Sunday, January 12, 2014

Giving and Getting

Halfway into this first month of the new year, I have a lot of fun writing-related activities to look forward to.

Through the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), I've made a six-month mentoring commitment to a fellow children's author who is already a well published and acclaimed picture book writer, but who now wants to develop skills as a writer of chapter books and middle grade novels. I was also asked by a local Boulder children's book writing group if I would serve as their mentor over the same period, meeting with them monthly to review and critique a different novel-in-progress each time.

I have now read manuscripts by all of these mentees and had a moment of panic. They are already so good! What do I have to offer? Is it enough to justify accepting the promised payment for my services?

But then I thought back to my first semester of being a professor at CU, walking into my first ever graduate seminar and realizing that now I was the teacher. Almost immediately it became clear to me that quite a few of the grad students were smarter than I was, or more knowledgeable about philosophy, or both. How on earth was I supposed to teach them?

Somehow I did. After all, I had finished a Ph.D., and they hadn't yet, so I had some useful skills in how to face and navigate such a daunting project. And the seminar was on the subject of my dissertation, so I did know quite a bit about that subject at least. We made it through the semester. I do think my students learned something from me. I learned even more from them.

With my current writing mentees, who are already so talented and accomplished: here, too, I'm going to count on having something to offer. After all, I've published 50 books over 30 years. So I do know how to write books and get them published, I do! My mentees will learn from me, even if 'll probably learn as much or more from them.

I've decided to take the money I'm being paid as a mentor and use it for my own professional development, so I can be an even better mentor, either to these mentees or to mentees yet to come. From the Boulder writing group I learned of a terrific duo of children's book authors who hire themselves out as the "Plot Doctors." Early this morning I spent several hours writing up a detailed summary of my cookie jar book, which I've currently set aside, to send to them so that they can recommend treatment for its ailing plot.They charge $125 for a thorough diagnosis, a most reasonable fee. I can't wait to hear what they will say. I'll have a better book as a result; I'll also know so much more about plotting, knowledge I can turn around and share.

With the rest of my mentoring money, I'm going to attend events sponsored by SCBWI and by the Colorado Authors League (CAL). I'll buy and read new books on writing. Perhaps I'll take myself to a writing conference.

This spring I'm going to be giving all I can to my mentees and getting as much in return, so that in return I can give them even more. Giving and getting, getting and giving. Probably, in the end, that's how it's supposed to be.

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