This is probably one of the best kept secrets in the world of writing fiction. Mentors matter in a writer’s life just as much as they do in the business world. And I’ll tell you why. During my 33 years of working for the federal government, I never had a mentor until the last three or four years of my career. During the earlier years, I watched in dismay as the careers of a few of my colleagues with mentors sky-rocketed past me as though they had boosters strapped on.
In my writing career, however, I was blessed to find a mentor relatively early, which was fortunate for me because I started writing so late in life. In November 2012, I finished the first draft of my first manuscript,Elysian Escape, and I needed an editor.
LaRee Bryant was referred to me by a gentleman by the name of Win Shields, a successful television writer/producer, whom I’d met at the writers group I attended. He said that LaRee was an excellent editor. And he was right!
LaRee is also an accomplished author, having published several novels in the historical romance genre. Last year she published a fantastically fun cozy mystery series — The Poppy Green Mystery Series.
Interestingly enough, there was no discussion that LaRee would be my mentor. It just happened organically over the last three years…or maybe I just claimed her. I can’t remember which.
I do remember when I shared with LaRee during our second or third conversation that I’d planned to start writing full-time the following year. She was quick to tell me, “Hold on, not so fast!” You see, she knew a heck of a lot more than I did about the challenges of writing and getting paid for it.
And what’s more, she saw the condition of my manuscript — as purple as an eggplant and in dire need of major editing. She knew that I couldn’t quit my day job — and survive. What she didn’t know was that I had planned to retire the following year anyway, but I had no grand illusion of becoming the next John Grisham.
Over the past three years, LaRee has coached and guided me and shared freely from her vast reservoir of knowledge as a writer and a former college writing instructor. One thing that surprised me was how generous she was with sharing her knowledge. In the business world this didn’t happen very often because most people believe that knowledge is power, and to an extent it is. So they prefer to keep their power neatly tucked away and stamped “for personal use only.”
What I appreciate most about LaRee is that she didn’t sugar coat her feedback. She was direct and honest. And when she complimented me for something did well, I appreciated it that much more because I knew she wasn’t saying it just to make me feel good. Writing is serious business with her.LaRee meticulously guide me through developing a clean well-written manuscript. Her technique was really to “teach me how to fish.” She didn’t just hand my manuscript back to me bleeding profusely from the assault of the Red Pen Assassin saying, “Here ya go. Good luck with that!” She sat down with me each time and explained, for example, why a character of mine couldn’t think anything anymore because he just dropped dead from a bullet to his skull. Ha-ha! I got a pretty good belly laugh from that one and a good lesson to boot.
LaRee taught me so much about the craft of writing. She taught me about world-building and keeping that world consistent though out the manuscript. She taught me about such things as Point-of-View (POV) and what head hopping was — and not to do it!
She taught me about giving my characters the right emotions to make them more believable and to have movement. In the original draft of my manuscript, ALL of my characters were just talking heads. They had no movement, no emotion, only dialogue and a back story. And I actually thought I’d done a pretty good job. Ha-ha! That’s because I knew absolutely nothing about writing creatively. And as the English writer Alexander Pope said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.”
LaRee recommended great books in my genre, conferences to attend, and excellent books on writing, such as On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain, How to Write a Damn Good Mystery by James N. Frey, to name a few.
I know that I still have a lot of learning to do where writing is concerned, but I’m leaps and bounds ahead of where I would be if it had not been for LaRee’s guidance. And I might not be riding the great writers’ wave of success yet, but when I am, I will own a huge debt of thanks and gratitude to LaRee.
Drop me a comment and let me know if you’ve had a similar or different mentoring experience. Thanks!