Get Mentored

My Zoe is mighty smart and diligent. She does all her homework. Also, she’s a masterful and crafty softball pitcher. Our neighbors noticed her pitching several years ago. They were teachers at a classy private school, and they suggested that her skills, along with her smarts, might win her a high school scholarship.

The school is more expensive than most colleges. My cousin’s kids graduated from the school. I’d heard nothing other than excellent reports but had never dreamed of being able to afford the place.

Zoe got inspired by the idea and began frequenting the school website. She’s in eighth grade now and we have applied for her admission and for reduced tuition (essentially a scholarship although they don’t use that term). One of the first steps in the process was a luncheon meeting with the headmaster. He is a unique man, a retired U.S. Army general who doesn’t like guns, a long time West Point math prof who is also a historian and humanist, and who advocates above all else that students and faculty treat everyone everywhere with respect and dignity.

In the context of explaining that one element of his vision of education is nurturing creativity, he showed a brief video of an interview with a member of the school’s advisory board who is creative director for Disney Studios. The headmaster asked him what he considered the most important factor in promoting the success of creative people. Without the slightest hesitation, he answered, “Mentors.”

I will probably apply his responses to the field of education in another post, but since today I’m addressing living as a writer, I will suggest a few places writers can find and engage mentors.

Writing groups can be a valuable source of guidance, mentorship and camaraderie, a useless distraction, or a path to disaster. So choose wisely. Ideally, your group will include some writers who know the genre you work in, who are more accomplished than you, and who would rather encourage than find fault and yet who are dedicated to speaking the truth. My book Writing and the Spirit has some valuable advice about writers’ groups and how to receive and work with criticism.

Writers’ conferences likewise can be a great benefit or a waste of time (and money). A problem with some of them is they recruit participants by attempting to make the writer’s journey look easy and pleasant as a stroll on the beach in fair weather, when actually, for most of us, it’s more like a trek through the wilderness in blizzard. A valuable, inspiring challenge that requires dedicated perseverance.

Agents can be our saviors. I know a few writers who have connected with the right agents and become millionaires nearly overnight. Others have found agents who worked with them for years and guided them to great achievement. But I have also known many for whom agents have done nothing. It’s wise to consider agents like doctors. You want a consummate professional who both cares about his patients (clients and their work) and who isn’t overburdened with and distracted by other responsibilities. Here’s an article of mine about choosing an agent.

A capable and dedicated editor is the best mentor a writer can have. The most blessed writers are those who don’t just get published, but are essentially mentored by master editors who also have clout with their company’s publicity and marketing divisions. If you should connect with one of these, treasure him or her.

In fact, however and wherever you find a helpful mentor, shower that person with gratitude.