An Interview with Alex Bruty – Mentor at WoMentoring Project

Those of you who have read my last post on the WoMentoring Project know who Alex Bruty is. For the uninitiated, Alex is a wonderful mentor at The WoMentoring Project where upcoming female authors are provided free mentoring by professional literary women. Also, she has been my mentor since August this year. To know more about this project, read on!

In Conversation with Alex Bruty
Interviewer: Arpita

Tell us about the WoMentoring Project.

I think the WoMentoring project is best described as a pay-it-forward initiative. It was born out of the realisation that there are many ways new writers can get help and feedback on their writing; for example via degree courses, professional editing/feedback services, but all these things cost a lot of money. What if someone is really talented and needs a little bit of help, but can’t afford to pay for it? More and more it seems that whether or not you climb the ladder in any sort of creative pursuit, is greatly dependent on your bank balance. So, WM being a free service is vitally important. People come to WM for a variety of reasons, the mentors range from highly-respected writers and agents, to new writers like me. The aim is to provide mentees with feedback on their writing.

Tell us about your own creative writing journey and how you came to be a part of the WoMentoring Project. How long have you been part of this project?

I’ve always written, but started to take it more serious around eight years ago. Before that I wouldn’t have dreamt of showing anyone anything that I’d written. That’s actually part of the reason that, around a year and a half ago, I volunteered to be a mentor with WM. I’m really just starting out myself, but I know what a leap of faith it can be to show someone something you’ve written for the first time. Cost is not the only prohibitive factor in someone not wanting to join something like a writing group or course. There are lots of talented people who are frightened to show anyone their writing- you could say it’s the literary equivalent of stage fright. If you just want to write for yourself, that’s great. But, if you eventually would like to get something published, then I’d say feedback is pretty essential. That’s what I feel I can offer a mentee, a safe environment to test things out, explore their writing and find out what they can improve on. I know that the short stories I’ve had published wouldn’t have been accepted had I not been through the long learning processes that I have, so to pass on some of that knowledge to someone else is a real pleasure.

What do you love most about this project?

I think the best thing for me is seeing not only the growth in literary voice of my mentees, but also their growth in confidence.

Mentoring can be educational to both the mentor and the mentee. Tell us about something that you learnt while mentoring for The WoMentoring Project.

Mentoring just refreshes everything you already know, but forces you not to let it lapse! So, in that sense, it reinforces good habits. Also, on a more personal level with you, Arpita, I am learning not only about Indian culture, but about the lack of opportunities to do creative writing courses that there are in India.

What is it that you look for in a good short story?

To be immediately transported into another world. Writing short stories requires many different things to novels- the obvious one being there is less time to absorb yourself into the setting and get to know the characters. For this reason, the writer has less time to ‘grab’ the reader, so it has to be immediately engaging and concise. For my own personal taste, I like to read about something that I’ve never considered before; or, to read a writing style that is truly distinctive.

Suggest three writers that an aspiring short-story writer must read.

I’d probably recommend they read something that is in the same vein as the genre/style they are writing in, and then, the exact opposite, something that they would never consider writing, just to compare and contrast different styles and consider all the options that are available.

My own personal three favourite short story collections are The First Person and    Other Stories by Ali Smith; No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July and The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan.

Tell us about one creative writing exercise that has helped you the most as a writer.

The one that helps me the most is freewriting because it’s just raw and you don’t get a chance to self-edit. It’s basically writing down the first things that come into your head and letting your thoughts spiral, it often takes you somewhere you wouldn’t automatically go. It can even get a bit weird sometimes, in an out-of-body type of way, like it’s not really you who’s in charge of the pen/keyboard…or maybe that’s just me! Most of it will probably be unusable, but it’s very freeing and there might just be that one amazing line hidden in there somewhere.

If you were asked to give three tips to an aspiring author, as far as the structure and voice of writing is concerned, what would they be?

A tutor of mine would always say ‘find the uniqueness within your writing’. I think this is particularly applicable to the voice of a character, or a story. At first it could sound like obvious advice, but it requires you to be really honest and ask yourself if you are creating something that is unique rather than a pastiche of someone else you admire, or even something that you’ve written before.

I’m not a fan of formal structural advice, as I think it can halt creativity. I’d prefer a really messy, unstructured first draft that can be edited later, rather than trying to keep to a pre-destined structure that might stifle creativity. Having said that, structurally, I often find that new writers tend to get muddled with where exactly in a story they have said something. For example, certain knowledge might be assumed at the beginning of a story without them actually writing it on the page. In contrast, sometimes too much information is given at the wrong times and it can slow a story down. Try not to get too expositional and bogged down with details that aren’t needed. And remember that dialogue can often be a great way of picking up the pace of a piece if you feel things are getting a bit static.

