The Value of Mentorship

As a writer, it has always been a struggle to get readers. I suspect this as close to a universal experience among writers as exists. My early novels went largely unread, but I harvested as much encouragement as I could from the crop of readers available-parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. That feedback kept me going.

It’s somewhat ingrained in us to value the opinions of those closest to us, which is exactly as it should be. But if we’re on a professional trajectory, a point must eventually come when parents, brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles can no longer advise us in the way we need. In short, we grow up.

The longer I write and the better I get, the easier it is to find readers. Slogging through one of my books is no longer quite the imposition it used to be back when I was writing grade-school Star Trek tin-in fiction. My approach to plot and characterization has grown more sophisticated, and as a result my mother’s opinion has become steadily less critical to my process.

Let me take a rabbit trail for a moment. Until the last few decades or so, in western society, a person developed into a professional in their chosen vocation through mentorship and apprenticeship. It seems to me that we are so independently-minded today that we’ve progressively moved away from that. Which is a shame, because it’s critically important to take advice and guidance from those who have already accomplished that which we are trying to do. It doesn’t make much sense to glean career advice as a writer from a doctor or mechanic. While I’m sure there will always be some professional carryover, it’s apples and oranges.

The American dream-or at least as I understand it, as an acknowledged Canadian-is for every individual to become a self-made man (or woman). The emphasis being on the word self. But wouldn’t it be much better to have a mentor? Wouldn’t it to be much better to have some help along the way from someone who has already walked this difficult and barely navigable path? Wouldn’t it be better to follow in someone else’s footsteps?

As a writer, I value the opinions of my peers. But I value the opinion of my betters all the more. So if you’re trying to make it as a published author, you would be well-advised to hang out with published authors. Over the last few years, I’ve come across a lot of successful authors who are more than willing to pay it forward by lending a helping hand to those who are a few steps behind them on the publishing track.

Take advantage of such opportunities when they present themselves. And when they aren’t just falling into your lap, seek them out.

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