A Pilgrim's Guide

The Craft of Creative Writing

 Part Five

The Craft of Creative Writing

Animus and Anima

Let us suppose that we are clear about the general thrust of what it is we want to write about. We have set down our initial draft in a white-hot blaze of enthusiasm. But then, unless our deadline is extremely pressing, we will do well to lay it down again. We will find consistent benefit in allowing a ‘fire’ gap and sleeping on a passage rather than attempting to work on it again too quickly. Writings, like timber, requires seasoning. Receiving an idea is the all-important first step, but knowing what to do with it may be an entirely separate matter. We need time to reflect on the original idea and to find the sharpest way to present it to others.

When the time comes to read it again – and this may sometimes be months or years later – we must swap hats. Now we are no longer a free ranging creator but rather an impartial critic. All creativity needs and honing, and long before anyone else sets eyes on our material we must each assume the role of editor for ourselves. This is where we must humble ourselves and overcome any foolish sense that what we wrote in the course of our first outpouring was so inspired that not a word should be altered.

In all probability we will find that what we wrote is both better and worse than we had originally thought. Better in that certain descriptions and character traits are sharper than we could reproduce now at this greater distance our original moment of inspiration. But worse because the text is littered with clichés and non sequiturs and the material comes across as being too simplistic (or complicated). Now is the time to reshape it according to our taste and intention. First drafts are all about untrammelled creative flow; revisions about the cold light of day. To some extent they match Karl Jung’s categories that define the different ‘polarities’ of our personality: the ‘animus’ and the ‘anima’. Without tying ourselves to narrow gender-distinction, the terms are broad indications of masculine and feminine characteristics, the ‘anima’ representing our intuitive and emotional side, whilst the ‘animus’ thrives on logic, fact and order.

Left to itself, the animus would frown on creative flights of fancy, just as the anima secretly squirms at the thought of being rigidly constrained. Our banner for this section envisions a powerful and proper fusion of these characteristics: The secret of good writing is to develop both strands in the right proportions.

A well-developed ‘animus’ that is working in tandem (rather than in competition) with the ‘anima’ will usually be able to find effective ways to rework and incorporate this initial stream of ideas. This is where the ‘anima’ must step aside and permit for the ‘animus’ to make whatever sweeping changes are needed to sharpen the flow and presentation.

‘Off with his head’ is the regimental bugle call of animus-driven editors as they wield their pens. It is a slogan we should not be afraid of. When we have tinkered around with a phrase, but are still left with the uncomfortable feeling that the overall effect is less sharp than we would have liked, then the most effective way to deal with it may well be to adopt the Red Queen’s policy and delete it altogether. The reason we may have been having so much trouble with it is that it was never really worth bothering with.

One of the problems with word processors is that it is so easy to play around with text that we may end up endlessly tinkering around with passages that really ought to be omitted or completely rewritten. We must be prepared to apply the same principle to whole scenes and even chapters as well as to individual phrases.

Pause and Put into Practice

Most of us lean instinctively more to the animus or the anima. Review various pieces that you have written in this light. Can you discern where your own emphasis lies? Is this routinely the case, or only true for some of your writings? Would your work benefit by being less anima-flowery and more tightly focused? Or are you so straight down-the-line ‘animus’ that you have never permitted your ‘anima’ the freedom to spread its wings and soar? What (or who) might help you ‘broaden out’ in this respect?

For example, you might not think that the ‘anima’ would have much place in writing a report of, something so prosaic as, say, a football match. Yet everything we write will be infinitely the richer to read if we allow the anima its say. Fuller descriptions and more incisive metaphors will express concepts that will make the article a pleasure for even non footballing aficionados to read, as well as delighting true fans with richer insights into their beloved sport.

The Art of Rewriting

‘Then, rising with Aurora’s light’

The Muse invoked, sit down to write;
Blot out, correct, insert, refine,
Enlarge, diminish, interline’.
(Jonathan Swift, c.1790)

‘If people knew how hard I had worked to get my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful after all’.
(Michelangelo)

With all my heart I value the ‘stream of consciousness’ approach I advocated earlier. But we need to establish a proper balance between the spontaneous and the carefully planned. Improvisation is beautiful in music, but nobody expects a fully fashioned symphony to emerge every time we dispense with printed sheets. There is usually much editing to do when we revisit the texts we wrote in the white-hot heat of the moment. It is the long process of revision that distinguishes a top class author from a fiery first-drafter.

