What is a Mentor?
- She’s the person holding the light at the (beginning, middle and) end of the tunnel when I’m flailing around in the dark, wailing and being neurotic.
- The one who keeps giving me a good kick up the behind – but picks me up if I fall!
- The ‘wise adviser’ originating from Homer’s Odyssey: entrusted with the care and education of Telemachus when Odysseus left for Troy.
Whilst the original dictionary definition is obvious, it seems that when the mentor in question is me, the authors I’m working with now are more prosaic. How do I feel about that? Okay, wise adviser would be pushing it to ROFL point, but I can’t help thinking A+B makes me a cross between Florence Nightingale and Father Ted…
As there is a cycle to life, the seasons etc., so there is to writing and editing. Last year I had a spate of fantasy novels to edit; a few months later they were replaced by a run on novellas. Right now, four of the six authors I’m working with originally approached me for ‘mentoring’.
However the term is defined, what these authors wanted was someone to help kickstart, refresh, or conclude their writing dreams and projects. Minion* had had a novel brewing for years but didn’t know how to go about starting it; Unicorn* had written two-thirds of hers but then got stuck; Pocahontas* was confused how best to fictionalise her memoir; Araminta* bemoaned her lack of time to write, of finding a plot, of finishing anything.
A fresh (i.e. objective) pair of eyes, a bespoke programme for each, and a few weeks later, means that each of these authors is enthusiastic, productive, and meeting their goals. It’s all their own hard work; my ‘mentoring’ role is simply to support, to suggest, to seek solutions.
I set tasks. I set deadlines. I set word limits. And no, these don’t thwart creativity (honest, guv). It’s about accountability and encouragement – the tasks and targets provide a structure that encourages that creativity – ask the authors if you don’t believe me!
Writers often describe themselves as Planners or Pantsers. In writing terms, I’m a pantser by inclination and a planner by training (a combination that has made me for more productive than I ever thought possible) but in effect, it doesn’t matter how, where or when a writer writes. What matters is being a Finisher. And what matters just as much, is being a Finisher who enjoys the actual act of writing.
If, as a mentor, I can help authors do that, then I’m happy (and, hopefully, they are too).
Meanwhile, in a fine case of physician-heal-thyself, I’ve got a novel to finish. The last two chapters are driving me crazy… Anyone know a good mentor?
*Names have been changed. Possibly for confidentially but more likely because a) I can, and b) I think it’s funny.