In May, I will become a master, much like Obi-Wan or Luke Skywalker of old. Except I will be a master of writing for children, rather than of the ancient Jedi arts. Honestly, I’m not sure which is cooler. But just as any good Jedi must complete a series of training and trials before they can become a master, so must I. One of these trials is the completion of a mentorship, which are two creative pieces that fall in the category of children’s, middle grade, or young adult literature. The first of those was due yesterday. This project, which I have mentioned in passing a few times here on the blog, began last February, when I sent the MT an email with a short synopsis of my idea. The first line of the email was, “I think I’ve finally come up with an idea that’s too weird.” Fortunately, the MT did not think a YA novel with steampunk cyborgs based on Frankenstein was too weird. She told me to write it. So I started writing it last term in my writing class, and received enough positive feedback from my classmates that I decided to make it my mentorship. I turned in a proposal in April, it was approved in May, and I started writing. Then, after a couple months of thinking about it, I scrapped everything I had worked on and started over. I wrote the whole first draft over the summer. I actually typed the last words in the Church Office Building during my lunch break. It clocked in at around 65,000 words. The integral part of the mentorship, and from where it derives its name, is that you work with a mentor from the wide world of publishing on this project. They read your piece and offer advice, much like a master and apprentice. So the last day of August, I sent my finished manuscript to my mentor, who I’m going to call Master Yoda because “my mentor” is going to get old fast. A few weeks later, she and I sat down in the Cambridge Public Library to discuss it. She pulled this out of her bag. It was my manuscript. Post-it noted. Color coded. She had really thought about this. I was so flattered that I creepily took a picture of it. Because I believe in making solid first impressions. So we sat down. And the first question she asked me was, “What is this manuscript about?”
Not what happens. What is it about.
I hemmed and hawed because really I didn’t know. I had written this thing in a furious burst this summer and it still felt like a stranger to me. I didn’t really know my characters, and the plot was slapdash and random in places. But more than that, I didn’t know what my book was about.
So I made something up. Master Yoda listened to me babble, then said, “Well I think it’s a novel about guilt, atonement, and forgiveness.”
Yes, I realized. Yes it was.
And suddenly, my book had a shape. And that shape got me excited.
I have been manic about this project since that first meeting in September. I have thought about it constantly. I have read dozens of essays about Frankenstein, other books with similar themes, and every Frankenstein retelling I could get my hands on2. I went to films and plays and lectures about Mary Shelley. I read her original manuscripts and journals. And I wrote more than I ever have in my life. And it has been amazing. I’ve felt like a real writer, with focus and drive and a project I felt passionately about and that I understood.
And my manuscript got better. It is still far from anywhere close to perfect, or even good, but it got better. I’m astounded by how far it came in three months under the guidance of Master Yoda. As I read over it this past week in preparation for sending it off, I couldn’t believe how well the changes I made had worked, and how spot on Master Yoda’s suggestions for changes had been. In two drafts, I have a whole new manuscript. And it looks like this: 72,000 words. 243 pages3. Because I have always been a student of the Hermione Granger variety.
Part one of mentorship is done. Now we do it all again in January!
- If you’ve been around me at all in the past five months, you’ll know my Frankenstein obsession has gone from endearing to annoying.
- If you ever want a recommendation, I’m here for you. I have very niche things that I know lots about.
- So thick! So heavy!