Each developing writer chosen to participate in the blogging showcase “We Are Not Numbers” is assigned an experienced mentor to coach and critique his or her work, both in terms of the use of the English language to reach a Western audience and the art of storytelling/personal narrative. In addition (or instead), some mentors will be asked to speak to the entire group of developing writers by Zoom on their published work, storytelling style, etc.
Mentors must be:
- Published writers or professional editors with demonstrated skills in storytelling (vs. academic publishing). It is not enough to "like to write"; you must demonstrate that you're good enough to be published or to be employed as a writer.
- Enthusiastic about and committed to helping developing storytellers improve their skills and enhance their impact.
- Available and accessible to their assigned “students” (within reasonable limits).
Requirements of mentors (except those who speak only)
- Accept a minimum of one developing writer at a time, for three-month stints (with a goal of one story developed each month).
- Confer with the assigned writer(s) via email, WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype or any other mechanism that is mutually available and considered effective. Note: Most of our members prefer a mentor who is willing to chat real-time via Facebook or WhatsApp in addition to communicating by email.) This process typically starts when a writer has a first draft to share, but they may also want help brainstorming creatie approach or interview questions as well.
- Throughout the process, and once you feel your work on a particular essay is as far as it can or should go, mentors should keep Alice Rothchild (mentor coordinator) informed on progress and any problems encountered. Mentors also are expected to inform Alice (and their mentee) if they must be out of touch for more than a week due to vacation, illness, etc.
- When the three-month stint with a particular writer is complete, mentors who choose to continue (and we hope all of you do!) will be rotated to another participant. However, we encourage mentors and writers to stay in touch after their assignments are complete.
- Promote the We Are Not Numbers site to your networks, and re-publish selected essays, with a link back.
There is a tendency to think that coaching and critiquing constitutes might be seen as censoring or “dilution” of their narrative. These young writers want and need help in telling their stories in the most effective way possible to Western audiences. In fact, Ahmed Ferwana, an English instructor in Gaza and one of the early advisors to We Are Not Numbers, says that one of the biggest problems developing writers face there is that they don’t receive honest/ challenging feedback.
- Be sensitive to their religion, culture and experiential context. While we encourage you to explain, for example, that certain word choices may be misunderstood by Westerners (such as the tendency to call all those killed in the course of a war "martyrs"), it is not your role to try to change their opinion about an issue.
- When we first launched We Are Not Numbers, we advised mentors not to edit, but to teach writers how to make the changes themselves. However, this makes the mentoring process too long and ardurous (they are not all natural writers and English is their second language) and the writers become frustrated. Instead, we have found the following process works the best:
- First, review the copy for anything missing from a "story" point of view. Is anything confusing? Is the lead boring? Would statistics or other supporting/background information help make the desired point/case? Are more anecdotes/details needed?
- Once the writer provides what's missing, edit the piece as you would for a professional publication. As you go through it, note patterns of problems, such as confused tenses or excessive use of superlatives or cliche adjectives (a common problem among Arabic writers). When you share the edited piece with your mentee, note and discuss these patterns.
- The mentee then reviews the edited piece and responds with questions or concerns about changes he/she thinks are not in the original voice or that change the meaning.
- Once you both agree a piece is ready for publication, the writer forwards it to Pam along with two to three high-resolution images that can be used with the piece. Pam conducts a final review and may ask the writer additional questions/make further edits.
- Note that there is no fixed timetable that must be followed. And how much time it requires of you varies by how much work a piece needs and how willing you are to chat with the writer outside of the actual editing process. Our members love to form new personal relationships!
- We ask, however, that you try to get back to a writer with feedback/edits in no more than a week; if you need more time due to illness, vacation, etc., please talk to Alice.
Anyone interested in being considered as a mentor should email Alice Rothchild (firstname.lastname@example.org) and copy Pam Bailey (email@example.com). Include a description of your writing credentials, as well as an explanation of how you became interested in Palestinian rights and why you want to get involved in We Are Not Numbers.