When we go to the dentist for a check-up, what we are hoping for is expert reassurance that nothing is wrong. Sometimes, however, the dentist is obliged to tell us the worst: a tooth will have to come out.

Many of us revision-seasoned writers would wryly acknowledge the comparison between visiting the dentist and the need to revise our drafts. At worst, the flaws in our work may run so deep that nothing but a complete rewrite will suffice to put them right. We writhe at the loss of time involved, and at the humiliation of not having been able to get it right first, second, or even third time round.

To change the metaphor, however, what sense is there in continuing to patch up an old car if the mechanic is quite clear that it should be scrapped? Whenever we postpone making painful revisions, we are merely treading water – and that, effectively means losing headway. I am convinced that many songs and publications are presented too hastily to a wider audience. Revision and the courage to take tough decisions are another set of Siamese twins.

If you are one of the many who turn to writing as a means of getting something off their chest, it can serve as powerful therapy for helping you to relive or move on beyond painful traumas, and hopefully to move on beyond them..

The therapy value is high, and the writer may even be skilful (or fortunate) enough to find readers who will identify with their experiences. In commercial terms, however, this is rather like a passer-by who is armed with an air rifle taking a pot shot and hitting the bullseye at a specialized shooting event. We do not expect anyone to create a masterpiece the first time they switch on the electric plane or lathe. We are speaking of a craft.

Cutting out second rate material may call for considerable courage, but it will ultimately leave us with much the same satisfying feeling that gardeners have after pruning their roses. We have prepared the way for a far richer display later on. Ponder the message the following pearls of wisdom are sending us:

‘In the mind, as in the body, there is the necessity of getting rid of waste. A man of active literary habits will write for the fire as well as for the press’.
(Jerome Cardan, 16th century)

‘Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out!’ (Samuel Johnson)

Purple passages do not always impress. Do remember that it is possible to achieve subtlety and stylistic success by a judicious use of irony and understatement rather than by waxing lyrical. As Henry Thoreau suggested, ‘the story need not be long, but it will take a long while to make it short’. Some of our initial drafts could probably be reduced by up to a third without losing the salient points.

From time to time we need to remind ourselves that we are writing for our readers and not for ourselves. But who is this elusive person we cannot see? Storytellers can tell at a glance whether people are tracking with them or falling asleep, but writers have to think their way into their reader’s emotions. Kingsley Amis put it this way. ‘I always bear (the reader) in mind, and try to visualize him, and watch for any signs of boredom or impatience flitting across the face of this rather shadowy being’. Once again it is the still small voice which combines instinct with experience and helps us to sense that this approach will work, and that will not.

The time to consider the reader is during the pre-first draft thinking process. Once the writing process is under way, creativity tends to flow too fast and furiously for us to be overly concerned with how others might view the text. There will be time later on to consider this matter again, when the editor in us wakes up and takes our sheaf of scribblings and begins to edit the text dispassionately, and almost as though it were written by a complete stranger. This is the time to ask some fundamental questions:

    • What style and viewpoint have we plumped for? Would another approach be better
    • Have we made the characters sufficiently rounded and convincing? Are they in the right relation and tension to each other? Are their hopes and dreams adequately signposted, and are the hurdles they face challenging enough? In what ways do they alter in the course of the story? Are these changes sufficiently prepared for and satisfactorily portrayed?
    • How about the plot? Does it progress logically? Are we clear about that we were trying to achieve in each episode? Would other readers see this too?
    • Is there enough tension, or too many side-shows and digressions which draw the reader’s attention away from the principal theme?
    • Have we allowed suitable alternations between dramatic high points and quieter periods in which the characters ‘catch up’ with events and emotions and plan what they are going to do next?

Over familiarity with our material can cause us to take too much for granted and to skip asking these questions. But we must take as long as we need to examine these issues, along with the ones we raised in the section ‘Writers read in order to write readably’. There can be no excuse for not doing so.

What we are primarily doing at this stage is checking the flow and tenor of our text rather than becoming bogged down in search of precise words or phrases. The key thoughts to bear in mind at this stage of editing are: ‘What am I trying to say?’ and ‘Would someone reading this for the first time realise what my intentions were?’

