DIY Mentorship, Week One: Assessment

by nike, August 14, 2013

800px-Pacini_measurementNot everyone wants or needs to work with a mentor, but many writers feel the need to refocus their writing practice at some point. This is the first in a series of posts that, together, will comprise a kind of DIY mentorship.

The DIY mentorship isn’t designed to replace a real mentorship, which also includes lots of personally tailored support, and feedback on your writing. What it IS, is a set of tasks and guidelines for getting your writing on track: focusing your energy. At this stage, I’m thinking there’ll be SIX core posts (SIX Weeks of mentorship guidance).

Week One is all about self-assessment. The goal is to work out where you are as a writer, right now, and where you would like to get to. Growing your writing, and your writing career, starts here. With a good, solid and realistic assessment of where you’re at, and the beginnings of a plan for the future.

You have three tasks to complete this week:

  1. CREATE A SPREADSHEET (or just a paper list/table) of everything you have written to date. That means both work in progress, and completed works. Make sure you make room in the spreadsheet to note the length of each work and, if you work in different forms or genres, somewhere to note that, too. Whatever form your spreadsheet takes, you should also include space to note where that work is at now, and where it’s been in the past. Have you sent it to a publisher, agent or other market? Who was that? And when did you send it? Was it entered in a competition? What was the outcome of that? A basic spreadsheet in Excel would include the following columns: Title, Word Count, Genre/Form (if required), Date Completed, Submissions (with sub-columns: market, date submitted, and outcome), Notes. [If you’d like a blank excel sheet already set up, try this one … You’ll notice it has two pages. The ‘submissions log’ page is for completed works, and the ‘development log’ is for incomplete works. The columns in the development log are the ones I use. You might have different ones! Adapt at will :)]
  2. WRITE DOWN what you would like to achieve, as a writer, within the next year and within the next five years. Your list of goals should include two columns: one column for goals you have complete control over achieving, and the other column for goals that require … let’s call it luck for now. So, things you have control over are how much you write, of what, and when, and what you do with what you write (for example: complete six short stories; submit each story to at least three markets; develop a deeper understanding of the short story marketplace, etc). Goals you need a bit of magic to achieve include publication goals, getting funding, winning competitions, and so on (for example: publish something in The New Yorker, publish four short stories in reputable Aus mags, win or place in the Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize). Each of your ‘LUCK’ goals must be related to/linked to a goal you can control. So, for example, to be published in The New Yorker, one would have to SUBMIT STORIES to them 🙂
  3. GENERATE a snapshot of your current strengths and challenges as a writer. You can either do this on your own (self-assessment) or do it with some help. If you belong to a writers’ group, ask the others if they’d like to do it with you. If you don’t belong to a writers’ group, ask another writer or three that you know has read your work (and whose work you have read) to do this task with you, and offer to do it for them in return. Make sure you balance your assessment of strengths and challenges. If you have five strengths, you MUST have five challenges. You might like to divide the list up further, into sub-categories, in order to capture a snapshot of the different elements of your writing practice, such as: the writing itself (what are you good at? what could you get better at?), your practice (how often do you write? how much do you generate? what are your blocks?), your self-development (what are you doing to get better?), your career management (how much work do you send out? how much do you know about the marketplace? how do you use what you know?)

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