Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Writing Mentors

 In all my years as a writer, I've had many a mentor and most of them have been fabulous. I've learned from literary geniuses, memoir experts, and poetry whizzes. At some point, I would love to brag about them all, but today we're going to talk about my all-time favorite, Kerry Madden Lunsford.  

Kerry has written all kinds of things over her career as a writer and teacher. She's tackled everything from articles to screenplays to middle-grade fiction. So her knowledge alone is admirable. But, I want to share with you why she inspired a fledgling writer like myself so much, and why, ten years later, I'm still talking about what I learned from her.

I studied under Kerry in the middle of my grad school experience. I had just come from working with a poet who had a very stringent style of teaching. He was rigid with the ways we wrote our poems and what we read and, while the style works for some writers, it left me feeling depleted and less than inspired to write anything. Kerry was his exact opposite. 

The very first thing she did was ask us what books we should read that semester. After each of us made a suggestion, she jotted it down without question. Our reading list for the semester, along with a couple of her suggested books as well, was complete with what we wanted to read being good enough--no arguments necessary. It was the first time that I had had such a meaningful say in my education and taught me the importance of choice. 

After the semester started, every week Kerry would offer a large selection of craft articles and blogs for us to peruse and pick from. The topics ranged from craft things to beautifully written prose. It was served buffet-style, so we could take what we wanted and leave the rest. This taught me how to make use of all aspects of the creative world, and think about ways to implement them not only into my writing but also my teaching. 

As we submitted our monthly chapters and got our notes back, Kerry never ceased to be excited about whatever piece of writing I offered up. She cared about my characters as much as I did, and went about making her suggestions in such a way that she felt more like a writing partner than she did a writing teacher. Her edits conveyed not only her expertise but also her joy in writing--a joy that was infectious. She brought the fun that I needed to get back into my love for writing. 

Good mentors, and bad ones alike, can be intelligent. They can write best sellers and give fantastic interviews. But my favorite mentor gave me the very thing that had been slowly covered up by my previous mentor--the fun of writing. I hope that whatever writing mentors cross paths with you will inspire you to keep going back to the page; that they will continue to encourage and inspire you because when the writing gets tough it will be those emotions that keep you fussing over a janky sentence or swapping out chapters until the storyline flows. 

Happy writing. 


Diane Burton said...

What a beautiful tribute to your mentor. She must be a wonderful teacher. The joy of writing! How wonderful When I taught elementary school, I tried to help my students learn the joy of learning. The fun! When I write, I try to remember to have fun.

Mary Morgan said...

How lovely, April! I've had a few mentors in my life, yet the two that have always stood out for me: A music teacher and an accounting mentor. Each brought joy and illumination to my work and life. Thanks for sharing!

Nancy Gideon said...

I've had some wonderful mentors. The first was an English professor who taught reviewing for the press. Our evening class would meet in the staff lounge at the top of tower overlooking campus where we'd relax in cushy chair and sip schnapps. His encouragement on my characterizations pushed a would be writer toward becoming an author. When my first book was published, I didn't know another writer lived in my area let alone my state. I'd never met one. Then after an article appeared on the front pages of the Sunday entertainment section I got a call from the program director of Mid-Michigan Romance Writers of America asking me to speak at a meeting. She was the first person I ever showed my WIP to. Being uber shy, it was a real big step . . . in the right direction. I met other people like me! And this connection led to my critique group that's been going strong since the '90s.

Nightingale said...

Somehow over the past year, I've lost the joy of writing. Reading your post brought it home to me. Also, over the past year, I haven't been in close contact with my mentors. I think it's time to contact them more often.