Meet Your Inner Mentor – A Writing Exercise

Photo by Warley Rossi

by Rin Simpson

Quite often, the hardest barrier for new writers to overcome is a lack of confidence – certainly that’s been my experience. This writing exercise is incredibly straightforward, but helps to silence what Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way, 1992) calls the ‘inner critic’, allowing the writer to engage with a more positive influence, the ‘inner mentor’ if you like.

I began using the technique one day last year when I was feeling particularly blocked. I had already tried writing about the imaginary lives of the people in the café where I was working, and that hadn’t helped. Then I tried describing the café itself, and that didn’t work either. So I started writing out my frustrations and, lo and behold, my inner mentor showed up. I went on to have a very productive morning.

So how do you access your inner mentor? It’s very easy. Start by simply telling him (or her, if you prefer) how you feel. Then, without thinking too much about it, write his answer. Respond to whatever he says, then again let his answer come back to you. Try to keep writing fairly consistently, not stopping to ponder what you’ve produced. Your conversation might start something like this:

Me: “I’m stuck.”

Mentor: “Which bit are you stuck on?”

Me: “Ideas. No, not ideas… good ideas.”

Mentor: “Why do you think your ideas aren’t good?”

Me: “They’re stupid.”

Mentor: “No one thinks that. You’re judging yourself. Perhaps you should just start writing. Pick a character…”

Once you feel more relaxed, begin to ask your mentor some specific questions, for example about plot points or imagery or theme. Write down whatever answers come to you, even if they seem stupid at the time.

Me: “Should I write about a teenager?”

Mentor: “Would you like to?”

Me: “I don’t know. I thought I could start with a teenager in her bedroom, writing in her diary.”

Mentor: “What is she writing about?”

Me: “Her life, how sad she is that her dad has left. Her parents are getting a divorce.”

Mentor: “She must be angry about that.”

Me: “I don’t think she is; she’s just sad. Should I write her in the first person?”

Mentor: “Perhaps you should write from the point of view of the diary.”

Me: “Really? That seems contrived?”

Mentor: “You can only try…”

It may be that your mentor asks more questions than he answers, but that too is a useful tool. By the end of the exercise, not only will you have completed a form of self-therapy, you will also have written a few pages. These pages may not be valuable as part of a short story, but like Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” they will have helped to unblock you creatively, opening you up to whatever it is you will go on to write.

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About the author

Rin Simpson has written 2 articles for THRESHOLDS

Formerly a features writer and magazine editor, Rin Simpson now works as a freelance writer and teacher, and is based in Bristol. Her short story ‘In Her Shoes’ is published in Honno’s anthology, Cut On The Bias, and she is currently working on her debut novel.

2 Responses to "Meet Your Inner Mentor – A Writing Exercise"

  • whymyeye 01:54 PM 24/2/2012

    Hello Rin, I’ve never read the Artist’s Way, although of course I’ve heard of it. You’ve thrown me with this article as this is something I’ve been doing all my adult life without ever being instructed. I think of it as speaking to the demon (or the critic if you like). And I’ve encouraged other writers to try it.
    I never bother with names I just switch voices from one sentence to the next. That way, I think, I own my problem and my ‘mentor’. But an inner mentor it definitely is.
    I’m so glad to know it’s in fact a good healthy thing to do, because deep down I’ve always suspected I had a split personality! Thanks Rin.

  • Rin Simpson 03:04 PM 24/2/2012

    Glad to have been able to reassure you – you’re definitely not crazy! I think anything that helps you write and ‘unblock’ is a useful tool, even if it is a little unconventional.

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