Why You Need a Writing Mentor
by Heather L.L. FitzGerald
Heather FitzGerald is a member of the North Texas Christian Writers, and helps to facilitate the Manet writer’s group in Fort Worth, Texas. Her first novel, The Tethered World, is available on Amazon for preorder and will be available in paperback on February 1st, 2016. The Tethered World is a YA Fantasy about a teenage girl that learns her family is secretly involved with creatures that once lived in the Garden of Eden.
You can connect with Heather on her , , : (Belongs to her main character, Sadie), : (Sadie’s mom has a blog about legendary creatures.), , , .
Some things are better in the raw. Vegetables, for example. Chock full of vitamin-y goodness fresh from the garden, sans heat. Sushi fans may argue that fish is best enjoyed straight from the ocean, paired with wasabi sauce—that green stuff capable of burning holes in your tonsils.
But talent, raw talent, does not fall into the “preferred raw” category. Nope. Some things only reach their full potential when placed under pressure. What bride would prefer a large chunk of “raw” diamond—aka a lump of coal—over a small, sparkling gem?
Writers may be born with an innate gift for words, but a true wordsmith is, well, a different story. In the same way that a wannabe-blacksmith must apprentice under a master blacksmith, wannabe-authors needs to learn from others who have mastered their craft. They need a writing mentor.
Accountability and feedback are keys to a good mentor/novice relationship. Though a writer’s conference may equip you with tools and wisdom, how will you know if you’re implementing them correctly? How do you take dogmatic advice from a workshop and apply it to your own story without losing your voice? A good mentor allows you to apply a touch of color to that black and white list of writing rules—but they’ll also hand you a big fat eraser when you get carried away (it looks a lot like a red pen).
Finding the right mentor, one who “gets you”, is the challenge. My own mentor, author Susan K. Marlow, came along in a providential manner. I reviewed her book. She contacted me and asked if I was a writer. Timidly, I answered yes. Then she asked to see some of my work. Gulp.
Six years later, we’ve become good friends, but she is still, first and foremost, my mentor. My invaluable mentor. My go-to with questions, ideas, and now, my edits. Thanks to her sacrificial interest in my raw talent, she’s turned this chunk of coal into a sparkly little cubic zirconia.
Diamonds take much longer than six years.
Of course, when Susan reached out, I didn’t know that our relationship would evolve in this way, nor that I needed such guidance. Perhaps you see the need but don’t have a writer reaching out to you. What can you do?
A good critique group can fill the role of mentor. Look for a group with a mixture of talent. My first writer’s group included six people old enough to be my grandparents, and me. No one had professional experience. Zilch. And it was nothing short of awkward to listen to a seventy-five year old woman read her five pages of erotica. Seriously.
So, don’t be afraid to try different groups. The internet is your best resource for finding a well organized association that meets at a convenient time. And if adding one more stop in your busy month is unrealistic, there are a plethora of groups online—especially helpful if you live in a small town.
Utilizing the give and take of a critique group will benefit your writing exponentially. And, it’s the most natural way to find that “special someone” who may become your ideal instructor. Put yourself out there and politely ask if they might be willing to work with you one-on-one. Notice I didn’t say fact-to-face. An email relationship works beautifully and is less imposing on valuable time. Susan and I worked for four years before meeting in person.
And in this busy world, don’t be offended if the person you ask turns you down. Chalk it up as practice for rejection letters! Keep meeting with your group, network with other writers, and eventually something will click.
Though I’m continually amazed at how far I have to go, I’ve learned a few things along the way, thanks to Susan. I don’t feel ready for a full-fledged apprentice of my own, but I want to be mindful of the generosity I’ve received. Opportunities abound to encourage and inspire within my circle of writerly friends.
Eventually it’ll be my turn to pay it forward. Thanks to my mentor, I have an excellent example to follow.