Never Give Up, Never Surrender

by LimebirdCat

I’ve been mentoring new writers for about a year or so now and, to be honest, the biggest thing I provide is quite simply encouragement.

It’s a bit like being a mother duck with your fluffy brown ducklings waddling behind you, approaching the water’s edge. They’re unsure, afraid even – but a quack and beak-nudge later and they are swimming about like, well, ducks.

The online world has created a comfortable distance, a reliable anonymity if you will, where one would believe that uploading your written work for public view should be easier to handle. No-one knows who you are, if that is what you wish and you can certainly handle any negative criticism with perhaps more detached élan.

When I get a new writer tentatively sidling up to me to ask if I would mentor them through the initial and rather tricky first days of writing publicly, I usually get the impression that I am simply being asked to just believe in them.

I find it rather disconcerting that there is no-one around them, in a lot of cases, that they can show their work to for feedback and encouragement. They are simply left, tying themselves in knots with embarrassment – their ideas are flawed, their prose weak, their expression clumsy – with no-one to sort through the muddle with them.

One young lady I am currently working with is one of the most able writers I have ever had the good pleasure of  mentoring. Her prose is atmospheric and precise. She is still a kid, still at sixth form, but crikey, she can write like one of the very best.

Her talent is obvious, but why should she have such little faith in her work? I read the excerpts of a novel she is writing that she sends to me for feedback and I am utterly thrown by how good the material is. She has all this skill and creativity and yet, no feeling of adequacy and belonging amongst other writers.

Then there is the other side of the coin – rejection.

I think, from what I have gathered, that this is the biggest worry floating about within the mind of a budding writer. It’s like starting a new school and thinking ‘will I fit in? Will others like me?’

The humiliation of someone turning round and saying your work is rubbish is one of the biggest obstacles that I can see my tutees wrestling with. I can tell them they are good until the cows come home, but if they cannot overcome this fear then they will remain in the abyss of obscurity – a crime in my book and a waste of talent.

They do indeed have cause for such apprehension: It isn’t nice to be told your work is rubbish.

I still don’t like hearing it too and I’ve heard it countless times.

My most recent brush with an editor was last week when I submitted a poem for publication. I was sent a reworked version of it and asked if this was okay to publish in this form as, according to them, the rest of my poem was padding. Naturally, I thanked them for their time and withdrew the publication request. I don’t believe you can edit a poem to be honest and the editor in question only managed to pick up and focus on one of the three or four themes explored in the poem, which I thought rather unfair to the piece itself.

I could have bagged a publication credit right there, but decided that I would maintain the poems artistic and thematic integrity instead. I know that may make me sound a tad like a petulant luvvie, but I just couldn’t obliterate my work like that.

It did sting a tad to have my work butchered up until it fit someone else’s idea of that was ‘acceptable’, but it did not bother me too much. It’s happened before and it will happen again – this is something I try to instil into my tutees on a regular basis. If you want to be published and you want to put your work out there for people to read, then you have to expect to hear from those who will disparage, edit and deride your work until it ends up looking like someone else wrote it. You will get a thousand “no’s” before you hear a single “yes”.

Every writer has been there and you must be able to handle the rejection.

You should also stand up for your work too. Don’t be bullied by editors who believe they know what they are doing either. It is easy to be intimidated by an editor as they hold the key to publication – something you’ve dreamt about. However, if you think they are wrong and the butchery too severe, then you must be able to stand up for your work and tell them politely yet firmly – no. You cannot sacrifice your artistic vision because someone else doesn’t think its de rigour enough for their tastes. Keep trying until you find someone who does.

Some editing is of course inevitable and this happens with my articles and prose work, which is just part and parcel of the entire writing gig. I had an article published in a magazine that had to fit onto two pages, so it was edited right down accordingly. No problem with me and I was happy with that. However, sometimes, it is just plain unnecessary and sometimes the editor rewrites everything to the point where it no longer resembles your ideas. It starts to look like they have colluded with you to write something, rather than it being even close to your own work.

You shouldn’t take what other people think too much to heart. Even the best, most prolific writers had plenty of doors slammed in their faces before someone saw the same spark of talent in them that I see all the time in the kids I work with. Simply believing in yourself will make a huge difference – you, like your writing, is unique and beautiful. Don’t sell yourself short and do not think you must conform, otherwise, you end up another faceless, repetitive ghost writer.

There are always those who believe in you and your work, even if it’s just some duck analogy loving mentor like me.

9 Comments to “Never Give Up, Never Surrender”

  1. Awesome first post LimebirdCat! 🙂

    Sounds like quite a rewarding job being a writing mentor, how did you become one of those? Sounds like something I’d be quite interested in doing. I used to be a reading buddy for younger children who couldn’t read confidently in secondary school and that was great fun. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us and I hope that young lady can find the confidence in herself to grow as a writer.

