I dread shopping. I went shopping today for additional clothes for an upcoming trip and as always, came away with more purchases for my nieces than for myself. Not that I truly need more clothes – I have two closets full of beautiful, generally nearly new clothes. The problem is that they range in size from “Yea me!” to “Oh my God! How did I get to be this size?” And it isn’t that I didn’t see lots of things I thought would be great. It’s just that when I put them on – the mirror didn’t reflect the image that I had in my head when the clothes were on the hanger. Oh well! I have the best dressed nieces in town!
This brought me back to the writing workshop today and the end of day reflections. Throughout the session, we used “mentor texts” to work with the Traits that were our focus. A mentor textis a piece of literature chosen and used by an individual to hone some aspect of the writing craft.
What really strikes me about mentor text is that it is truly personalized – you have to feel comfortable with the text to be able to use it to develop your style. It has to fit you. Much like the ¾ of my closet that are currently too small – I like them, but they don’t fit. If I put them on I would not only look ridiculous but feel very uncomfortable. So it is with writing.
Writers, particularly developing writers, need to be exposed to the work of many authors before they fall head-over-heels-in-love a style that touches them in the place that sparks creatively and starts the writing juices flowing. The author(s) that I choose to apprentice myself to might be ones that you find strange and awkward. Think back to the first time you read a particular author - and then ran out to read every single word written by them. Sometimes, you became even more smitten and those works have a permanent part in your library (and your heart). But sometimes as you become more familiar with that style, you become very disillusioned and wonder what you saw there in the first place.
As in life, I have fallen in and out of love with authors many times – but we always remember our first love! Mine was “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. I have always been intrigued by the time period in which the novel is set and drawn to strong female characters. I even read “Pilgrims Progress” and tried to get my siblings to create our own family newspaper to imitate the March clan. I ran back to the school library and eagerly checked out “Little Men.” Not so compelling! I didn’t dare touch “Good Wives.” (Where is the “Good Husbands” novel?) I still use Louisa May Alcott as a mentor when I write; I just needed to move on and meet new people.
I can’t give you a definitive list of mentor texts to use for writing – I can only share what I enjoy and what has shaped me in writing. And if we do that for our students, they are bound to have opinions!! Some might love the ending to “Grapes of Wrath” and others feel sorely disappointed. But they will read – and read critically – to help develop their individual styles. That fits!