16 thoughts on “An Interview with Alex Bruty – Mentor at WoMentoring Project

  1. anankhan98

    I don’t know why, but this reminds me of something I read once. They say that a writer can find their true voice while copying others. As in say copying your most favourite novel word for word, just for practice, just to get a more solid idea of the style. What do you have to say to that, Arpi? Also, if you could get in touch with Alex about this it’d would be awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Arpita Post author

      Hey Anan! I had a conversation with Alex regarding this at one point of time and she told me that one of her professors had stressed this technique a lot. Since she also put importance to it, I tried to do a little bit of that after I read “The God of Small Things”. But then work-life got in the way, so I haven’t been able to do much with it. But from whatever little I have done, I have a feeling that it is a good exercise. From someone who has never had any formal training in creative writing, it helps you to understand the devices that each author uses, and how we can use that effectively too. Have you ever tried it by yourself?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Alex

    Hi all, thanks for taking the time to read this and find out about the WoMentoring project. It is really great to work with someone as talented and enthusiastic as Arpita!

    I’ve never heard about exactly what you mention, Anankham98. However, I wonder if it works in a similar was to ‘close reading’. For those not familiar, with the term, close reading simply means paying more attention to what you are reading. You would read something once, just as you normally would. Then, when you’ve finished it maybe leave a little time in between, then go back to it and close read it- so, you’d pay attention to each word, why did the writer pick that particular word/how would a different work change it/are the sentences long, or short, or varied and how does this affect the feel of the book/does the choice of words give the sentence a ‘quick’ or ‘slow’ feel/how do we learn about the characters/who’s point of view is the story told from/how does the structure, chapter length effect the style of the book/is it written in a particular genre, or mix of genres- I could go on! What you would pay particular attention to in a close read is really up to you. But, the exercise you mention about copying a book word for word might force you to pay more attention to the processes the writer used to achieve their work than you might have noticed when you just read it for the first time. I’m not sure I could do it (copy it out) with a WHOLE book! Maybe a few pages or a chapter though!

    As Arpita mentions above, there was something similar that one of my teachers did with us. The exercise was to write 500 or so words in the style of a book we’d just read. We were reading a book a week, and each week we had to write in the style of that person. As I admitted to Arpita, most of us thought this was a terrible idea! How could ‘copying’ someone else help us find your own individual voice? We had to take a certain aspect of the writers style and adapt it into a new story. For example, one week we read The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector. The narrator of the book is a really creepy, self-absorbed man who tells the story of a young girl in a rather cruel way. So, for my copy/parody of Lispector’s story I told a totally different story from hers, but used ( or ‘copied’) a similar style of narration. Through this I found a very strange voice of a man that I don’t think I would have found on my own. This voice has found it’s way into a longer story that I wrote, so I feel that sometimes such a exercise can make you find something within yourself that you wouldn’t otherwise have found very easily- which is always a good thing! So, I suppose, even though it is a ‘copying’ sort of exercise, what you are really doing it letting yourself actively be inspired by someone else’s work and than adapting it to make something new that belongs to you. Happy writing to you all!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. anankhan98

      Thanks for the insight, Alex! You are right. I probably won’t have the time to copy the entire thing out, and it probably would help if I tried the same thing with other books as well, besides my favourite ones.
      The biggest problem in our country for aspiring writers is that there are no classes that could help us out. We do have a lot of novelists, yes, but not a lot of them are interested in helping others out. And so far as I know, there aren’t a whole lot of aspiring writers in this country anyway. Most of the youth are absorbed in selfies and swagging, while the older people are absorbed in jobs that pay well enough. And most of them think lIterature is a drag.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Alex

        Hi Anankhan, I wonder if there is a way that some of you can start an online community/group of aspiring writers like yourselves, maybe with a view to sharing your work with each other? I suggest online as you say there might not be many people around you feel the same, it might be easier to find them online. (Sadly, it is also the case here that people are obsessed with selfies…!). And, as Arpita says, maybe give WoMentorng a go! Good luck with your future writing!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. anankhan98

        Thanks for having faith, Alex! It’s pretty hard staying on track around these places. People are always saying you have better things to do and stuff like that. I’ll definitely give WoMentoring a try! And maybe even that community. Who knows. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Alex

        Yes, please keep the faith in yourself! I have heard that ‘aren’t there better things to do’ attitude many times too. I think people who aren’t creative in any way sometimes find in hard to see the point in why someone would want to spend time on something that is unlikely to make you rich. But, for me, writing feeds the soul and that can be worth a lot too. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

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