Once these basic tenets are in place, we can progress to the second stage of text editing: ‘Have we presented the material in the best order as well as in the most compelling words?’ This is where, we must overcome our subconscious desire to avoid the hard labour involved in making sure that our sequencing works. That third paragraph might just flow better if it were placed earlier on . . . and that sentence that reads rather awkwardly where it is might read better if it were inserted in the midst of another paragraph. It can always be moved somewhere else if it doesn’t fit there either. Several such rounds of ‘shuffling’ may be necessary before we finally reach that wonderful moment when we sense that the text says just what we want it to.

Since virtually none of us think so concisely that we do not need to sift, sort, polish and hone our material, it is better to view these multiple revisions as a godsend rather than a wasted chore. How on earth did Shakespeare and Dickens cope without word processors?

Another way to ensure a smooth flow is to practise reading your text aloud. Stories are meant to be read, and our writing will benefit from this exposure. The great advantage of listening to our material is that it permits us to hear the words in a way that highlights stylistic inconsistencies as well as actual mistakes. Inexpensive software can even save us from having to do the physical reading ourselves. This is not being ‘hi-tech for the sake of it’: it is using machines to help express what is really on our heart.

There is one drawback to this approach. A flamboyant ‘live’ reading can make a poor text sound better than it really is. By the same token, a perfectly acceptable piece of writing can sound dreary when we hear it relayed through an artificial computerized voice.

To vary the revision process, try printing out the whole text from time to time. We will see things on paper that escape us on the screen, especially when it comes to the best order to present ideas in. I normally edit with double-spaced lines, but there are also advantages in printing our material in varying page formats, for example, as a formatted page of a book. Anything that helps us to see our material from a fresh perspective is worth considering.

As we plough on with the rewriting process, we must let Samuel Johnson’s incisive words be our guide: ‘What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure’. And when we have sifted and sorted the text to the best of our ability, we must know when to stop. Any more and the tinkering becomes counterproductive.

Scripting the Synopsis

‘Plan, Write, then Fix’ (Anon.).

Most writers need to compose to a plan or synopsis has stood the test of time. It is not without its potential drawbacks, however. C.S. Lewis declared that he was ‘pregnant with book’. To pursue the metaphor, which of us know what sort of children we are going to bring into the world (let alone what they will be doing in ten or twenty years’ time). In much the same way, we will likewise often be taken by surprise by the changes of direction which occur in the course of writing a book. Once our characters begin to operate as ‘free agents’, they develop a life of their own.

But surely the argument runs, all that really matters is that readers can follow where the story leads them. So long as we end up with something worthwhile, it does not matter much how we got there. And yet we may never get there simply by writing.

The great advantage of writing to a synopsis is that it keeps us on course, and allows time for the story to come together. Tempted though we undoubtedly will be to plunge in and get on with the actual writing, we may need to take almost as long preparing the synopsis (the characterisations as well as the plot) as we do actually writing the book.

The second problem is restricting what we put into our synopsis. Because I am always so eager to write, my first attempts to prepare a synopsis for a children’s novel grew longer and longer, rather like Topsy’s house. When I became lost under the welter of events and descriptions, I had to compose a reduced synopsis to help me navigate my way around my synopsis.

Sol Stein adopts an approach that makes synopses work for rather than against our creative urges. He suggests we limit ourselves to describing scenes rather than chapters: the bare bones of what happens and where. If we write these down on small cards (or on computer outline programmes) we can then shuffle these scenes until we find the best sequence in which to present them.

Later we can add the merest hint of the information we are eager to communicate. Some of these details may be better off portioned out in more than one scene. If we get the basic scene-sequencing right, we will almost always be able to find a way to incorporate specific details and character development. Our banner sums up this section, Plan, write, then rewrite. Check the sequencing and give every scene its own specific goal.

Tips to avoid Heartache

In the context of preparing a synopsis, may we also recommend file-numbering. If we get into the habit of renaming our drafts on a daily basis (synopsis 1, synopsis 2, and so on) we will be much less likely to confuse versions. This simple strategy can save us great heartache. So too can asking a friend to store occasional copies of our material to guard against those twin authorial disasters: a hard disk crash or a burglary.

This is not a purely defensive gesture. We may find it useful later on, to dial up an earlier version of our text and compare it with our current one, not only to measure the improvements we have made but also to see if we have lost anything valuable during the redrafting process.

