When I think of mentorship, my mind’s eye is inexorably drawn to the distinguished features of Alec Guinness as he tried to impart wisdom on a shaggy-haired Mark Hamill. I never had any mentors, just teachers who spent their days despairing if the thirty mooks in their class would be able to spell their names right, let alone find their way in the world.
There was no way around it – I was jealous of that whiney brat Skywalker and wanted to kick him in the knee so that I could run off and apprentice under the brilliance that was Obi Wan Kenobi.
I never did journey for the special crystal to fashion my own lightsaber, so it was probably my own fault that I didn’t attract a mentor. I was sitting around waiting to have a lightsaber tossed in my lap. I wasn’t ready to be a Padawan, yet.
Star Wars references aside, I finally reached the point where I knew I had to try something, anything to get writing. And I did. I wrote two novel-length stories back to back. I bootstrapped myself up to a level I’d never reached in writing. Actual improvement was made. And then I found my first mentor.
Lynn helped me edit my second attempt at a novel. It was a disaster, but I learned *so* much from her teaching. The whole story never exceeded “barely salvageable” status, but I learned why, and what I’d done wrong and how I could avoid those mistakes.
Lynn was a mentor because her expertise far exceeded my own, and she took the time and energy to not just correct the mistakes in my work, but to make sure that I understood what she told me. That these weren’t personal opinions, but the result of a lot of education and hard work that told her what made a story good.
My second mentor was also an editor. I met her at the college; I took one of her editing classes. It was nice to be able to have some background on her. It made it easier to decide to hire her. She also spent a lot of time on me, trying to help me with understanding the basics of story writing. She answered my questions, not just about the book I’d brought her, but about editing in general. She took the time to give me the answers I needed to move forward, something that can’t really be measured with money.
Mentors are out there, but they aren’t out there until we’re ready to go out and find them. They don’t drop into our lives via a mysterious holographic image shimmering out of a robot. And mentors tend to be able to tell who is ready for their investment and who is not. I proved that I was ready for a mentor, at least to my editor’s standard. And I have my eye on a young creative who I hope someday to be a mentor for as well. I know she’s too young and she’s not ready yet, but when she is, I’ll be in a position to share my expertise with her. And with luck, my son will ask for that help as well.
Mentorship isn’t a straight line, it’s a cycle. That particular give and take is an important tradition, one I’m proud to be a part of.