A Mentee’s Journey 2: First Pass

As I reported at the beginning of the year, I was awarded a year’s mentoring by Cinnamon Press for my novel The Tears of Boabdil. I got first comments back from my mentor, Adam, in March, and more detailed comments in May.  So I can now honour my promise to update you on how it’s going.

Adam made very helpful observations about a recurring aspect of the novel, which I had rendered as “voices” in the narrator’s head. He pointed out that this was confusing, and I have now turned them into separate characters with a distinct story thread. There were useful comments too on places where the story needed more room to breathe. I’ve added about 10,000 words so far.

More problematically, he has also been emphatic that the opening doesn’t work because it prevents the reader immersing themselves. It jumps around in place and time. He’s right, but the thing is I don’t want the reader to immerse themselves in the first chapter. This is a book about lies and I want the reader to consciously interrogate what is being told them. So, we have different visions of how the book should work.

I was aware how risky it is to ignore the usual imperative to hook your reader. So I tested response to chapter 1, using thirteen independent beta readers on Scribophile, only one of whom had any relationship with me. Over three quarters of them said they would read on. As an ex-scientist, I’m driven by the data. I’ve made the chapter a little less demanding to navigate, but I’m going to stick with my plan.

Of course, you don’t have to agree with everything a mentor says. But a mentor is a trusted counsellor and guide. They will normally have more experience and knowledge than the mentee, though peer mentoring is possible. The relationship is neither that of a critique buddy, nor that of a teacher, though there are overlaps with both roles. I think the difference is the degree of trust required on the part of the mentee, and the degree of nurturing on the part of the mentor.

Mentor Me MD

There is no agreed definition of what mentoring is. So, compiled from various sources, this is my best sense.

The mentor should:

  • Manage the relationship
  • Encourage
  • Nurture and champion
  • Teach, advise, and coach. Play Devil’s advocate and “truth-sayer”: provide the tough feedback that mentee needs to hear in order to move forward; push the mentee to take risks when appropriate
  • Offer/ develop mutual respect Support mentees’ own development and resist temptation to create a clone. Help mentee find own solutions
  • Respond to learner’s needs

The mentee should:

  • Identify learning goals. take an active role in their own learning and help drive the process
  • Be open to and seek feedback
  • Follow through on commitments
  • Take informed risks as they try new options and behaviours in support of development goals.

This is a complex relationship. And that complexity is probably the reason why both mentor and mentee need to have a role in choosing who they want to work with. Experience is that assigning mentors often does not produce good results.  In my case, the mentor was assigned. Time will tell about the results.

7 thoughts on “A Mentee’s Journey 2: First Pass

  1. Dear Neil
    Thank you for blogging about your experience of being mentored. It sounds very interesting and potentially very helpful.
    You say Adam was emphatic about the opening chapter, but that you cannot reconcile this with your vision for the novel. Has he made any suggestions as to how both objectives could be met? Meanwhile, the thought comes into my mind that you are extremely good at writing flash fiction. Is there scope for writing a more immersive opening chapter that includes a 300/400 word piece of flash fiction that opens the reader’s eyes to the prevalence of lies in the writing? If it came right at the start you could call it a prologue, but I would have thought you could find a place for it almost anywhere.
    I hope you don’t mind me offering suggestions, and I hope you continue to take benefits from your mentoring.
    With very best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Penny,
      thanks for your encouragement and the suggestion. I’ve decided to forgo an immersive opening chapter because I need to shake up readers’ expectations. Hopefully the foreshadowing and the intrigue of the character keep them reading and they get full immersive magic in chapter 2. Interestingly, there was in the first draft a prologue about lies, but I’ve dispensed with most of it

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Neil:

    This is great, very objective; I know that must have been hard. For my sense of symmetry, I was hoping your list of mentee “shoulds” would form an acronym, as well. But how like you to go against expectation! Asymmetry!

    I think the biggest insight might be at the end when you say most successful mentorships occur when the mentee and mentor choose one another, rather than get assigned to one another. Interesting!

    I’m glad you are processing this impactful experience. I don’t have the guts to offer myself up for mentoring. Sounds too painful.



    On Tue, Jun 19, 2018 at 7:43 AM, Neil MacDonald Author wrote:

    > neilmacdon posted: “As I reported at the beginning of the year, I was > awarded a year’s mentoring by Cinnamon Press for my novel The Tears of > Boabdil. I got first comments back from my mentor, Adam, in March, and more > detailed comments in May. So I can now honour my promise ” >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ll fess up immediately to having read your first chapter on Scribolphile, which I felt worked very well for the reasons you state. The first chapter has to grab the reader, which yours does with it’s constant jumping around. I find that sometimes I’m not immersed until 5000-words into a book. Having sent my completed manuscript to numerous agents and received 3 positive responses from over 20 approaches, it is important to remember that people read and like different things, and what works for one won’t for another. Having a mentee, as well as receiving other critical criticism, is about accepting what is said and then deciding which bits to act upon.

    Liked by 1 person

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