I'm a writer, reader, wife, mother and lover of chocolate. I write fiction for children and young people, as well as quality content for those who want to create meaningful engagement with their audience. You can see samples of my work at wendyallottwrites.com. I also blog at wendyallott.com, providing advice to young fiction writers.
If you’ve reached a stage in your writing career where you submitting your work to publishers you’ve probably noticed that many of them say they welcome or encourage submissions by authors from marginalised communities. Usually it’s only a sentence at the end of the submission instructions. It’s an important sentence.
I am a straight, white, cis woman. While I have experienced racial prejudice I don’t know what it’s like to be judged by the colour of my skin, to not have dolls that look like me, to only see my people represented by stereotypes or in tokenism. I have never had to explain my sexuality to anyone. I’ve never had to argue that my feelings and experiences of my body are real, and that my genitals do not match the person I feel like inside. I’ve never had people from outside of my community take my experiences and, no matter how well intentioned, use them as their own and profit from them.
Publishing is a competitive world. Honestly, getting published is a struggle. But in my mind, letting authors from marginalised groups know that their stories, their experiences and their unique points of view, are not only welcome, they’re desired, is a good thing for everybody. It’s wonderful for readers but it’s also good for writers regardless of their background because it means the playing field is becoming more even, that we are getting closer to equity of opportunity. That if you are a good writer, with a compelling story to tell, regardless of your race or religion or gender or sexuality, there are people out there who want to bring your stories to the world.
And that’s the world I want my children to grow up in.
You’ve probably heard the advice that if you want to be a writer, you should also be a reader and I couldn’t agree more, partly because it gives me an excuse to read and call it ‘work’ and partly because reading, and reading widely both in and out of the genre you write, makes you a better writer. Mentor texts are a step beyond reading though.
A mentor text is a book you read (or film you watch) in order to see working examples of the craft of writing. This is when you get out your highlighters and pens and actively search for the hidden techniques and structures that make a story work, and that you don’t notice (hopefully) when you’re caught up in the thrill of reading for enjoyment.
So, how do you use a mentor text?
First of all decide what aspect of craft you want to focus on. Let’s say you want to improve how you sprinkle backstory into your work, that’s what you’re going to focus on when you read through your mentor text. Now get out your pencils and highlighters.
I know that there are people out there who won’t so much as dog-ear a page of a book, for you sticky notes are your friends. For everyone else, you’re going to write in the margins and underline those areas of interest. Every time the author incorporates backstory into the story, you’re going to mark it up and use a post-it note to mark the page (or, you know, turn the corner if it doesn’t horrify you to do so).
By the end of the book you will have a series of examples of how to effectively (or not so effectively) incorporate backstory into a story.
You can use this strategy for any writing technique you’re struggling with (I particularly find it useful studying chapter transitions), across any length of text and in any genre. And you can use the same mentor text over and over again. Don’t limit yourself to work you love either. Studying texts that don’t work can be just as enlightening as studying texts that do.
Had you heard of mentor texts before? Do you use them and how? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I am one of those people. One of those people who doesn’t really know what they’re doing, who’s always looking for the thumbs-up or the gold star to tell me I’m on the right track. It’s not that I don’t have internal motivation to follow certain paths, it’s more that I don’t trust that internal pull and therefore look to others to validate that I’m doing the right thing.
This works well when you’re a kid in school because extrinsic motivators are a big part of schooling. It works less well as an adult when so much of life doesn’t have anyone watching over you and telling you you’ve done well or, conversely, you can find just as many people telling you you’re doing wrong as telling you you’re doing right.
For someone like me, that leads to a life lived in doubt and guilt.
Are there really people out there that know what they’re doing? They’re adulting and getting it right? REALLY!?
Are you one of those people. And if so, can you give me some tips?
I was looking at my calendar this morning and I realised that April is a really busy month for God. Easter, Orthodox Easter, Passover and Ramadan are all celebrated in April this year. Perhaps God thought we would need a boost during our Covid-19 isolation?
I personally was brought up Christian, although my faith is…mmm…ever evolving. But I have had the opportunity to join in Ramadan celebrations in the past. And a good friend of mine is converting to Judaism before she marries her fiance, so maybe I’ll get to experience some Jewish celebrations in the future.
Many (many) people have told me that Easter isn’t really happening this year because of the corona virus and the isolation measures we’re all taking. Perhaps, if you’re Jewish or Muslim, you’ve been hearing the same thing about your respective religious celebrations. I totally understand. Things are different this year. Perhaps you’re used to visiting with family or going camping or having a friends around. Perhaps, usually, your faith calls for you to get together with family to cook or make special decorations, or break fast. And this year, we can’t do these things.
If you’re feeling down that things are different this year and you can’t celebrate your faith or traditions the way you usually would, remember that there are things you can do. Make use of digital technology to connect with friends and family. Stay in touch with your church, synagogue or mosque through Facebook. Go old school and ring older friends and family members who may not be comfortable with the internet or social media (try not to find this frustrating).
For many of us religious celebrations are more about tradition than faith. But, for those of us who are believers, take a moment to remember why it is we celebrate during this time. That reason doesn’t change, even if the world circumstances does.
Throughout history people have had to celebrate their faith in difficult circumstances. In fact, around the world there are still many people who can’t practise their faith freely and without fear of persecution. And yet, they find away.
And so can you.
So, enjoy your Easter, Passover or Ramadan. Stay safe.