1 An experienced and trusted adviser: he was her friend and mentor until his death in 1915
Writers are odd birds. I know that’s a bold and sweeping statement, but thinking along the line of a standard bell curve, with “boring” at 0 and “wow dude, you’re really out there” at 100, that comfortable 20-80-percent-majority of writers falls somewhere in the balloon of exceptionally unique. Which is a really nice way of saying, “odd.”
We’re different — from society and from one another. We all have our own voice, methods, tricks, tells, and failings. No one writer is exactly like another. If we were, we’d break the plagiarism laws constantly. 😉
So how, then, do writers mentor one another?
There are grammar rules that can be taught. There are story structures and genre tropes and publishing guidelines. And many of our mentors have taught us just those things. They’re concrete and tangible learnings that can be handed easily from the experienced to the new.
I’m here to say, right now, loudly and with utter conviction, that writing with perfect grammar, following all the rules of genre, and jumping perfectly through each hoop of the publishing circus does not make a writer. Yet those are the very things our mentors teach.
What makes a writer is the writer herself etching out a unique voice that is solely hers. No one can teach a writer what is inside her head, heart and soul. We can read the great authors of our time, and those of times past, and garner inspiration. Occasionally, we read those great authors and we weep in a corner because we’ll never measure up.
And so we look toward mentors. We seek out those who have walked the walk and can teach us to be something more.
And then we realize: Those mentors who we aspire to emulate are just as odd and uncomfortable with their own writing and processes as we are. They’re faking it just as hard… only they’ve found some modicum of success in delivering their voice.
In truth, any good mentor worth her weight both inspires and pushes us to our own greatness, while simultaneously exposing her weaknesses and insecurities. A good writing mentor can tell her mentee, “I understand your fears and frustrations, because I share them.”
And in writing, maybe more than in any other discipline, the mentor’s job is to guide the aspiring writer toward her own path. A writing mentor’s responsibility is to turn the light and shine it inward so that the writer sees her own, unique soul in such a way that she is able to transfer her odd collection of thoughts into a unique and captivating set of words, phrases, paragraphs and chapters.
The best part about writing mentors is that the process is, in my experience, reciprocal by nature. It isn’t long before the mentor begins to learn from and become inspired by the very person she is mentoring.
And the best mentor is one with whom there is never a feeling of competition. As writers — even writers in the same genre — we are never each other’s competition or superiority. When you walk into a book store, the shelves are lined with books written by countless authors, all broken down into categories. There isn’t one author who owns the Mystery section, and another that dominates Westerns. There isn’t a single author for Gardening, or only one person writing about European Travel.
The need for a diverse set of writers is a direct reflection of society itself. Every writer has a unique way of telling their story, and that voice is going to resonate better with some readers more than with others. And that’s okay!
So, when writers come together to lead one another — either through formal settings such as a university or conference, or in more informal settings like critique groups — we all become mentors for one another. We all — regardless of genre, publishing success, experience or professional involvement — have some ability to turn the light inward for each writer we meet. We can offer critique, point out technical issues and offer bits of wisdom on the path toward publication.
But beyond the technical, we all, as follow writers, have a singular responsibility to hold each other up and say
Find your unique voice, embrace it, and get out there and share it!