If we can face the thought, we will also benefit from rewriting particular scenes or chapters from the same starting point but without referring to our earlier draft. Our banner highlights the value of this radical approach. Comparing two versions will often lead to a sharper finished result than merely tinkering about with the existing text.

Recurrent Themes

‘He who resolves never to ransack any mind but his own, will soon be reduced, from mere barrenness, to the poorest of all imitations; he will be obliged to imitate himself, and to repeat what he has before so often repeated’. (Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1774)

Many authors return again and again for inspiration to some comfortingly familiar theme drawn from the world of their childhood, when their sensory receptions were stronger and life was an adventure to be lived rather than an obstacle course to circumnavigate. Rosalind and I love Ellis Peters’ ‘Cadfael’ novels. We marvel at her ability to paint a pen picture in a few matchlessly chosen words that brings her world so vividly to life.

Some time after reading her fifth or sixth book, however, it begins to dawn on the reader that similar themes are recurring in almost every story. A young man is accused of some terrible crime, and the rest of the book consists of putting this injustice to rights. Given this writer’s amazing descriptive abilities, and her profound knowledge of human nature, could somebody not have helped her to come up with more varied plots?

Reading widely and receiving input from widely varying sources, inspires our creative spark and keeps us from becoming stuck in a rut. Like an endless loop we may end up repeating descriptions, settings and outcomes, and not even realise we are doing so. It is wise to ponder this particular banner from time to time as we prepare our work: Have I been down this road before? Otherwise we may end up in that category of people whom Samuel Johnson dismissed so witheringly: ‘Sir, you have but two topics, yourself and me. I am sick of both’.

Ragged Writing

‘Right or wrong, make it strong’.

There are so many alternatives in life to reading, many of which simply did not exist twenty or thirty years ago. It is up to us to write clearly and incisively, so that we give our readers no opportunity of getting either bored or confused. We should not be afraid of revealing who we are and what we believe. There are so many depersonalizing influences in our increasingly political correct society that it is a blessing to hear someone speaking out clearly.

We live in an age in which most people are working overtime to avoid having to take responsibility. Watch the politicians worming their way round giving answers to straightforward questions! But people do not buy books in order to hear authors covering themselves with disclaimers. It may sound humble, but a welter of ‘mights,’ ‘maybes,’ and qualifying phrases (‘it appears that’ merely makes our text less convincing.

Readers do not want to have to do any mental editing as they go along. They want to be assured that we are competent writers. Every time they come across words or phrases that sound hesitant, it raises a question mark in their mind.

Take this truly hopeless sentence as an extreme example. ‘I am sort of embarrassed to admit that I am a bit of a timid person, but I am very much hoping that I will one day be lots (or at least somewhat) less fearful than I currently appear to be at this present moment in time’.

The material could perfectly well be summarized thus. ‘I am embarrassed to admit that I am a timid person, but I hope that one day I will be less fearful’. (It would make for much more interesting reading if some explanation for the person’s fear was also put forward, along with some positive suggestions for overcoming it).

There are many issues over which we cannot afford to be too dogmatic or definite of course. Proper caveats may be in order, but if we are in any way concerned with contemporary issues, we dare not wait too long before venturing to express our opinion lest people move on and lose interest in the subject to hand. We must relay the insights and the wisdom we have gleaned, even if final certitude and objectivity is beyond our grasp. Our banner is a powerful incentive not to sit on the fence: ‘Be humble, but commit yourself!’

Pause and Put into Practice

You may never have realised just how hesitant much of your writing really is. Take a piece that you wrote some time ago and read it through with a view to weeding out anything that smacks of hesitant writing.

Stilted Stuff

‘Give a civil servant a good case and he’ll wreck it with clichés, bad punctuation, double negatives and convoluted apology!’ (Alan Clarke, Diary)

‘One of our defects as a nation is a tendency to use ‘weasel words’. When a weasel sucks eggs the meat is sucked out of the egg. If you use one ‘weasel word’ after another, there is nothing left of the other’. (Theodore Roosevelt)

In these days when the disabled are deemed ‘physically challenged,’ and those with no aptitude for languages ‘linguistically challenged,’ the trend to find ever softer ways to express unpalatable realities can reach farcical proportions. One Town Council brazenly declared that someone who had died was ‘terminally challenged!’

Few things make a text more top-heavy than cluttering it with the jargon of Newspeak and Political Correctness. The media loves terms such as ‘collateral damage’ instead of admitting that ‘civilian casualties’ have taken place; companies are ‘downsized’ or ‘put into administration’ to avoid us having to ponder the fate of real people (with families and mortgages) losing their livelihood.

