by Jenny Hansen
All of us here at Writers In the Storm know that veteran-WITS contributor, Julie Glover, is both funny and wise. She and I were talking about the importance of mentors and she made this observation:
"Being storytellers, we're likely all fans of a good mentor. Where would Harry Potter be without Dumbledore? Wilbur without Charlotte? Peter Parker without Uncle Ben? Cinderella without her fairy godmother?"
She's got a great point. Even though it seems like the mentors always die or disappear in every genre except romance (where they get their own book in the series), we never forget a great mentor. I mean, come on...what would Star Wars be without Obi Wan, or Yoda?
Mentors can be funny or grumpy, male or female, human or not, but their main job is to help get your main character through the hero's journey.
Julie pointed out that even the Hero's Journey, a well-known story structure, includes Mentor as an archetype and Meeting with the Mentor as an important stage of the story.
Joseph Campbell even had a spot in the "all is lost" stage of the hero's journey for the mentor within that he called “The Meeting with the Goddess.” StoryGrid explains this as "the moment in the story when the traditional male heroic figure meets with the other half of his internal being, represented by a powerful female imago. The two sides come together and ally to confront a third party antagonist in the ending payoff."
Many of those books we love have been adapted into films for a broader audience to appreciate. Not all my favorites are on this list from EvidenceBasedMentoring.org, but a lot of them are.
That linked list above is definitely worth a read!
Whether it's craft, career, or creativity advice, we benefit from being able to tap into personal resources who teach us, challenge or encourage us, and help to keep us (mostly) sane on our author's journey.
I can't even name how many fellow writers, critique group members, and writing chapter members have played this role in my life. Reading my early (horrendous) work, pushing me to write, to be better, to stretch, to "just try" this or that writing teacher. Mentors like this come at various times in our lives and through various means -- conferences, classes, books, videos, podcasts. Most of us have writing friends and influences flung around the globe at this point.
If you are very lucky, alongside your list of writing friends and influencers, you will find some great writing teachers. The best ones are the ones who always teach you something new, even if you have listened to them multiple times. If they push you and inspire you to grow, your perspective will change with you.
Let me give you an example...
Way back in 2004, I heard the amazing Donald Maass speak for the first time. His message then was very similar to what it is now, even though he has refined it more and created new programs. But I didn't understand a word of what he was saying in 2004.
Tension on every page...what?!? I didn't even know what that meant.
It took Margie Lawson and her very visual EDITS system (with its orange for story tension) to help me understand what The Donald told me a decade before.
The people we learn from year after year are the ones who open our minds so thoroughly that we're listening with an upgraded perspective every time we see them.
Some of us didn't get the message that writing was a legitimate hobby much less a profession until far later in life. But most of us can point to a teacher, family member, friend, colleague, coach, or author who inspired us to pursue our goals.
Many of you remember the moment when you knew you were or would become a writer. Maybe a teacher praised young-writer-you's skills. Maybe life handed you an experience you needed to pass on. Maybe you endured a trauma you needed to find a voice for.
For most of us, realizing we are writers isn't the hard part. Becoming writers is the hard part.
Learning our craft and persevering when the going gets tough is the hardest part of all.
It seems like an oxymoron, but a lot of new writers talk about their stories but never write them down. You can't utilize your trusted mentors until you do a bit of the work first.
Read blogs like this one.
While you're doing that work, it's nice to have writerly spots where you can go learn valuable craft tips and meet writing friends.
Ask friends who their mentors and teachers are.
If you ask writing friends who inspired them, or taught them valuable skills, they will talk your ear off for a while if you let them. Many (many!) remote resources are available since the pandemic, so you don't even have to leave the house for this.
Mentors can and should play a huge part in both your stories and your writing life. Mentors help push you and your characters where you need to go. They add to your writing journey in ways you won't even be able to measure when you look back on it.
Here is an exercise that Julie recommends:
Take a moment to think about who your mentors have been. Make a list, so that you can see who has helped you through the years. Consider their significance in your journey and foster gratitude for how they led you to where you are now.
I was so grateful when I did this. My list was more than two pages long, and that was just the really pivotal people.
I turned around and asked the same questions of my main character and found a ton of new story avenues! Incidentally, my research for this post led me to a bunch of very famous writers and their mentors/muses. I might have to write another article about that.
Who are your favorite mentors, both in fiction (books or movies) and in real life? I'd love to hear about them down in the comments!
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By day, Jenny Hansen provides storytelling skills, LinkedIn coaching and copywriting for accountants and financial services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
Top Photo based on purchase from Depositphotos.
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