Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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January 13, 2023

The Importance of Great Mentors (for You AND Your Books)

by Jenny Hansen

Do you have a great mentor?

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?

The Mentor's Job

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."

Memorable Mentors in Film

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.

Some of my faves:

  • Harry Potter and Dumbledore (Dumbledore and Luna were my most favorite Harry Potter movie characters)
  • Neo and Morpheus from The Matrix
  • The Karate Kid and Mr. Miyagi
  • Aladdin and the Genie
  • Dead Poet's Society teacher, John Keating (played by Robin Williams)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring and Gandalf
  • James Bond and M (I love that character in the books and the movies)

That linked list above is definitely worth a read!

But what about mentors for your writing?

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.

The Writing Teachers

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.

Searching Out Your Mentors

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.

How do you get from "I like to write stuff" to being an author?

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.

What I tell new-ish writers.

Start writing.

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.

Final Thoughts

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!

* * * * * *

About Jenny

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.

15 comments on “The Importance of Great Mentors (for You AND Your Books)”

  1. Wow, Jenny! This was a lovely reminder of all the people who have helped us along the way. I’ve had so many wonderful mentors in my writing life and in my personal life that I owe a debt of gratitude to. Sometimes it was just a word of encouragement, other times it was straight up guidance, or teaching insights from wonderful mentors like Margie Lawson.

    Thank you for this reminder of what we owe to others.

    Big hug!!

  2. Margie Lawson is the first one who comes to mind. She has taught me so much over the years! Then there's Joseph Lallo - who might not consider himself a mentor, but who has taught me by example. And then there are the many teachers over at Lawson Writer's Academy who have taught me tangentially as I've worked with them. I've been very blessed as a writer! And I *have* to also mention the amazing Jenny Hansen who encourages me to be brave!

    1. Margie was the first one to come to my mind too. And I appreciate you bringing Joseph Lallo over here to us at WITS so more people could enjoy his wisdom. 🙂

      p.s. You were already brave!

  3. My first mentor was my grandpa. He loved to tell little stories that often seemed to be made up on the spot for my benefit. For instance there was the story of Penny, a little girl who wouldn't eat enough and had to keep a penny in her pocket to keep from blowing away in the wind. At the time I had a minimal appetite and I think he was worried about me.

    He also recited many a poem, and told stories about growing up on a large farm in County Cork, Ireland. I was inspired to write poems and stories from his examples and enthusiasm, even though some of those stories were rather anti-social, looking back. LOL

    One had to do with stealing something and the person missing the items overhearing about it in the audible dreaming state of the thief.

    Grandpa's moral of the story was, "If he hadn't told all in his sleep, he'd never been caught." He was attempting to encourage me not to talk in my sleep.

    Wonderful article, Jenny! It brought to mind a loving man from my past.

  4. I had the pleasure of asking J.M. Ney-Grimm if she would be my cover mentor for my first book (I liked hers, and knew she created them), and she was kind enough to agree to critique and answer questions.

    She was wonderfully helpful AND had exacting standards - it opened my eyes to the details, and I will always be grateful for our interactions over the course of the summer of 2015 - and we'll always be friends now. I have all those lovely emails, too.

    When she said all the remaining details were not improvable, and she would have stopped, I did, too.

    She saved me both time and worry.

    1. That's fantastic, Alicia! I'm so happy for you that she took that kind of time with you. I have so many many people who have opened doors for me or offered me advice that I needed at the time. And it does always save lots of time and an untold amount of worry.

  5. Love this, Jenny! And I could also put my mentors in categories, such as:

    Novelists—from Jane Austen to J.K. Rowling, and so many others—who made me love stories and want to write my own.

    Authors writing for authors, sharing their advice in books, blogs, workshops, webinars, and more. (WITS falls in this category!)

    Coaches, such as Margie Lawson, Angela Ackerman, and others who helped me learn and develop my craft.

    Critique Partners, who mentored my actual writing.

    Agents, editors, and marketing pros who address what sells.

    As you can see, naming all the folks who fit into those categories would take a long time! Happily, we do get to thank many of our mentors in person, in our books' acknowledgments, or just by becoming writers who carry on the tradition of good storytelling and mentoring others.

    1. I love that you have different categories!! The more I watched how you grouped them, the more of my own mentors popped into my head. This is great. 🙂

  6. In the mentor department I have a few, that alas are no longer with us. I like Kurt Vonnegut for is great as writer, but just as great with philosophy for writers. He has the ability to teach through his writings. Among the living are Janice Hardy. She'll show what's wrong, but she'll have you correct the problem(s). C.S. Lakin has a blog I enjoy reading, and I look to her writing to learn how to correct a mistake. She might go so far as to show you how to approach the same issue from a different angle. But by far the most important is Kathy Steinmann. She'll show you the basics, and will show how to properly format your story. She is my go-to person for writing difficulties.

    1. I agree with all those, although Kathy Steinmann is new to me - I'll go check her out! Thank you. And I was just talking to someone today about the amazingness of Kurt Vonnegut. 🙂

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