Newspeak is temptingly slick and glib, but all too often sinister developments lie concealed behind fine-sounding phraseology.

In these days of faddish political correctness, it was perhaps inevitable that a dustbin man should become a sanitary officer, and that ‘humankind’ would eventually replace ‘mankind’. But does a manhole really need to be designated a person hole? It is better to make clarity and good taste our aim than to fear offending the new puritanical guardians of our words. It is only tactful, however, to avoid words such as ‘actors’ if we can find safer substitutes such as ‘performers’. Stereotypical phrases such as ‘Vicars have little time left for their wives’ can likewise be better rendered ‘. . . for their families’.

Why risk losing our reader’s trust by cluttering our text with redundant words and phrases? If readers sense we are exaggerating, they may be inclined to take everything we say with a pinch of salt.

English-speaking people have long made fun of the German habit of stringing lengthy groups of nouns together in what is technically known as ‘wortbildung’. Fashioning compound words together in ways that nobody has thought of before would make for an interesting and humorous challenge at a dinner party. The trouble is that such things are ‘in our face’ in more and more official communications. Zinsser quotes the following gem of a verb less sentence as a prime example: ‘Communication facilitation skills development intervention’. He thinks it has something to do with teaching students to express themselves in plainer English!

The process becomes not merely stilted but even sinister when the real meaning is deliberately obfuscated (sorry, hidden) behind an impenetrable morass of jargonese. Such reports typically string together a collection of abstract concept nouns which combine to deprive it of any trace of warmth or humanness. In the woeful absence of any active working verbs, all we are left with are verbs such as ‘is’ and ‘are’ – or, more probably, ‘isn’t’ or ‘aren’t’!

We hear ad nauseam of ‘controlled learning environments’ and ‘bench marking benefits being made at the point of care’. Not only is it impossible to imagine anyone actually engaging in these complex sounding activities, they have about them all the attraction of those answer phone loops on which we waste so much of our working day. Oh for contact with real human beings, and for thoughtful verbs that guide us to the task in hand! That is the only way to rescue our rich and precious language from the quicksand of deadweight phraseology.

Most people have become accustomed to encountering phrases once confined to the world of social sciences that they barely notice how jargon-laden these communiqués have become. A simple statement such as, ‘The Trust are delighted to announce that they have been able to appoint more nurses,’ would gladden the longsuffering public’s heart far more than interminable waffle about ‘improved health benefits at the point of care’.

The following banner aims to steer us well clear of these reefs of jargonese. Because it contains an implicit reminder not to overdo the use of clichés, it will also help us to write much livelier reports. ‘Whenever possible, use simple and personal expressions’.

Sharing with Others

‘The function of an editor is to help a writer achieve the writer’s intentions’. (Sol Stein)

‘Approbation helps a writer, and lessens his labour, and the work as it grows glows in his mind’. (Ovid)

When the German armed forces identified the location of French or Norwegian Resistance radio transmissions during the Second World War, by taking bearings from several different directions and then comparing them. There comes a time when we must ‘check our bearings’ and share our work with others. Some of us may prefer to do this we are still at the ‘ideas’ stage. Others may prefer to wait until we are satisfied that we have exhausted our initial burst of creativity, and have made some effort to edit the material ourselves. But who should we show it to?

Some people insist it is best not show it to friends (because they will tell us what we want to hear), and that only a (critical) teacher can help us. I would be wary of adopting such a hard and fast principle. My own experience is that alert and intelligent friends can do wonders to tell whether or not our draft is viable, as well as presenting perspectives we would not have thought of by ourselves.

That input and support does not mean that we should dispense with professional help however. All of us require wise and experienced outsiders to cast a stringent eye over what we have written, not only to pick up on our stylistic deficiencies, but also to point out things that we have omitted to include. True, the most experienced editor may not pick up on the full implications of what we are trying to convey, but that may be more through some deficiency in our technique than any lack of sensitivity on their part.

Rather than resenting editors, and removing them from our Christmas Card list if they puncture some of our cherished illusions, it is better to humble ourselves and welcome the challenge. If they succeed in bursting our bubble, it means that it was burstable – in which case it is surely better for all concerned that this should happen at a relatively early stage of proceedings, while there is still time to make course corrections.

