Ode to a Mentor

I’m approaching the finish line in a year-long writing marathon. It’s an adventure bringing new acquaintances, advanced tools, and experienced advice to my writing table. Without question, the class’ greatest asset is my mentor. With a published work for almost every year of my life (she’s prolific, not ancient), and impeccable credentials as a founder of this genre, I cannot overestimate her contributions to my endeavor, and the publishing world as a whole.

I never considered a mentor. I’ve raised kids, stayed married, built businesses, gone back for a graduate degree. I had no idea what I was missing. But she has made THE difference in what I do now versus what I did before. I hope this blog encourages you to seek a mentor—through a journeyman class, your local university, a writer’s guild. Good mentors contribute in multiple ways, and mine’s blessed me in those explored below.
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1. EXPERIENCE—She’s seen it all. Am I being too soft on my protagonist? Does the chapter needmore conflict? Am I telling instead of showing? On the writing side of things, she spots amateur mistakes immediately, then holds me accountable until they’re corrected. On the business side, she provides insight into personalities. Is this the right agent for me? What publisher can take my work into crossover? What conferences are the best fit at this point in the journey? She’s a sounding board par excellence.

2.  PATIENCE—No doubt about it: publishing takes patience. She stepped into my process when one manuscript was complete, and another being written. Manuscripts don’t develop quickly, and there will be “dark nights of the soul” during the writing/publishing process. My mentor encourages me to keep my vision, but she could just as easily challenge me to adjust it. She provides a realistic expectation on the insanely slow process of working through editorial and publishing boards. And she’s a reality check about the time required to release a book. When I’m overwhelmed (it happens occasionally), she reminds me to breathe.

3.  VISION—I am on the far edge of fiction written with a Christian worldview. I’m disinterested in writing most of what I see in CBA (Christian Booksellers Association), and read almost exclusively ABA (American Booksellers Association). My mentor and I understand this precarious position, having lived “in the world (but not of it)” long enough to realize the world is a changing place. Adapt or die. She’s a kindred spirit as a businesswoman with a vigorous faith, so a voice of encouragement when I’m wandering lost in the wilderness of tradition.

4.  TOUCHSTONE—In a word, she’s a touchstone. She helps me assess what’s precious (both in terms of writing, and in terms of publishing). What has merit, and what needs to be evaluated more. She has an uncanny ability to challenge me where I need to be challenged. Hemingway would have called her “good and true.”

Do you have a mentor? If so, what does he or she bring to your work? And if you’re looking for a mentor, what qualities do you seek in one? I’m interested!

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