by Susan Spann
“Mentor” was the tutor Odysseus placed in charge of his son, Telemachus, before departing on his now-famous odyssey across a mythological version of ancient Greece. Since Homer’s day, the word has come to mean an advisor who comes alongside a less-experienced person to offer help, education, and guidance.
Mentorships exist in almost every conceivable endeavor, including writing. Many writers work with a mentor, and many writers are quick to describe the benefits they receive from the mentorship of a more experienced author.
Today, I want to flip that around and share some surprising benefits the mentor receives from the experience.
1. Teaching a skill can help you learn it better, yourself, as well.
For the past few months, I’ve been tutoring a high school student who has a deep desire to become a writer. We meet on a weekly basis, and I’m walking her through the steps of writing her first full-length manuscript. As expected, we started by looking at the elements of plot and character creation.
While reviewing these basic concepts with her, I recognized some things I could strengthen in my current work-in-progress (the first book in a new series, and also a genre new to me). Teaching the concepts brought them home to me in a way that I hadn’t considered—or realized—before.
2. Inspiration flows in both directions.
A writer’s life has challenges, and sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day that we forget the passion and inspiration of our early writing days. Kaitlyn—the writer I’m working with—is a constant reminder that writing itself is joy. Her love for the written word, and her excitement at each new step in the process, inspires me to find renewed joy in the process.
Her excitement also inspires me to return to my own work in progress with new energy and appreciation. Some people think that mentorship will “tire you out” or drain you of creative energy—in my experience, it’s exactly the opposite.
3. You’ll learn what you don’t know, and reinforce what you do.
Sometimes, the person you mentor will ask a question you cannot answer. Not a problem! Finding the answer together not only helps the “mentee” learn the proper method (whether it’s research, writing-related or something else entirely) but also reinforces that mentors aren’t perfect—and don’t need to be. The best mentorships are the ones where both parties can share their struggles, as well as their strengths.
4. Friends for (the writing) life.
Writing has never been, and will never be, an easy career. Good mentorships often result in real friendships that last beyond the end of the formal mentoring arrangement—friendships that strengthen us as people as well as improving our writing skills.
5. Paying it forward.
Few writers achieve success without assistance from authors farther along on the writing path. Mentorship offers each of us a chance to “pay it forward” and extend a helping hand to people walking a part of the path we've already crossed over. By sharing the knowledge granted to us, we create another link in the chain, which hopefully our mentees will continue, in time, as they become mentors to those who follow in their footsteps.
It doesn’t take a lot of time to make a difference in someone else’s life. You don’t have to sacrifice your own career to help someone else’s. As writers, we spend the bulk of our time alone, in solitary endeavors—but mentorship offers a chance to open our minds (and hearts) to someone else who shares our love of the written word.
Take a chance and become a mentor. The benefits you receive might just surprise you.
Have you been, or are you now, involved in a mentorship—either as a mentor or a mentee? What’s the biggest benefit you’ve experienced from the process?
Susan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, released on July 15, 2014, and her third novel, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, releases in July 2015. Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website, http://www.SusanSpann.com, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).