The fact that we may have received our original idea with particular clarity, and that we have worked hard to research the subject and to find the best way to word it is no proof of ultimate inspiration. Pride will tell us to fight our corner, but humility will remind us there may be even better ways to express the same truths. Few of us will graduate as writer with our pride intact. It is the humble and the persistent who will find this sharper way.

As we hinted earlier, many of us are too possessive about our work; so jealous for its integrity that we will not allow anyone close enough to suggest any changes. Whilst we should not allow our main themes and emphasis to be whittled away, editors must be allowed their say about which material to change or omit.

If we find ourselves shying away from seeking this level of help and advice, it would be good to ask why this is. Do we subconsciously hear in even the most beneficial of criticism, echoes of the way our parents or teachers put us down in the past? It is important to identify and isolate these original memories, lest they harden into defensive and defeatist tendencies that imprison us. If the person who is trying to help is coming alongside us in an altogether more a constructive spirit, we will be forever grateful if we allow them fuller access.

But what if our would-be helpers really are hyper critical? Well, the fact that we do not like these critics, or the way they make their points, does not mean that they have nothing to teach us. We can still take on board whatever grains of truth are wrapped up in their criticisms, whilst at the same time strenuously siphoning off the prejudices that would do us harm.

There is another advantage of being on the receiving end of such criticism. Should we ourselves ever serve in an editorial capacity, may we never forget that the writer’s greatest need is for encouragement. We shall have more to say about this in the section ‘Carping Critics’.

The wording of this particular banner can hardly be said to be dynamic, but it bridges the gap between the role that editor plays and the special place that mentors can have in our lives. It may therefore be one of the most important issues for us to consider. ‘Am I sharing my material with the right person?’

Pause and Put into Practice

In all our writing endeavours, friends have a special part to play. Nothing encourages us more than their support and encouragement. Certain other ‘friendships,’ however, can seriously blunt and drain our creative energies. If the reason for this is that our paths and interests have diverged, or because an unhealthy degree of over co-dependency has set in, then it may be the best for all concerned to acknowledge the fact and to reduce the amount of contract we have with these people. There may be others, however, whose wisdom we would find it exceedingly helpful to cultivate.

What can you do to ‘develop’ these friendships from a literary point of view? Have you thought of asking them to read and comment on your material at various stages of its development?

Motivated Mentors

‘As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another’. (Proverbs 27:17)

In this profoundly insightful proverb, the Jewish Talmud envisages two students studying the Scriptures and offering each other constructive care and criticism, doubtless under the watchful eye of an older rabbi. We too will benefit from mentors who fulfil the role of this older rabbi. Such people are friends first and editors second, and, as such, they are uniquely placed to hone and sharpen our writing skills.

What is it that we are seeking in a ‘mentor?’ Someone whose vision is broad enough to embrace our own but mature enough not to stifle or control it. Someone who combines literary sensitivity with real-life skills. Who share the treasures of their experience with us, sharpen our existing gifts and draw out entirely new ones. Mentors can tell us honestly when something we have written falls below the mark – but they will do so in such a way as to encourage us that we will be able to produce something much more readable next draft round.

If persistence ranks at the very top of the qualities we need as writers, then doubly blessed are those who encourage creative people to keep going. Mentors are worth their weight in gold! Sometimes, sensing a better way of proceeding, they point us in directions we would never have thought of looking in for ourselves. We are wise if we take their advice seriously.

One word of warning is in order here. There is only so much that they can do for us. If we start looking to them to meet needs that are properly ours to fulfil, the relationship can become draining and demanding instead of creative and releasing. In all true mentoring there comes a time when the intensity of the relationship needs to slacken as we move away from our mentor, lest we remain forever locked in their orbit.

Do you remember those almost unbearably tense moments in the early Apollo space exploration missions, when the lunar module had to part company from the main rocket? It was a vulnerable but vital moment. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not for one moment suggesting any callous or abrupt parting of the ways – just a simple and mutual recognition that mentors are given to us for a season. The time will come when we (and they) will be called to branch out further afield.

All of us will reach our destination more fully and more quickly if we have such a person to guide and inspire us. Our banner is a deliberate piece of alliterative whimsy – but the point behind it is a real one. Motivated Mentors Mature Muddle-headed Writers. There is a great deal to be gained by seeking out such a mentor – or by making yourself available to serve others in this capacity.