Those Mentor Moments
Which way is the right way?
Throughout the ages writers have looked toward the older generation for a sense of guidance and friendship. This can take all kinds of forms, from brotherly affection to rigid teacher-student relationships, but they have all attempted to move forward the writers’ writing. The question comes in; what makes a mentor (trustworthy)? Mentors can be of all ages and skills, they don’t need to be the best of the best to provide a level of guidance that can strongly encourage a writer’s writing.
As a university graduate, I’ve met many teachers and students who have fulfilled this mentoring role for me – mostly this was the estimable mentor who guided me through a year long final project. What I have realised about these varied individuals is that they are all incredibly different and aided me in very different ways. Most importantly, I realised that I respond to a particular kind of criticism and the mentors who tapped into that produced in me such an incredible leap in quality that I wasn’t sure it was my writing for a while.
So what should you look for in a mentor? Someone you trust. That is the ultimate answer to this question, your mentor has to be someone you can trust with your writing and about your writing. You don’t even need to like their particular brand of creation to know that HOW they are creating is what you want to learn. If your mentor makes you queasy inside and you wonder if it’s worth it “Does she actually know what she’s on about?” that’s okay, for a little while. If you get to the point where for every critique your mentor makes, you have an alternate complication, then this is NOT the mentor for you. Don’t give yourself half way suggestions, there are a million mentors out there for just as many writers, find the one who suits you.
Your mentor really should be at least a little encouraging – for the younger writers. For the older writers, hope for a mentor who is encouraging but realise also that a thick skin is needed in the writing business, one cannot go to pieces the moment your mentor tears into your poem and reduces it to a line and maybe semi colon. This WILL happen, unless you’re writing the best thing ever, your mentor is going to tell you when you’re doing it wrong (as far as they can see) and how they think you could fix it. That is important too, your mentor should tell you how to cure your ills, at least give you some measly suggestions of how they would cure them. Don’t be upset that I’ve separated young and older writers here, please. This is acknowledging that younger writers, inexperienced writers, are fledgling and need a delicate touch to ensure that they do continue, that they don’t throw in their metaphorical typewriters and cry soup for years on end. You can live on soup, but it sucks. Older writers should have that skin growing about their extremities, learning how to deal with criticism and compliments with equal grace. That’s hard to do, so you can be forgiven for taking a little while.
Some people only use other writers as their mentors, taking from them the bits and pieces which applies to their personal writing. There’s nothing wrong with this either – please remember that with all things, a mentor is a matter of what makes you comfortable. Never force yourself to experience something which isn’t for you more than once. The first time tells you it isn’t for you, doing it too many more times might convince you that it’s good for you, but it probably won’t make you any better at it.
Do you already have a mentor? What works best for you?