I walked to the local coffee shop tonight, hoping that I'd be able to get some serious writing done. It has been going well over the past week, but like a lot of my writing projects, I get overwhelmed. I'm writing a memoir, and it looks like it's going to have several different aspects to it, and it's creating a lot of anxiety for me. This is the dangerous time for me: when I get overwhelmed, I get full of self-doubt, and the odds are that I will start to falter and stop writing.
I also get very anxious because I feel like I don't have enough time to really do a good job. With a 40+ hour a week job, a house to keep up, and a million other projects going, time to write is at a high premium. It's at times like these that I really wish my grandfather was still around, because I think he would have been a terrific mentor.
Over the past year, I've been able to keep my memory of my grandfather somewhat alive. I've got the Wild West Weekly stories to read, and now I've got the unpublished stories that I found. But sometimes it's almost as if he's turned into some other kind of entity, like an estate. It's evenings like this that I want the person, not the memory or the legacy, back.
I think he would have given practical advice on how to structure this confounded memoir, and would have given me some tips on the writing process. I think he also would have told me when I was making excuses or whining or too ambitious or when he thought I was full of shit. But most of all, he would have been a cheerleader - someone who really believed that I could write something of quality and would tell me that. When you think of it, a good mentor has all of these abilities.
But I am so very lucky in a lot of ways, even though he isn't here. I can read PULP WRITER again, closely, and especially the parts when he was struggling. I also have his journals from the years when he was really struggling (1950-53), and while a lot of it is mundane, (fed the dog, went for a walk, etc.) there are parts that will help me. For a while I guess that will have to do.
I had two very good mentors while I was going through the process of writing my parts for PULP WRITER. Dan Horowitz, my advisor in college, was the first. Even though Smith College is a very liberal and PC-conscious school, and most students write their honors theses on lofty subjects, he did not once show me that he thought writing a thesis on pulp Westerns was a ridiculous idea. The other was Ann Parker, a mystery author, who I worked with at my job in Livermore. I had failed miserably as a science writer for the Lab's monthly magazine, and to say that I was very discouraged is a massive understatement. Ann met me for lunch occasionally and over a course of a few months, encouraged me and when the time was right, suggested that I deliver ten pages by our next meeting. Very simple baby steps. Yet it made a world of difference.
Mentoring can be a very fulfilling endeavor and having a mentor is something that many writers crave. But I imagine that being a mentor can be very time consuming. Thank your lucky stars if you have one. I think we should have a National Mentor Appreciation Day.
Enough of me. What about all of you? Who were, or are, your mentors? Are they still around? I'd like to hear about them.
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