Late last year, I signed on to mentor one of the finalists from the Africa leg of the CODE sponsored Burt Award. CODE is a non-profit based in Canada; the Burt Award is the programme it runs – in Canada, the Caribbean, and Africa. You can read about CODE and the Burt Award generally here and go to my other blog to read this post I did about the Caribbean leg of the Burt Award.
This post though is about my recent mentoring/editing role. It involved critiquing the manuscript and providing tips to the writer for improvement of said manuscript, guiding and nurturing the writer through the process within a specific window of time.
It was an interesting experience. Not my first time mentoring or editing or even working with someone in another country or from a different culture. But it was new in some ways and there was doubt (as good a sign as any that this is a growth opportunity and to be embraced).
In any new relationship, there’s a period of feeling each other out and establishing expectations. Then it was time to read the manuscript. I’m expected to be the script doctor – evaluating its health, and diagnosing and offering prescriptions for any issues (story issues, plot issues, structural issues, character issues, tonal issues etc.). Sometimes, heavy cutting is required; sometimes something less intrusive will do. It’s never easy but it’s necessary work. Also time consuming work – people don’t have a full appreciation of this when they balk at editor fees – and it will get tedious at some point (the degree depending on the manuscript), and your eyes will get tired.
The mentoring and coaching aspect, meanwhile, require an evaluation of the writer’s strengths and weaknesses, a sense how the writer works, and the ability to talk to the writer (or make notations on to the manuscript) clearly (but not without sensitivity). Thankfully, this writer was incredibly proactive, responsive, and motivated. Plus, they were very open to the process, which is a challenge for us sometimes as writers.
Given the target demographic, I also had to project myself in to the mindset of the teen reader and how they might respond to this work. When writing creatively in a particular genre and for a particular age group, a sense of audience will factor in at some stage of the revision and/or editing process (maybe even the writing process for some – though I favour keeping the audience out of the initial round/s of writing a creative piece and just letting characters and story breathe). My first beta reader on my own CODE/Burt book Musical Youth – which was 1st runner up for the Caribbean prize in 2014 – was an actual teen and getting her feedback was less about craft and other writerly things, and more about her response to the story and its authentic or false-feeling notes. I actually sought this feedback earlier than I normally would (i.e. after a single draft) because I was trying to hit the competition submission deadline and wanted to see how a teen would respond to what I’d written.
My assigned mentee was obviously much later in the process and there was considerable work to be done on the script itself, yes, but also on the script relative to its target readership. We discussed this and I got the sense that they understood what I was saying and actually learned something from the experience. I saw the evidence of this in the changes they made on the turnaround (which was surprisingly quick, and yet thorough and on point by the way). Which is what you want.
Here’s what the author said in his evaluation: “The feedback [Joanne C. Hillhouse gave me] was useful because it helped me to be aware of not being wordy but writing with a purpose leading to the climax. Moreover, it helped me to realize that I have to constantly think about the reader and ask myself if what I have written was clear enough to the targeted reader.”
Read this and other performance reviews.
Read more about my services.
Read about my coaching (and mentoring) services.
Read more about my books.