Thursday, April 12, 2007

We Are Not Alone

No, this isn't a treatise on aliens invading our world (though if you watch the news on any given night you might think so). Instead, I want to share a few thoughts about writers and their mentors.

Oh, sure, everyone knows what a mentor is; a trusted counselor or guide. We've all had them in our lives. We weave them into our stories. Vogler discussed the necessity of them in "The Hero's Journey." They make the way easier. They teach and they scold and they make you better.

I did not realize when I started seriously pursuing publication in 2000 how important mentors would be to me. I could not have progressed nor learned so much without their input and advice and example.

My "first" was Renee. A member of a local chapter she was the first one to EVER read any of my work. I was a wreck. I broke out into cold chills, my heart was racing, my mind was whirling and she'd only read 5 pages. She looked at me and said "This is so much better for a first effort than mine ever let me show you how to fix it." She suggested changes, she taught me about POV and conflict and pacing. She praised me when I took what she'd said and applied it to my writing. And I started getting it.

And then she said "Don't quit your day job."

Talk about a bubble popper! She wasn't saying it to be mean or degrade my progress. She was telling me to base my expectations in reality. Writing was hard work. Getting published was a process. I wasn't going to get rich overnight. (Darn. Cancel that seaside cottage in Ireland). But it fostered within me a dedication to the craft and fueled my basically stubborn nature to keep at it until I succeeded.

I started attending RWA National conferences. I learned from mentors who ate lunch with me, shared an elevator, gathered in the bar to talk writing. You learn a lot by watching and listening. Heck, I even learned from all the astounded, pitying looks I got when I would say I was writing a Roman historical. That was ok because what they didn't know was that I was taking all their knowledge on telling a good story and dressing it in a toga....the same story that was my 2006 Golden Heart finalist. Thanks!

My current mentor is TL. Destined by fate, I believe to be in the role of teacher, task master, cheerleader and overall therapist. She is my critique partner and friend and she has truly taught me what it means to be a professional author. She listens when I whine. She rejoices when I win (as does her dog Buckarudi. You've never celebrated a contest final until you've jumped up and down with a sixty pound Airedale Terrier. LOL). She believes in me and because of that I believe in myself.

Because of my mentors, I am a more grounded aspiring author. I am more determined. I am dedicated and I am more polished. Their lessons and examples are now mine to gift and I do so gladly.

What mentors have helped you in your writing career?


Anonymous said...

Good question, Joan! Actually, I really wish I had a mentor. I have a wonderful CP, but she's at exactly the same stage of the writing process that I am. I've heard lots of wonderful advice from other RWA'ers and others on line, but never had an honest-to-goodness mentor like you describe. Maybe some day I'll stumble onto one...


Anna Campbell said...

Joan, that was a fantastic post. And so true. It's funny about being a first-time published author. All of a sudden, your very unformed ideas about writing are interesting to people. People ask me questions all the time! And seem grateful for the answers although I never say anything terrifically profound (apart from the fact that I firmly believe there is no right and no wrong way to write!). But I say to them - and this is the important bit - so many people have helped me, it's just part of the chain. With the implication that they have a duty to offer someone else a hand further down the track to keep the chain going. I think you've really brought up something so important in today's blog! Wear your toga with pride!!

Joan said...


You touch on another aspect of mentoring. Our mentors do impact us by sharing what they know. It is not the "magic key" but rather the tools one needs to build a career. Mentorees often lose sight of that, that THEY have to be the ones who do the work.

I've watched novices at National trying to glean the secret from the pubbed and becoming very frustrated when they are told "umm...ya gotta write."

It's a big responsibility being a mentor too. Even if you are not formally guiding someone, those who have seen your success hang on your every word. Thus, when a mult pubbed author told her admirer "Just write a proposal. Don't finish the manuscript until they've bought it." she was sharing some bad advice. Who knows how this has slowed down her mentoree's progress because selling on proposal works for an established author...rarely for the unpubbed.

Caren Crane said...

Oh, Joan, you are so right about mentors having to be careful and responsible! I am greatly blessed with good friends who are also published authors and are able to give me wonderful advice on the business of writing: Sabrina Jeffries, Claudia Dain, Liz Carlyle, Virginia Kantra, and Deb Marlowe. It just so happens that none of them write what I write! For that, I would need Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jenny Crusie and Susan Andersen! LOL But, these ladies have provided boundless friendship and support, as well as tons of business savvy. So, even though none of them have a "magic bullet" for getting published - or even have helpful editorial contacts for me - I know I would never have gotten past step one without them. Mentors are awesome and mine are the best!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Great post, Joan!

I have to agree with you, too. I've been blessed with several mentors, Jane Graves, Lorraine Heath, Sandy Blair who also happens to be my CP, and Maggie Osborne. They answer tons of questions about writing and publishing. But they've also shown me by example how to treat others, new writers and established professionals. That is advice I hope to emulate as I walk through the whole publication process WHEN it happens to me.