Now that I've volunteered to serve as an online mentor to a young writer via the Little Owl Mentoring Program, I find myself confronted with the kind of discussion I usually go to great lengths to avoid: nitty-gritty, nuts-and-bolts techniques of writing.
I avoid these because I do whatever I do the way a natural whistler whistles a tune. How do you tell somebody how to whistle? How do you tell a bad whistler what to stop doing and what to start doing to become a good whistler?
Writing, like whistling--or riding a bike--is easy to talk about in the abstract, writing what you know, being honest on the page, visualizing characters and scenes in your mind's eye. But, personally, I never think about nuts and bolts and I'm not sure I know what they are: I think about whether the stuff I'm writing at the moment is working or not. Everything I'm doing is a result of things learned long ago, rules I internalized and then promptly forgotten. After that, I tinker until the words seem right.
I hope I can help a very promising teenage writer on the far side of the world perfect the work she wants to do. It's going to be a challenge, though, because my own approach is intuitive and mentoring involves advice more substantial than that.
When it comes down to it, I feel like I'm the Wizard of Oz, and I've been asked to come outside the curtain and explain what exactly is going on when I don't rightly know.