Monday, January 31, 2005

Who needs a mentor?

It's always interesting when something you think was rather pointless turns out to be quite fortuitous, once you think about it enough.

Yesterday I attended an event at my alma mater: part of the New Hampshire Authors Series, in which local NH author Rebecca Rule interviews well-known authors tied to the University of New Hampshire. Yesterday's interview, of award-winning novelist Charlotte Bacon, was the second in that series. I had found out about the interview from a former coworker. What the heck, I thought. I figured if nothing else, I could meet up with friends I hadn't seen in awhile.

For a few hours it seemed as if meeting my friends would be the highlight of the day. It wasn't that the interview was bad; actually, it was very enjoyable. I just didn't learn much that was new about writing, or life as a writer.

That's the fortuitous part. During the interview, Ms. Bacon said one thing that struck me: She felt lucky if she got a full hour's worth of writing completed in one day, among her job as a professor, her son, and her other activities. (Hopefully a transcript will appear on the Internet. I'll link to it if and when it does.)

Never mind that paid-for childcare probably figures in there somewhere, along with the fact that she, unlike me, can (and does) take semesters off and still get paid ("publish or perish," after all, remains in effect), not to mention that networking with other writers comes built into her job. Our lives basically couldn't be more different. Yet, I thought, here's a mom who works full-time, is paid a salary and benefits to be a writer, and still struggles to find time to write. That means it's okay for me too.

As for the mentor thing, I reflected quite a bit on that, even thought of writing Ms. Bacon to ask for her take on it. I suspect, however, that her answer would be to find a good MFA program if I feel so acutely the need to network. Although I still think a professional writers' group of some kind could help me maintain perspective, I know that networking is not without risk. There's the debate, for instance, over whether MFA programs turn out literary clones, not to mention the time spent "networking" might just be better spent writing. I also suspect that finding worthy writers with whom to network is similar to finding a good therapist: we're all so unique, came into this job from so many different backgrounds (Ms. Bacon herself didn't start writing - at all - until she was 27), that finding compatibility would take perhaps years of trial and error.

I think good writing relationships just happen, much like good marriages and good careers, and you have to be ready for them and open-minded enough to recognize the opportunity. I'm keeping my eyes and ears open, and in the meantime, I'm still writing fiction - even if it's only for 20 minutes a day.


Blogger Holly said...

What sort of mentor?

1/2/05 3:30 PM  
Blogger Christa M. Miller said...

Hey Holly. Hmm, what kind of mentor. Mostly a gauge on perspective, I guess. Like when I felt bad because I left my son in his crib upstairs while I conducted an interview downstairs - had no childcare for the day, this was the only time I could schedule, his father wouldn't be home for another hour. The boy tends to drop his lovey over the side and that's never good. I was so terrified I'd be in the thick of this interview and he'd be screaming upstairs... you know?

So... I would've been looking for a) pats on the head and assurances that everyone else who freelances from home goes through the same thing, and/or b) suggestions on better ways to juggle son and work in similar situations. (Like your comment on my "Dissonance" entry. It was so helpful just to know it's not only me. Belatedly, thank you.)

BTW - I'm a member at Forward Motion, it's just taking me awhile to get to know everyone. Hopefully that process won't take too long. :)

2/2/05 7:14 AM  

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