    I also definitely agree with you about sticking up for your work. Obviously editors have a tough job to do, especially when there are word counts or page space to think about, but when you’ve written something, you want it written that way. You go girl!

    Looking forward to your next post!

  2. Ta muchly misses 🙂

    I got into mentoring via word of mouth with friends and colleagues, plus I get approached on sites I write on by fellow writers. It’s just kinda nice to be asked!

    I agree with you about editors – they do have a harsh time with their own pressures, but sometimes they can go madly too far. Especially with poetry. How can you rewrite an entire poem (reduced from 14 lines to 9) and then ask the poet if it’s okay? There’s that wobbly line between when it stops being your work and becomes someone elses entirely and you have to point that out and not be afraid to. As for articles and stories – editing it all down and rewording the odd bit is fandabbydozy as far as I’m concerned – that’s okay and understandable. For a short poem though, it should just be left alone in peace.

    The prospect of all this butchery (whether appropriate or otherwise) scares some of the kids I help out enourmously. They think it’s a personal slight against them, which it isn’t, it’s just the way of the world in a lot of respects. I think you’ve just gotta be able to stand up for your work when you think someone has gone too far and not be scared of doing so.

    Huge hairy hugs to all budding writers and large mugs of hot chocolate all round!!

  3. Having someone believe in you goes a long way. I know how this feels. What you do as a writing mentor is great. Even with aspects of life beyond writing, most people just need someone to motivate them, to value them and to believe in them so that they can believe in themselves. Great post, thanks for sharing!

    – Ermisenda

  4. I think what you do is a great idea. My teachers in school were naturally very supportive of my writing. Outside of school, as a young teen I went to a ‘writer’s group’ meeting at a local library that i heard about and wanted to join.
    I left there with my babies a shredded pulpy mess. Every single person in the group had slashing to do. I was horribly embarrassed in front of my father, and never went back. I submitted the same poem they had critiqued (unchanged) to a large poetry magazine in the US – The Poet, and it was accepted, no revisions or corrections asked, so how bad could it have been? Didn’t matter, my confidence shot, I pretty much quit writing other than for myself.

    I’ve only recently picked it back up again. I say encourage youth in any way we can. Lord knows, it must be possible to correct and critique in a way that doesn’t make someone feel like a failure! I don’t believe I’ll ever be the writer I could have been, but I’m sure finding fulfillment with it now!

  5. Thanks for the fab comments 🙂

    I can’t believe what you said about that group Neeks – ruddy nora. What a bunch of pretentious big-girls-blouses!

    There is such an easy, effective way to tell someone something doesn’t work without slating them. For example, when I get a piece of work submitted to me to get my feedback, I am constructive. If I see a section that is just badly spelt or utterly random, I will go back to the writer and say “mate, listen, you have too much swirling about in your head and you tried to get it all down far too quick! Rattle it out by all means, but just take a chill, have a re-read, add a dash of punctuation and it’ll be perfect!” This approach usually gets me a reply with a big smiley emoticon and the tutee saying ‘arrrr! You’re right! D’oh! Cheers, shall do!’ and I’ve never offended anyone to date!

    I could be petty and snotty, but why? The writers I see are vastly better at our shared art than I was at their stage/age. Who am I to judge or criticise? Most of the time, I am just a fresh pair of eyes to show something too and an encouraging hand on the shoulder, that’s it.

    Dude, I’d love to go to one of those pretty little writers groups and I’d wipe the floor with them, ha ha 🙂 I’m not keen on people putting others down for no reason at all, other than to try and make themselves look good.

    Loud quacks and beak nudges to all new writers 🙂

  6. “I thanked them for their time and withdrew the publication request. I don’t believe you can edit a poem to be honest and the editor in question only managed to pick up and focus on one of the three or four themes explored in the poem” – It disturbs me when editors decide to go butchering our work ala Raymond Carver!

    Thank you for reminding me to stick up for my work. I’m at that stage when I am anxious to get published, but I’m happy that so far I’ve been able to listen to editors/readers, make some changes and keep the prose according to how I believe it should be.

    I love this line of yours best of all 🙂 “Don’t sell yourself short”

  7. Great advice. It’s quite true that it’d be easy to get published if we surrendered to someone else’s idea of “good”. I think that in order to tough it out you have to be true to yourself, otherwise you won’t be writing anything that you like. And there’s no fun in that.

  8. I loved reading this post. What a great reminder for all new and budding writers out there who are just beginning to put there work out for public view! I love your blog, Limebirds, and your new logo looks great 🙂

    And by the way, I consider it a true honor indeed to have you as a subscriber to my blog.

    Thank you so much!

    • Hi Scriptor,

      Thanks for commenting and welcome to Limebird! I’m sure LimebirdCat will really appreciate your comment about her post, it’s great.

      Also, thanks for the logo love, we really like it! You are very welcome, thank you for subscribing too! I hope we will see you around here soon! 🙂

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