When I was dipping my toes in the world of fiction, I applied to the National Arts Council of Singapore's Mentor Access Project in hope of having someone guide me along the Yellow Brick Road of publication. I was paired with an up-and-coming writer who, after a few sessions of mentorship, decided to drop out to pursue a career as a spiritual teacher. I was next assigned to another mentor who read my first chapter and gave me some pretty valuable feedback. But I must have had a blinking WRITERS BEWARE sign on my forehead that I was unaware because after a promising start, that person disappeared on me without so much as a goodbye! I was flummoxed and disappointed. Either my writing was so bad that it forced two writers into hiding, or I was really unlucky. But thanks to the coordinator's* persistence, I was put on a "blind date" with Singapore Literature Prize winner Suchen Christine Lim. Over a dinner of Chinese cuisine, Suchen quizzed me about my writing and aspirations. I guessed I must have passed the test because at the end of the meal, she agreed to mentor me--something she tells me she doesn't do often.
Over a year, Suchen read my writing and provided feedback. She wasn't the kind of person who prescribed a method or structure for me to follow. Like her writing, a lot of her coaching was based on heart, rather than mind. As a mentor, Suchen focused on the overall mindset of writing and a writer's journey. Over a year of coffee and cake, she shared her story and challenged my idea of what literature was or could be. Eventually I moved to the US, but we kept in touch over email and met up at our old haunt, the now defunct Coffee Club in Siglap,* whenever I visited Singapore. Even when I struggled to get published and met with tons of rejection, she believed in me and encouraged me to keep on writing.
Suchen and I running a workshop in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and British Council, Singapore in 2008.
To me, that kind of long-term relationship with another writer is more valuable than any kind of critique. It made me want to pay it forward and pass on what I've learned to other younger writers who are just starting out on their journeys. Today, I am so excited to announce that I will be joining the Society of Young Inklings as a writing mentor. Young Inklings is a San Francisco Bay Area-based organization that pairs up aspiring youth writers with mentors who provide either one-on-one or group coaching. For those who are ready to bring their writing out into the world, it also offers publishing programs that follow the traditional editorial process of publishing a book. In short, it provides the kind of opportunities and guidance that I wished I had as a young person!
Whether as an instructor or a soundboard, mentors play an important role in helping writers grow. I'm looking forward to a year of making a difference.
Photo courtesy of Society of Young Inklings
* The coordinator of MAP at that time was Yong Shu Hoong who later went on to clinch the Singapore Literature Prize for his poetry collection.