Tonight was the final stage of my mentorship of Kyler Herrera, a Junior in the ISM program — Independent Study Mentorship — at Mitchell High School here in San Antonio, his presentation to faculty, family and friends, covering what he had accomplished over the school year and specifically what he had produced, a finished, quality, ready-for-submission 5000-word short story.
I was pleased to find Kyler, understandably nervous, but joking and looking confident in his suit and slicked up hair, guiding guests to sign in, enjoy refreshments and take their seats. As time for the presentation neared, you could see him settle, a sign that he had practiced many times what he was about to share with us.
He proceeded to outline the meaning and function of the ISM program as a vehicle to help motivated students learn about the subject or career field of their choosing and to produce a “product” that is relevant to the real world at the program’s end. Being naturally bored by rules and order, it was a bit of a mental struggle for me to keep my attention on what was being said but I managed. When he got to the part about the craft of writing and his experience in writing his short story, I perked up.
He began with choosing fiction, specifically creative fiction. Then it was a matter of choosing a topic. Then a hook. Then a strong first paragraph. Then a strong first page. Then a full dirty first draft. I was most pleased, however, to hear that it was the rewriting and the re-rewriting and the re-re-rewriting that he most enjoyed in the process because this is the substance of real writing — the editing process and the learning of when to abandon edits.
“I had an aha moment,” Kyler related, “when I saw how to rearrange the sections on a page to reduce it to half a page,” this said in reference to his success in keeping his story under 5000 words, a key cut-off for many short story publishers. In the end his story weighed in at about a score under that 5k limit while stilll reading easily and feeling uncompromised.
Late in Kyler’s presentation, he brought me to the front, thanked me in front of everyone and presented me with a travel speaker, a gift card and a thank you card with a hand-written note of appreciation. Very touching and appreciated but in all honesty completely unnecessary since it was my deep pleasure to mentor such a solid, focused, ordered student, a fellow I am fully confident will go exactly as far as he chooses to pursue writing.
I don’t praise the young man lightly. Writing requires a certain gene that imparts patience, temperance, creativity and the ability to work at sometimes tedious unrewarding tasks — or rather to see this sort of task as not tedious and unrewarding but challenging, even pleasurable.
I couldn’t hope for a better mentee than Kyler and wish him the very best. And to think that I had decided in December that I would not — absolutely NOT — take on another mentee because I simply had too much on my plate. Thank goodness for well-timed flaky days.