Last year around this time, I found out I had won a yearlong mentorship with the wonderful children’s author Jane Kelley. (The competition was run by SCBWI-WI, for which I will be eternally grateful.) For an entire year, Jane would help me revise my middle grade novel.
I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to have won this opportunity. It had been a tough year–I went through my first series of submissions and rejections, and it was such a joy and a relief to end the year on a win. I was especially excited to work with Jane because I’d read and loved several of her books. (You should read them, too! They’re great.)
But no matter how lucky I felt this time last year, I had no idea how lucky I actually was. Over the past year, Jane has read everything I’ve sent her way–including several versions of one novel, one version of another, and several attempts at a query letter and synopsis. She has given me thoughtful, insightful, and incredibly useful feedback on all of it.
Jane pointed out the things I was making my main character do over and over without realizing it–things like second-guessing, thinking about thinking, and imagining semi-violent reactions just a bit too often.
She asked crucial questions at the right time. When I was struggling to get my first scene right, she asked, “Do you want to define your main character through emotion or action?” That simple question made it immediately clear what I had to do. I’d spent the entire rest of the novel making my main character act–sometimes impulsively, sometimes not. Of course I should introduce her through action, too. (It seemed so obvious that I had my own semi-violent reaction for not seeing it before. But often it’s the most obvious things that become invisible in your own work.)
Above all, Jane treated my story like it mattered. She cared about my characters. She read deeply to see what I was doing and what I was trying to do. She did this for a year. For nothing.
Well, okay. I baked her some cookies.
But that’s not all. Every month, Jane dedicated time for us to meet in person to talk to about books, publishing, the writing life, and anything else that came up. She was generous with stories of her own career, and helped me think about the future of mine. When you’re unpublished and struggling to complete a novel you’ve spent years on, these are incredibly precious gifts. Even better than cookies.
Now, I’m in the middle of a second round of submissions. Thanks to Jane, it’s going a lot better than the first time. Thanks to Jane, I have ten times more confidence–and hope–than I had this time last year. Thanks to Jane…you know what? I’m not going to include a third thing. I’d rather leave it at that.
Thanks to Jane.