Friday, October 1, 2010

Searching for a Mentor

Here's something I wish I knew fifteen years ago: how helpful it would be to have a mentor--a kindly, wizened writer to take me under her wing and guide my career. Okay. I never found that person, exactly. But in some ways, over the years, I have. My first few years, unfortunately, were spent floundering alone. I was the perfect mix of arrogance and ignorance. I thought I knew everything about writing (I had majored in it, after all! I had won awards! What could someone teach ME?)

A lot, as it turned out.

My first glimpse of a mentor came in the form of meeting other writers at conferences. No, none of these people ever took me on as a project, but just seeing real people, real women like me, living a writer's life, was important. They showed me that being a writer wasn't some unattainable, magical, crazy dream. These women were like me--they had husbands and children and went grocery shopping and ran errands. They weren't strange characters living in turrets ala Emily Dickinson.

I asked these writers how they worked--nuts and bolts about inspiration and revision and craft. They had different methods but I found that there were things that I could apply to myself and my own work.

Which led me to reading about writers. There are tons of books out there on writing, some more helpful than others. My favorites are: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, (hilarious and God, I wish I had read this book 15 years ago); On Writing by Stephen King (even if you don't like his books, you will find helpful advice on the craft of writing); anything by Natalie Goldberg (very New-Agey but so inspirational); and The Artist's Way by Cameron (also New-Agey, but this book literally changed my life with its ideas about creativity and inspiration).

So I never found my in-the-flesh guru. But over the years I have learned so much from a community of other writers--those I know personally and those I know only through their books. And now I am extremely grateful to have found a writing partner--a woman who is roughly at the same stage I am who reads my drafts and give me much-needed advice. I met her in line at a Port-a-potty at a writers' conference. Which just goes to show--I don't know what. Be open to meeting writers. Be receptive to learning new things.

Writing is such a solitary activity. Never close yourself off from reaching out. You might find a mentor. Or maybe you'll just make a new friend.

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