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Mentoring in Writing

August 3, 2009

mentor swan


Question: What do Telemachus, Alexander the Great, Oliver Stone, Richard Branson, Mozart, Naomi Wolf, Anthony Hopkins, Patricia Cornwall, Eminem and Luke Skywalker all have in common?

Answer: They were all protégés.


John C Crosby of the Uncommon Individual Foundation writes:

Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.

I’ll be honest – I have always wished I’d had all of what Crosby speaks of.To me a mentor would have been someone who imparted their wisdom and their insights to assist me in writing better. A person who would have encouraged and helped me traverse the often muddied landscape of creativity. Someone who could have helped link me in with other writers, taught me how to dissect criticism, been tough but kind and given first aid to a battered ego until it was able to stand on its own two feet again.

Granted these are all things we as writers are able to do for ourselves (and should do) but there is something about third party support which makes it, in some ways, more effective than anything we may do for ourselves.

Part of me thinks why invent the wheel over and over again. While individuals learn from their own mistakes, we should be able to learn from other’s mistakes rather than have to go through them ourselves. Plus, a road map or a GPS is always a useful way to get from A to B. And that’s what a mentor can be – a creative GPS with benefits.

Mentoring became the buzz word in business in the 90’s despite the fact it has been happening without the spindoctoring for centuries. Australia research conducted in conjunction with Centrelink and the University of Sydney showed being mentored:

  • broadens your network
  • reduces isolation
  • increases self confidence
  • increases ability to perform your role
  • grows self awareness
  • clarifies career direction
  • progresses career goals
  • develops skill & knowledge
  • helps avoid making mistakes
  • develops organisational knowledge quicker

While these are benefits of those being mentored in a business set up, is writing really any different?

No writer I know would scoff at the opportunity to broaden their network, reduce their isolation, increase their self confidence, clarify their direction, develop skills, knowledge and insider secrets, avoid mistakes or grow their self awareness.

Last week, in the space of five hours, I agreed to act in a mentor role for two people. I’d love to know what was happening astrologically that day. While I’m not exactly “qualified” – I am an expert in the true sense of the word – someone who has walked the path both as a writer and an editor. I also trained as a youth mentor almost a decade ago.

Scribble Pad lists five useful hints for mentoring another writer:

  1. Find out want your mentor wants, not what you want.
  2. Only mentor another writer if you have time.
  3. Gauge whether you’re the best individual to mentor another writer.
  4. Keep in touch
  5. Remember to learn from your mentee/protégée.

These seem to be sensible rules for the road – especially number one and two.

Because I’m time poor I really need to be clear about these new relationships in my writing life and create definite boundaries – more for myself than for those I am working with. I’m the one who often says yes when I need to be say no.

The male writing friend is pretty clear what he wants of my time and help. We’re both hoping this will be stepping stone in an ongoing working relationship, so I’m viewing this more like an transition step, than an ongoing mentorship. The 12 year old protégé’s Mum has a pretty clear idea what she’d like for her daughter, but after reading Scribble Pad’s list, I’m committed to knowing what she’d like out of the relationship. And if she’s even keen on having this sort of relationship. This I imagine could be something that will last for years but be less intense in the here and now. It could actually be lots of fun also.

Like all the adventures I have in life, I am definitely up for this one but Gold Dust (a mentoring programme for writers in the UK) creator Jill Dawson hits the nail on the head when she says writing should always be the priority of all writers. A timely reminder for me as a writer and a would-be mentor.

They often say the teacher will appear when the student is ready, and that readiness I understand now to be the willingness to receive – something all of us should be prepared to cultivate in our every day practise of writing. I honestly do believe you can teach an old dog new tricks because learning is a life long process and as such, you are never too old to be someone’s protégé! You just have to be open to it.

For an extensive list of mentors and their protégés see the Mentor Hall of Fame.

Have you had the experience of being mentored in your writing? Would you offer yourself up in the position of mentor for a younger writer? Were any of your favourite/influential writers mentored as emerging writers?

Jodi Cleghorn will be chanting “I am open to receive” as she prepares for her yearly pilgrimage to the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival this week. Also “I will string together a sensible sentence when I meet Nick Earls.” Follow Jodi’s Tweets @jodicleghorn or her expanding blog Writing in Black and White.
  1. edwinashaw permalink
    August 4, 2009 1:39 am

    Hmmm, how about slipping him your ms Jodi?
    Re mentoring, always agree to read only the first ten pages first! Time is precious and first draft mss can be very very very long.
    I’ve been lucky enough to have been mentored by Veny Armanno who was wonderful and to have been encouraged and believed in by Amanda Lohrey. She was wonderful at making you feel as if you really WERE a writer.

  2. August 4, 2009 5:31 am

    If only I had an ms Edwina … just an untidy collection of short stories. Though it did make me think that I should be taking something printed down with me. I took some Captain Juan last year. Hmmm – now what?

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