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A true mentor turns to the newcomer writer with a partnership rather than a power hierarchy

A true mentor turns to the newcomer writer with a partnership rather than a power hierarchy

Published May 31, 2023 Updated Aug 7, 2023 Culture Culture
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A true mentor turns to the newcomer writer with a partnership rather than a power hierarchy

A round table discussion with the Panodyssey project ambassadors was held on Friday as part of  Margo Summer festival. Its title was "Occupation: Writer". Interviewer Orsolya Ruff spoke with the 2 current ambassadors with Réka Borda, Tibor Noé Kiss, and the 2 previous ambassadors  Anita Moskát and Péter Závada. The topic was the writer’s career phases such as about becoming a writer, writing in general and supportive communities. Throughout the panel discussion, listeners learned who had a turning point in the medical waiting room, who and why finds the literary medium toxic, and to whom helped a photo exhibition to recognise what true professionalism is.  

What is the Panodyssey Project?   

Panodyssey is a social networking site for the international literature community where users can make money by sharing their writings. In this way, writers can both gain new readers and cooperate with fellows writers to create shared publications. Moreover, readers can form new communities based on their interests.  

Self-identification as a writer  

It was not a piece of cake to admit either to themselves or to others their writers' identity the ambassadors' answers revealed to Ruff's opening question.   

For example, Réka Borda is still not too comfortable referring to herself as a writer, partially because she has a completely different civilian job. She recounted that 4 years ago the moment when first identified herself as a writer while filling out a patient registration form in a hospital. Not long afterwards, she regretted this decision when the doctor seemed to be confused to react to this occupation. Coincidentally, the doctor's waiting room provided a place for the same experience to Anita Moskát. She said the moment of the comfortable admittance of being a writer came after the publication of her third book only.  

Compared to the other round table speakers, Péter Závada identifies himself more as a poet and playwright, for whom the writing of a Wikipedia article became the watershed moment. According to Noé Tibor Kiss, such an identification is a matter of internal decision- in her case, what others think about it mattered less adding "at most I get into a stupid situation". She felt her first book was too personal to see herself as a writer, and her second volume was the real turning point (years passed in between).  

The beginning chapter of the budding writer’s career  

Péter Závada was born to a family where not only the parents were acknowlegded writers but also several of their close friends. For this reason, his teenage rebellion had to manifest in forming a band and writing lyrics instead of poems. He recalled a memory, when once he was bored with Toldi (a nationwide beloved Hungarian narrative poetry by János Arany taught in primary schools – from the editor), and he worked on a song lyric under the bench instead. (He added that he later on started to appreciate Arany's work).   

A similar act of rebellion colours Anita Moskat's story, with the only difference that she started writing as the child of parents with a science background. Therefore, reading was not a shared experience in their family, and she only started it at the age of 12. For her, the difficulty in becoming a writer was the fact that she tended to not finish her projects and became bored too quickly. But when she finished her first book without getting bored, she knew that this is her calling.  

In contrast to this one defining moment, Réka Borda spoke of becoming a writer as an ongoing process. She believes it will continue going even at the age of 60. According to her, there are no peaks but rather steps to be jumped. She also spoke about the power of positive reinforcement, and how much supportive communities means to her.  

How to become a writer  

At this point, the conversation turned to the first steps of aspiring writers. Réka Borda gave the example of the Műút and JAK writing camps - the latter for which she had saved all her pocket money as a teenager. In her opinion, it is important to about such workshops that they are not about praising and recognition at all. On the contrary, what they provide the opportunity to receive criticism which is a critical part of the internal maturing process writers have to go through. Anita Moskát joined the Delta Workshop named writing circle at the age of 18 when she felt she could handle her works being torn apart by fellow writers. "It was a destructive type of writing group," she commented, where she didn't get much praise. Whereas the writing circle ultimately set the stage for her writerly socialisation, it also caused the problem of accepting praise in her career later on.  

After listening to his conversation partners, Péter Závada noted that these are common stories of artists' suffering or "self-affirmations of the abused child". In his opinion, the literary atmosphere can be toxic (including those who laud your work to you while criticizing it to others). As a result, he has been avoiding writing groups. Furthermore, he rejects the presumption that two writers should be on friendly terms merely because they share a profession. He maintains close contact with those who are personally sympathetic to him, regardless of their professional life.    

Réka Borda holds a different perspective. She described the shared fate of authors, which allows her to pick up the thread of a conversation with fellow writers always, unlike in the other circles.  

The mentor’s role  

Tibor Noé Kiss emphasized the importance of true mentors. Dávid Szolláth and József Gazdag were such supervisors for her, providing essential feedback. As a result, when she was invited to speak at workshops and seminars later in her career, she thrived to appear similarly. She worked with her students on their texts not solely during the official lesson, but also afterwards, with regular follow-ups. She emphasized that the private mentor role is essential in that you cannot always review a text with someone in the seminar, in front of everyone, as you can in private.  

Anita Moskát complimented Závada by emphasizing the vital role of mentors in preventing hierarchical situations in which one says the irreversible verdict on the newcomer's career instead of fostering a collaborative relationship with him.  

The interviewer then moved the conversation to the writer's concept. She was curious about how writers assess whether their idea is valuable enough to develop further. All ambassadors agreed that they needed to set up their own internal yardsticks to evaluate ideas independently. They recognise the risk of allowing external expectations, such as social media likes or topic preferences, to affect what they begin working on.  

According to Péter Závada, even as an established writer, having friends who can offer you honest critique is vital since there is always the risk of being caught in a tried and true form and theme and that consequently produce the kind of art. Réka Borda emphasized the need for self-reflection, which means authors should practice self-criticism even if the text already is perceived as adequate. 

 Anita Moskát enjoys the surprise effect of her writings so much so that she thrives to keep them as  private as possible before publishing.  

Final thoughts  

At the end of the conversation, the panel speakers defined 3 main relationship categories to writing. First, when they experience writing as suffering, second, when they perceive it as a flow, and lastly, when it is the combination of the previous two.  

Tibor Noé Kiss additionally addressed the feelings of freedom and loneliness, and concerning the latter, she stated that persistent self-reflection in writing made her a new and better person, and that this new person frequently experiences loneliness.  

The discussion concluded with the seemingly trivial but valuable advice that anyone who wants to be a writer should (also) study a lot of modern literature.  

The photo was taken by János Posztós and Gábor Valuska.

Disclaimer: This article is the English translation of the original Hungarian article published on Könyves Magazin. 


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