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  • Kerry Chaput

This is Your Story




Recently I participated in a mentorship program. An experienced author mentors a new author for three months. I was overjoyed when I was chosen. I had a concept I was excited about, three chapters completed, and the chance for 1:1 feedback by a published author.

This is going to be amazing.

And then it wasn't.


She was nice enough, but when I asked if we could schedule a zoom or a phone call, she told me no. That should have sent me running the other way. But I wanted to be flexible, so I went along with it. Her preference was that I send her my work, at which time she would slash through it like Edward Scissorhands and send it back to me, presumably scowling as she hit send.


She steered me away from my original concept and anything that was too dark, she told me to take out because it was "icky." Now, this made alarm bells go off in my head. I write gritty historical fiction and this is a story about orphans in the Great Depression. To make it look pretty or nice is a flat-out lie. It loses the whole feel of the book and it isn't true to the time. The Great Depression was shit for everybody. That's why the setting makes great books.


And this is where I ignored my instinct and let her ruin my story. She didn't mean to, of course, she just did what she thought was right. Colored in the lines and followed the rules. She never once asked me what I wanted or what my vision was. She cut out anything that had a speck of me in it (like, every word). She hated anything that revealed my voice and gave me zero positive feedback.


I let my insecurity get to me. Maybe I really do have that much to learn. Maybe I really am out of touch with how to write a great book. And I didn't want to be seen as ungrateful, like a new author who can't take feedback. So after a lot of tears, I swallowed that bitter taste and ignored that little voice that told me this was wrong. I let her direct me and did everything she asked. Each revision that I sent back was closer to her idea, and farther away from mine. She was pleased with the end result, but it didn't feel like me anymore. This was not my vision. I had a hard time caring about my protagonist (which is pretty much the kiss of death for a writer).


And I went on to write 82,000 words of mediocre fluff that had little of me in it. Sure, there were some spots I'm happy with. Some areas I still found the current and rode the wave. But most of it was just meandering, like a serpentine river that never gets to its destination.


I wrote an entire manuscript I didn't love just so someone I didn't know wouldn't think badly of me. Wow. And now here I am, throwing most of it in the trash. And the bummer is, I'm having a hard time finding my footing. She rattled my confidence so much with this story that I'm having to fight to get it back.


I forced myself to send her a thank you email after it was all said and done. She never responded.


I will not give up on this story. I still believe it's out there, waiting for me to discover it. It might be a messy process to dig it up, but if there's one thing I've learned these past few years, you create books by never giving up. You write and revise and revise again, over and over until you rub off all the dirt. There's a reason it's called polishing.


I hope a year from now I can tell you the real story of Magnolia Parker. the one I set out to write. The one that tells the story of a lost girl coming of age with everything against her. A girl who finds a fight she never knew she had through a chance encounter with one incredible woman.


Remember that this is your story. No one else's. You write the words. You decide the storylines. It's a product of your imagination and the only thing holding you back is you.


Now, wish me luck as I get out of my own way and go searching for a lonely girl in 1935. She's got a story to tell me.


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