Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bumblebees Can Fly Just Fine

You remember the old saw that says bumblebees can't fly. About how these round, striped darlings of the bee community are aerodynamically incapable of flight, yet no one informed the bumbles, so they buzz about sampling nectar and pollinating the world anyway. A sweet, encouraging way to say that anything is possible if you don't know it's not.

Recently I saw that theory tested.

"Dear Ms. McRae,

I am a local sophomore, and for my IB project I'm
writing a novel. I need a community mentor to provide advice and support. Would you be willing to help me with my project?"

That's a paraphrase of the email I received at the beginning of last November. I said yes, and the ride began.

The first time we met in mid-November, I recognized her immediately. She'd bought one of my books at a group author signing at the local farm and ranch store (don't ask) months before. Slight, with a soft voice, jet black hair swooping down over one eye and eyeliner thick enough to cut the glare of the sun, she was smart, quirky, well spoken, and very excited about her book.

So this high school sophomore -- let's call her Key Lime, since she loves her pseudonyms -- announced that she would write the first draft of her young adult, coming-of-age novel by the end of the year. The subsequent four months would be devoted to rewriting and seeking publication.

I didn't tell her that was a crazy schedule. After all, NaNoWriMo was in full swing by then, and people all over the world were writing their 50,000 words in a month. So it was possible she could do that, too, right? But NaNoWriMo held no interest for her. She wanted to do it on her own. So I got out the calculator and estimated how many pages she'd have to write to end with a 50,000 word manuscript that quickly. She kind of blanched, but when I told her it would be around 6 pages a day, every single day, for five weeks, she waved me off.

No problem.

Three days later she emailed me the first three chapters and an outline. She'd broken the book down to three acts with six scenes each. Not exactly typical construction, but if it worked for her, it worked for me.

At the end of Christmas break, the first week in January, Key Lime sent me a complete manuscript. It was a whole week later than she'd planned, but was more like 75,000 words than 50,000. It needed a rewrite, but she had a full first draft to work from. This, despite advanced classes, lots of homework, violin lessons and recitals, and being active on the debate team.

Good Lord.

But no one told her she couldn't do it. She just knew she loved to write, and this was one time when she had complete freedom -- no formulas from teachers, no conforming to essay structures, and the ability to change her outline at will.

In the interim Key Lime sent chapters to me as she finished them, and I could see where she'd weighed my feedback and decided to either take my suggestions or not. Over and over, I'd emphasized that those decisions were hers to make. She was the writer. It was very different from school, and she loved it. Her voice was fresh, unique, and a bit wild.

Still, she was willing learn. She read a book on how to write your first novel. I gave her books on self-editing and how to find an agent. She spoke of motifs, showing not telling, and worked hard to get her dialog to sound natural. She was brave enough to eliminate two whole characters in her rewrite, even though they were a lot of fun. She took out whole sections where, as she put it, "Nothing happens." She wrote new scenes.

As her mentor I've been invited to see all the kid's projects from this year. I'm really looking forward to it. One guy built a bike. Another girl recorded a CD. It promises to be interesting and inspiring. Key Lime's dad took our picture together at our last meeting, for the presentation poster. She took one look at it and promised she'd Photoshop it to make me look really cool.


I'm so stinking proud of that bumblebee mentee of mine, though. See, that old story is wrong. Bumblebees fly just fine; they just do it like helicopters rather than planes. And Key Lime wrote her book, rewrote her book, and is now going after an agent.

In her own way.


  1. Key Lime sounds like she has her act together more than a lot of adults I know (myself included). To be that discipline at that age says so much about her. Your mentoring seems to have paid off well. Way to go for you too.

    Thoughts in Progress

  2. Her discipline combined with the passion for writing is inspiring. 'Course, she doesn't have to pay bills or do a lot of other things we adults can find so, you know, distracting. ; - >

  3. 75,000 words! Wow...that's a lot of dedication for someone that age. And a lot of dedication for someone with all *you've* got going on to mentor her! Good for you!!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  4. She's pretty amazing, all right. And I received a lot out of the experience -- inspiration, laughter, and several new band recommendations. Lol.