the We Need Diverse Books mentorship program: two perspectives

I can’t believe we’re already more than halfway through the We Need Diverse Books 2018 mentorship program! Here’s how it’s been so far for me and Tai Farnsworth, the writer I’m pleased to be mentoring.

Sara Ryan:

When I was invited to be a mentor with We Need Diverse Books, I was honored and excited and nervous. I’ve taught writing in assorted settings, and I’ve been in writers’ groups for decades, offering a combination of support and critique. But this would be my first experience with one-on-one mentorship.

When I read the finalists’ manuscripts to choose the writer I’d be working with for the coming year, it was such a difficult decision. I read, and reread, and set them aside for a little while. The fearlessness, warmth, queer sensibility, and sensory richness of Tai’s manuscript stuck with me. (Plus it had made me laugh out loud multiple times.) We had a good rapport right away and connected easily over email & Google Hangouts.

When I gave Tai a big assignment to make her manuscript even stronger (aka the dreaded reverse outline) I worried about how she’d react. I knew it would be a lot of work, and I knew it can be hard to see the benefit of doing this kind of exercise when you’ve already put a lot of time into a manuscript. I was so relieved when she agreed to take it on, and I’ve been delighted to see the post-reverse-outline revisions.

My guiding principles in this role are to be clear that any suggestions I offer are just that, and equally clear about why I think the suggestions are worth considering. I knew I’d learn a lot, and I am. It’s also a real pleasure.

Tai Farnsworth:

When I first received the email saying I’d been accepted as one of this year’s YA WNDB mentees, I could barely process the information. In between tears and laughter, I asked one of my co-workers to confirm what I’d read, as some part of me was convinced I was reading the email wrong. It was easily my happiest moment of 2017. But I had no idea what to expect.

Sara and I connected immediately. It is comforting to have a queer person working with me on my queer book. Every step of the way I have felt wholly seen and understood. Even when the task at hand seems daunting (oh how I loathe thee, reverse outline) Sara cheers me on.

Through Google Hangout and emails, we have spent the last half-year working on the many elements of my manuscript that needed to be tightened and re-worked before it’s ready to query again. Occasionally, I’ll reach out with questions about an upcoming reading or concerns about how the beginning of a new story is shaping out and Sara is always insightful. She’s kind but she never pulls punches or allows me to skate by. And every once in a while she’ll send an additional resource or book recommendation my way! At the beginning of this process, I was certain my book was ready to be published, regardless of my spate of rejections. But working with Sara has helped me see the opportunities I’d left on the writing table. I’m now about a quarter of the way into my re-write and it’s slow goings but I’m so proud of the work I’m doing and the changes taking place. This last year has been a whirlwind for me personally, but the WNDB mentorship has had such a wonderful impact on my life. I’m so honored to have this chance to make an impact with my writing. And grateful to the many people, Sara especially, who are helping me on this journey.

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