Writing well didn’t come naturally to me. Any writer who tells you that it did – they’re lying. Writing needs other people, otherwise it’s just scribbles on a flat surface. So do writers.
My first mentors were my parents. They, for whom a simple missive would take hours to pen, wanted better for me. Every night when I was little, my mother would read to me while I lay in bed, filling my young and pliant skull with tales of heroes, monsters, and delicious irony. Whenever I wanted to go to the library – at least once a week, often more – they would bring me there and wait while I took my pick from the shelves: an alternate universe here, the end of the world there, and so on. I won a story-writing competition when I was 10 and my mother drove me to the winners’ workshop, waited hours for me to finish, and had her car rear-ended in the parking-lot while she did so. My parents gave all they could for a rather modest goal: that I grow up with the confidence in writing which they didn’t have. They taught me to love words.
I was lucky enough to have not one, but two esteemed authors who took me under their wings. The first was a prize-winning academic and writer of short stories, but he seemed much happier looking after the school library than attending awards ceremonies. When I wrote pieces – turgid short stories, pretentious poems, a heaving melodrama of a novel – he would always have time to read them and tell me what he thought. Even now when I proof my own work, I hear his voice commingled with my own. That sounds good. I like the metaphor, but does it fit? You’ve let it run on a bit, but trimming it here might get you started.
The second was a novelist and tyrant of the literati, whose criticism I came to fear. I would offer up manuscripts and he would snort them back at me weeks later, pockmarked with red ink and sarcasm. He was the destroyer of worlds, and to approach him was to face death by annotation. But he did so to make us stronger, and while many came away bitter and broken I vowed to keep on building. Together, both these men turned my desire to write into an ability, a weapon which I could wield with total and utter confidence. They taught me to command words.
My words serve many purposes, but I write them all with one person in mind. I don’t believe in inspiration, but I believe in support, and this friend never fails to remind me that she will always be my reader – even if nobody else will. She quotes to me the turns of phrase which affect her most; my rhyming couplets amuse her to no end. I think of her when I write because it’s a lot easier to write for one person than it is for a thousand, especially when that one person believes unswervingly in your ability. You can love words with your entire being, but they won’t love you back. She taught me that writing needs other people.
Writing well didn’t come naturally to me, but that’s okay. Good mentors teach you not only that everything you write matters, but that you do too.