A hundred different ways to work

My latest writing mentorship confirmed a few things for me, most notably that there are a hundred different ways to work. Hey, that sounds like a great title for a blog post.

Coming off my first mentoring relationship six months before, I figured my next mentee, being the same sex and age and experience level would talk, act, and work the same. There were similarities in the talking and acting, but when it came to the working, the two couldn’t have been more dissimilar.

It’s possibly important to note that here were marked differences in the programs that brought each of the students to me. The first required unique “sources” for pretty much each week of the mentorship. Many if not all of these distracted from the important work of helping the young person become a better, more prepared writer. I’m sure we spent too much time fulfilling that requirement considering there was no measurable advantage.

But I digress.

Both mentees were ultra-frightening-smart. Either could have lapped me in most any intellectual conversation about any topic outside of writing. Each was a lovable, self-proclaimed proud nerd. Each sat at the top of their classes. And each wanted to write serious material that befit their age and life experience.

I talked with each about writing resources, techniques, pitfalls and best daily habits. I talked about as many of the uncomfortable real-life obstacles as I could, trying to add the appropriate amount of spin, considering the doe-eyed stares they had when dreaming about being an author someday.

And I started each of them with one of the most useful tools I was ever taught — thank you various writing books and Beckie U. — The Hero’s Journey (or Monomyth, explained here on Wikipedia and countless other sites). Here’s where the two mentees diverged violently.

When I instructed mentee number one to create a Hero’s Journey outline she took two or three sessions and produced a fairly detailed outline any sane person would expect from a talented young student. There were a few holes and areas that might have needed some additional detail or notation. Afterwards, she began her actual writing. First line, first page, first chapter.

However, when I assigned mentee number two with the same task she did something quite remarkable. She pulled out a self-made pad of butcher paper and a slew of assorted color markers. And for the majority of the remainder of our time together, literal months, she created a Hero’s Journey of Biblical proportions. The pic to the right shows some of her extraordinary work.

I told mentee number two that, at points, I felt as though I was letting her down, not pushing her past the current task, but she assured me she very much wanted to continue on the path she was on. She had a story that needed to be realized, details to be sorted out, potential endings to be tested. She further assured me that the breaks we took — 10 minutes every hour; same rules as a write-in — covered more than enough of the non-outlining writing work she needed, that she in no way felt cheated or neglected.

I HAD shared with her right up front that the most important skills for a writer were BIC HOC TAM — butt in chair, hands on keyboard, typing away madly — and unhealthy coffee consumption. She opted for tea in place of coffee and markers on butcher paper in place of hands on keyboard, but I figured it was enough the same.

The important fact was, both mentees got a ton of different sorts of work done. And that’s the same for any writer but to a different extent. Whereas I would urge a more experienced writer away from the butcher paper, figuring it to be a distraction from real writing, there are parallels in my own experience.

I took a ridiculously long time on my story Forever By His Side. At the time and now looking back, I know I needed to suffer through more than a year on that one. My writing chops weren’t where I felt they needed to be. I needed to stick with a difficult (for me) story and see it through to completion, if only to show myself that I was truly serious about my craft and that some ideas were worth pursuing.

Bottom line is everyone is different so it stand to reason that each one of us should work differently from one another.

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