Can you harness your passion to make a point? I recently received the trusted gift of a friend’s manuscript. Reading it revealed too much of my inability to be a calm, reasonable, writing coach. I was up for half the week burning my electric candle at both ends making scribbles and scratch outs on the pages I hadn’t yet flung across the room. Where was my dispassionate distance? Why was my blood boiling over a few repetitive run-on sentences?
I dreaded the follow-up phone call with the author. I suggested, when the awkward silence on the line couldn’t be further explained as passing sunspots, that perhaps he’d better ask someone else’s opinion. The bullet couldn’t be dodged, the vampire of incoherence required silver straight to the heart. I unleashed my bludgeon of assessment, unchecked, and uncensored, certain the next words my subject would write would be my name in blood on the white washed wall of the tomb of his ambition.
“Nobody ever said anything like that to me,” he said. “It hurts, it doesn’t feel good, but it helps.”
The double edged sword of opinion cut us both open. I was able to back pedal, re-affirm his natural storytelling ability and suggest he take some online classes to hone it, but after we hung up I was left with the ache of not knowing where I ought to go to learn effective coaching skills. I’ve long mis-trusted the phrase ‘constructive criticism’ and the prospect of learning by trial and error seemed to promise a long line of shipwrecks in a turbulent sea.
I’m not schooled, I have no degrees, no authority on the subject of other people’s writing, but my uncontrollable and explosive response triggered a hidden mechanism. I cared too much to let mediocrity take the stage. Perhaps that was my best card to play, like a pen Paladin I could lay down the ace of spades and declare over my smoking Colt .45, “I won’t let you suck!’
I had no writing mentor coming up in my local poetry circles. At age twenty I was a ‘peer’ with poets that had been on the scene longer than I had been taking up space on the planet. I’d show up at readings, wait my turn, and earn my share of hoots and hollers, and go back to my room and read from my heroes. I imagined relationships with poets long gone and never once thought there’d be a day when I considered poets yet to come as my responsibility. That chicken has come home to roost. (The one poetic example I ought to give heedence was my loft neighbor who heated his apartment by letting the windows open so pigeons could flock inside. He came to visit me one day and sat underneath the exposed pipes of my only sink and recited, from memory, Allen Ginsburg’s poem, “Howl.”)
It is my turn to become a young poet’s mentor, to heal the gap in my own history, as much as further the tread on the path less taken. I’m not an instructor, an editor, or inspiration, at least not directly. What I am is an ear, a voice, and perhaps a stabilizing hand with the potential to be a loyal advocate of whatever you might advocate. I will read your stuff, in small doses, and respond, mercilessly, or mercifully depending on how much skill and perspective I can garner through experience. If, upon reading my various posts on the website, you sense an advantage in corresponding please send three pages of whatever you are working on to: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll acknowledge receipt and get back to you in a timely manner.
Poetry, short stories, novels, essays, all genres, all the time. This is an experiment. We’ll be in the test tube together. Sum of the parts may survive, and some of the parts may thrive. The worst thing about encouraging a writer is it might work!