Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Mentor is ...

Mentoring is one subject that confuses me. Once I volunteered for a position with a writing group and was turned down because I had no "record" of mentoring other writers. The reason I have no "record" is because I don't advertise that I've mentored anyone. If I do something nice for someone, I'm not going to go around bragging about it. I feel it's up to the individual to say s/he's been mentored, but also, I haven't charged a fee. Almost all the mentoring I do is in my local area--Louisiana and Texas. 

For the past five years or so, I've taught a six week NF writing class. I've always taught the class in the fall and given students the option of staying in touch with me for help through the end of the year. Several stay in touch with me much longer because we become writer friends. I've never called it mentoring, though some of them have.  All of my students have sold their work with the exception of one or two. :/ I continue to send my students and other writers I know specific markets for their works. I continue to encourage them and offer help and critiques when they ask. I've never considered myself a mentor.

I believe mentoring is very misunderstood. An agent I know started a mentoring program by putting writers together in groups of three (a Paul, Timothy and Barnabas group) but we weren't at all compatible or dedicated to helping each other. I think mentoring has to just happen with people who connect with each other. Maybe it can be a business relationship where one is paying for services but I absolutely HATE that thought. The word mentor--the action of a mentor is too beautiful to be charging a fee. Needless to say, I've never had a mentor; but I have (and have had) very dear friends and critique partners who give me wonderful tips, advice and inside publishing information.
So I'll be the first to admit, I come to the word MENTOR a little fuzzy. Straighten me out. What's your definition of a mentor? Is mentor the same as a writing coach? Have you ever had either one? Did you pay? Would you like to have one or the other? Would you pay? What would the "perfect mentor" be like?
Looking forward to your comments.

P.S. FYI--I take after my dad who worked hard and never wanted to charge for anything! :)


Sylvia Ney said...

Mentor - someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague and ideally becomes a trusted friend, counselor or teacher. Most mentors I know of are free unless hired for a very specific lesson like your nonfiction class. FYI - you are a wonderful mentor even without the so-called "record". ;-)

Charles Gramlich said...

I almost got a mentor when I was in college. I went to talk to a writer at the university who happened to be the only professionally published writer ever from my home town. I showed him stuff I'd written and he gave me encouragment and offered to help me. I started something new for him and week later he actually died. I never had another writing mentor, certainly not for fiction. I had a mentor for my career. My advisor in graduate school was a wonderful fellow and he helped me so much. He did teach me some things about writing nonfiction.

Angie said...

I once had someone offer to be a writing mentor to me. She didn't ask me to pay her. I was so excited initially, but from the getgo, she didn't follow through. Disappointing.

Jess said...

Sylvia, you're too sweet. Honestly don't know why you took my class unless you needed a jumpstart. :) I should probably ask you to mentor ME! Seriously!

Charles, now that you bring up college ... the closest I've come to having a mentor was my English/creative writing teacher at SFA in Nacogoches. We still keep in touch and I still hear his voice in my head when I break writing rules. :)

Angie, it's so disappointing when something like that falls through. That's what happened to me with the Paul, Timothy and Barnabas group. Both of my so-called mentors went on to sell bunches of books--fiction and NF. I wonder if they thought I was hopeless. Things like that leave one feeling pretty insecure!

Oddly, I've agreed to be on a committee to form a mentoring group in one of my online writing organizations. Odd, isn't it?

Carole said...

I love the idea of mentoring. To me it is an unpaid position where one just tries to help someone else out. To me, it sounds like you are a wonderful mentor. True mentoring is a very tough job. It takes encouragement, mixed with honesty, mixed with time.