Monday, September 20, 2010

Mentors And Mentees

Months ago, The Literary Lab did a great post on mentors. It got the gears in my brain working, and I wrote up my own blog post about it. And then...I forgot to post it. Duh. So, anyway, here it is.

I had an amazing lit professor in college. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be writing today because he pushed me to be the best writer I could be. All the time. And he would not let me quit. The standard responses I got from him went kind of like this:

Professor: See this part right here? Not strong enough.
Me: Okay. What about this other thing?
Professor: Yeah, yeah, that was good. But you can do better. Now go do it.

Every. Single. Time. If I ever did anything halfway, he’d call me out on it and make me go do it again. I learned very quickly that writing wasn’t easy (not by a long shot), but he was also giving me exactly what I wanted: direction. I looked for that kind of direction in high school, but none of my teachers offered it. They read my poems, nodded and smiled, and that was it. It wasn’t until college that someone recognized my enthusiasm and took me under a wing.

Do I need my old professor now? No, not really. But have I outgrown the need for any kind of mentor? Absolutely not.

Ever since my professor taught me how to seek out craft, bettering myself in any and every way possible, I’ve done it. Non-stop. Conferences, other writers, authors, agent and editor blogs, classes, reading reading reading. You name it, I do it. And I’ve learned a ton.

Last year, I hit a wall. It got increasingly difficult to learn and grow on my own, and I found myself struggling in the same ways I’d struggled in high school. When I signed with my amazing agent, she took me under her wing and opened all kinds of doors for me regarding craft. She is far more diplomatic and encouraging than my professor was, but she’s still all about the tough love. I love it. :)

Anyway, I knew those doors were out there, but I couldn't figure out how to open them on my own. With her help, I was able to explore the great stuff inside. I didn’t need her to walk me through everything, nor do I need her approval on the plans for my stories, but that little bit if guidance was amazingly helpful.

I'm guessing that I'll eventually run into another set of doors like this, and I'll need some help getting them open. It’s the nature of the business—a great writer is also an inherent explorer, and sometimes you need a guide when travelling the unknown. I'm sure I'll be on my own here and there in the coming years, but I can't ever see a time where I will never need a mentor again. As long as I'm searching out craft, there will be stumbling and confusion, and then I'll need to find some help. Again. :)


Bish Denham said...

I hear you loud and clear on this one Tabitha! I'd love a good mentor, someone who gets my writing and who can/will help me improve my craft.

Tabitha said...

They are so valuable, and SO hard to find. A critique partner will get you really far, but a mentor will take you places out of your comfort zone. I wish there were better ways of finding a mentor, especially for the as-yet-unpublished.

Shannon said...

I guess that's why I love my Critique Circle group so much. Not a single mentor, unfortunately, but the myriad viewpoints kinda combine together into something like a mentor.

At least, I feel that way though I wouldn't know for sure about how the two compare because I haven't had a mentor to compare it with.

Tabitha said...

Critique Circle is awesome! If you don't have a mentor, then this is the place to be because you can get such a variety of feedback.

If you do get the chance to work with a mentor, I'd highly recommend it. You'll get farther, faster. But CC will get you far, too. :)

Beth Fred said...

Great post. I have a good critique partner, but no mentor yet.

Tabitha said...

Mentors are hard to find. I hope you have the opportunity to work with one, because it's wonderfully eye-opening. :)

Elana Johnson said...

I love how you say you've outgrown your professor but not the NEED for a mentor. This rings true to me.

Tabitha said...

Thanks. :) I don't think I'll ever outgrow the need for a mentor. Even if I'm a mentor at some point in my career, I can't see myself ever not wanting to learn from someone with more experience than I've got. Because, honestly, writing is one of the few fields where growth in infinite. :)