Defining and Honoring Writing Mentors

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 21 2008

I thought this was a really interesting question and one I suspect my readers can answer better than I can. . . .

I need a definition of “What is a Writing Mentor.” I write Romance, Mystery, and Suspense and have had a critique partner and mentor for the past 4 years. I belong to RWA, and my local chapter wants to give the mentor of the year award, but I need to compile a definition of a writing mentor. Can you help me?

Mentors are such wonderful and amazing people, and let me congratulate you for having found someone who you obviously have been lucky to find. I really don’t think I’d be the person I am today or have the success I have without the many mentors who helped guide me to this place. From teachers who taught me the power of a book to editors who taught me how to recognize good writing, edit, and negotiate, and to fellow agents who took time out of their busy schedules to answer any questions I had, or still have.

I imagine what you’re looking for is a definition that can be used to describe what mentors are for this particular award. I’ll leave it up to the wordsmiths to correct me, but in my mind I think a mentor is someone who takes the time to teach new writers about the craft of writing and the business of publishing. A mentor is someone who helps others succeed in an area where she has already found success.

But what about the readers? Do you have a better definition of a writing mentor? And what about mentors you’ve had? Let’s take a moment to honor them here by telling a little about those people who gave selflessly of their time so that you could all learn about writing and what they did for you.


16 responses to “Defining and Honoring Writing Mentors”

  1. Miss Snark. I think there are a lot of us who owe her so much.

  2. Avatar Petrina says:

    Sabrina Jeffries, who introduced me to RWA and who continues to offer encouragement.

    The Heart of Carolina and Kiss of Death chapters of RWA are always there for me. These very talented people are amazing in their expertise and willingness to help.

  3. Avatar Petrina says:

    And you, Jessica. I continue to learn from your wisdom, your honesty, and your willingness to share.

    Thank you BookEnds.

  4. Avatar Chessie says:

    Christine Feehan, she encouraged me and was so kind and understanding and patient with a newbie aspiring author when she didn’t have to put up with me. I was a nobody, and her career was starting to really take off. She gave me great advice, let me stick close to her at conferences which helped me make some personal connections with people I wouldn’t have had the guts to approach otherwise, and she told me to keep at it.

    Then there was Susan Grant. She’s the first person to actually read something I wrote. It was terrible, but she told me something that has always stuck with me. She said this business is 10% talent, and 90% persevereance in learning what all the rest of the 90% is. She told me I have the talent that no one can teach, and got me involved with RWA. I would not still be doing this without her. I think that is the bottom line of a mentor for me.

  5. Miss Snark, you ladies at BookEnds, Kristin Nelson, Evil Editor. Of course there are dozens of agent and editor mentors now, but for me, these four are the ones I learned of first, and still read religiously. Thank you all!

  6. My first writing teacher, Verlena Orr, who called me at work on a Saturday to tell me I had real potential and to keep going. I lived on that praise for two years.

    My mentor for the past ten years, novelist and memoirist Karen Karbo, who always expected my best and whose own incredible work ethic has been an example to live up to.

    One of the sweetest parts of publication was finally being able to write acknowledgements for these two wonderful mentors. What they’ve given me, I now try to pay forward…

  7. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I’m so new at this I wouldn’t know how to “find” a mentor. Conferences are so hard for me to get to, so how would a near hermit find someone to help out?

  8. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Author Patricia Lucas White who wrote my very first review and nominated me for a “new author” award–Pat constantly encouraged me and even told me about this “brand new agent, Jessica Faust,” who was looking for clients…my long time critique partner, author Kathryn North, who finally managed to explain the difference between active and passive voice and point of view to me, and Jessica, who didn’t drop me as a client even when I couldn’t come up with a decent story to submit anywhere! So many others–this is an industry filled with amazingly generous people, and it’s where I first learned what paying it forward really meant.

  9. Avatar Bernita says:

    Miss Snark, who once told me I was a good writer.
    Those few words have carried me though a lot of dark days.

  10. Avatar Robena Grant says:

    Jenny Crusie and Bob Mayer who I first came to know through their combined blog. I learned a ton about craft from their writing site. Then I became a Cherry and shared and discussed with the many other aspiring writers and published authors on Jenny’s Cherry Forums.

    Jenny knew I was struggling with a rejection of a full manuscript and offered to critique a couple of chapters. I would never have asked because I know she’s too busy with her own writing. Her critique left me battered and bruised (she doesn’t pull any punches) but when I picked my ego up off the floor I could see EXACTLY where I’d been going wrong.

    I’m now sailing through doing revisions on several old manuscripts using her suggestions and am so excited about my writing. I can see my errors. I totally get what I couldn’t see in my own work, but always saw in others work. Interesting, huh?

    I owe Jenny so much. She’s boosted me and hundreds of other writers up when our spirits flagged, she’s given us feedback, and pointed us in the right direction. AND, she’s a fabulous teacher.

  11. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I think there’s a difference between a teacher (or blogger) and a mentor. With a mentor, there’s a personal relationship. The mentor understands exactly where the mentee (is that a word?) is in her progression and offers technical and moral guidance to help her keep moving forward. She almost always does this for free or, if she’s also a teacher, by going well beyond what her job description calls for. A mentor is there not just for a moment (or a semester), but for something resembling the long haul. She knows more than you and is willing to share, accompanying you on your journey, always one step ahead. Can I get one for Christmas? If I’m very, very good?

  12. Avatar Chessie says:

    Anonymous 10:32

    Join a writer’s group, or become and involved, but not scary stalker fan of an author that you like.

    I know the Compuserve writer’s forums are very good for all genres. If you write romance, RWA has great chapters and online chapters that anyone can participate in.

  13. Avatar Inspire says:

    Thanks, Jessica, for taking the time out to write so many thought-provoking posts.

    Today there are so many great writers we can learn from. This is the third blog I’ve read this afternoon on this subject of mentors.

    A famous author recently told me, what is important is good storytelling, not weather or not you followed all the ‘rules’ people have made. Tell a story that touches a persons heart and soul, makes them weep and sigh. If you write from deep within, you won’t go wrong. I replied to her that she may not realize it, but she is my mentor.

    Rita Gerlach

  14. Rita, I think you’re very lucky to have hooked up with such a wise author. Yesterday, Kristin Nelson wrote about how subjective writing is, and discussed a topic that’s been going around lately — the thought that popular books don’t contain good writing. And maybe that is the difference between so-so writing that sells millions, and gorgeous writing that languishes under the bed unpublished: can the author spin a great story?

  15. Avatar Jess says:

    In my blogroll, I have five authors listed as Mentors. Two of them have become friends, the other three are more impersonal. They have each corresponded with me personally in some way, but I consider them mentors for their general pay-it-forward attitude that I benefit from. I would think a mentor is a more personal relationship, but I can safely say I would not be the writer I am today if it weren’t for these five women, personal relationship or not, so they get to be called mentors.

  16. Avatar debralex says:

    What about the word “guide”? A mentor is someone whose skill/experience inherently makes him/her able to usher another along any given path. A guide doesn’t push or pull but instead leads from a place of dedication and compassion. Good guides possess the firmness necessary to enable a mentee (and I do think that’s a word, anonymous) to grow in ability and confidence. Finally, and in my mind this is crucial, the best mentors/guides celebrate when their mentee clears that hurdle, reaches a new plateau of competence and achievement.