We live in a strange new world where the concept of mentor belongs only in Vogler's book or in the body and spirit of Obi Wan. It's part mystery, part mystical, and we don't tend to ask many questions regarding its place in our lives. Why would we? It's only in books, yes?
But the idea of apprenticeship has been around a long, long time -- and even today there are fields of work where one becomes an understudy or an apprentice or an intern. My father, who is a union electrician, had to be an apprentice for five years in order to earn the title journeyman.
Growth is dependent upon many variables: attitude, awareness, motivation, and, most importantly, exposure to excellence. After all, the great Vince Lombardi once said that practice doesn't make perfect -- only "perfect practice makes perfect." Unless we study, mimic, practice, fail, try again, all on repeat, we never learn to walk. Why would writing be any different?
Acquiring a Mentor: I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but I whole-heartedly believe that mentorship is a vital part of becoming a better writer. It's important to find someone who is more skilled or experienced since the entire point is growth. (Caveat: Choosing someone who is leaps and bounds ahead of you will only frustrate you. Just as a beginning chess player wouldn't sit down to a match with Bobby Fischer, I wouldn't sit down with Lois McMaster Bujold. I'd probably just quiver uncontrollably as synapses starting shorting.) The paths to finding a mentor are many and varied, and I don't think there is only one way. Below are but a few options.
- Select authors you admire and study their work.
- Get recommendations from other writers, editors, and agents regarding books on writing.
- Involve yourself with an on-line writing community and immerse yourself in the dialogue.
- Join or start a f2f writing group: "as iron sharpens iron"
- Peruse the blog/website of an author who's just been published; they're often willing to share what they've experienced on their own journey.
Mentoring starts most often with friendship. And you don't announce that you're the mentor or that you're looking for someone to mentor. That's arrogant and cheesy. Often someone will seek you out. That's what happened in the teaching field for me.
- On-line social networking: within the same network where you found your mentor, it's like that you can find someone looking for a mentor.
- On-line and Face-to-Face writing groups: there are undoubtedly varying degrees of experience and skill within your own writing group.
- Blogs: it's easy to find aspiring writers and their blogs. Um. Hello. Did anyone find me yet?
To give credit where credit is due, I came across this concept of having and becoming a mentor in my devotions years ago. For those of you familiar with the New Testament, the idea was to find a Paul and a Timothy. The idea stuck with me because it's a powerful one, one that can and should be applied to many areas of our lives. For example, I have certainly chosen a mentor and have chosen to mentor within the education world. It's only made me a better teacher.
What is your experience? Do you have a mentor? Do you mentor others?