should read this.

Kristen, I know...great times. Maybe you missed the trip due to some IPA-Related issues?

Amy, our dear mentor taught us good and SO worth it.

Heather...well, thanks! *blushes, kicks feet*

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Thanks for sharing so openly, Brett! I needed to read this today! You inspire me :)

As much as I usually like to post comments about your blogs that make you laugh so hard coffee comes out your nose (still hot bc it comes out of that amazing insulated mug of yours), I've got nothing but serious admiration for an apt description of the mentor process. As you know, Jax and I were participants in the Nevada Mentoring program in 2009 and it changed both of our lives. Your writing improves, of course. But so does your understanding of the journey and your ability to soldier through the harder parts and dance through the better ones. The same thing that makes you drive up and down that mountain drives your daily writing grind up the even steeper and scarier mountains of the publishing business. I for one, would brave that golf cart down the mountain or mechanical bull (as Fran did)for the chance to get to know and learn from the amazing mentors and become friends with people like Jax and you and Veronica and Bridget and Tracy....one of the BEST nets of the program, the writing tribe you join.

Lisa, awww, shucks. Thanks. Glad you enjoyed.

Stacie, I let my coffee cool this time before reading your comment for no good reason. And the Tribe you form, as you say, is so critical to surviving (and excelling) in this game. Thanks!

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