What can a writing mentorship teach you?


Earlier this year I was selected to participate in the Writing in the Margins mentorship program which pairs marginalized writers with an awesome (my words not the program’s) mentor. The mentorship is a great opportunity to polish a manuscript with an accomplished author’s guidance. I had the pleasure of being paired with Tanita S. Davis, whose novel Mare’s War was a Coretta Scott King Honor Book.

Over the last four months I’ve learned some valuable lessons from the experience:

Put yourself and your writing out into the universe as much as you can even if you think nothing will come of it. I applied to the Writing in the Margins program in November 2017. Almost every year for the last several years I’ve submitted manuscripts to agents and editors, and essays and articles to online venues knowing full well that a lot of pieces will get rejected. It’s just part of being a writer. I didn’t think I had a good chance at the mentorship since I’ve published two novels, but to my delight I received an email in January saying I’d been selected. It just goes to show: it never hurts to apply.

How you respond to feedback is one measure of your growth as a writer. Years ago, I worked with an editor for the first time. She critiqued fifty pages of a now shelved manuscript. There were red pen marks on every other line and pages of notes. Her feedback was more demoralizing than encouraging. I cried and quit writing for a few months. I reasoned I wasn’t good enough so I might as well give up. Eventually I came back to writing and am glad I did. When I got my mentor’s first critique I half-expected to fly off the handle, cry, or both. Neither happened. In fact, I was thrilled to see the comments and suggestions for how I could make my novel shine. I couldn’t wait to start revisions.

Editing and revising are different. When working on manuscripts in the past I placed a heavy emphasis on editing – looking at word choice, grammar, and other details. At the time I thought I was revising. During the course of the mentorship, though, I learned that revising is looking at the manuscript at the foundation level, finding out what isn’t working, and rewriting the book from there. True revision forces you to answer the question: what is my novel really about?

Don’t give up on a manuscript that speaks to your heart. When I applied for the mentorship part of me was considering moving on and letting The Other Side of the World disappear into a folder on my flash drive, never to be thought about again. Deep down, though, I knew I couldn’t let it go. This is a story about my experience as a half Filipino kid, the daughter of an immigrant. I know there are some YA novels about biracial teens but there isn’t one where I’ve really seen myself and my experience represented. I know I have to stick with it, no matter what the outcome.

Have you participated in a mentorship program? What lessons have you learned? Share your experiences in the comments.


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About Author

Deanna Cabinian is the author of ONE NIGHT and its sequel ONE LOVE. When she isn’t working or writing she enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and their Havanese dog, Cuba. She’s from the Midwest, but dreams of living by the ocean. Find her online at http://www.deannacabinian.com.

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