We know writing is a solitary pursuit. No one but your Muse can really sit in the chair with you. (And, for the most part, our Muses seem to be a pretty abusive group, so you can forget that kind of solidarity.) But no creative act happens in a vacuum. Writing is less like a lone pilgrimage and more like tending a compost heap. You need a mentor in your creative mix. Why? Here are five reasons you should seek some quality time with a master:
1. Studies say so.
The research suggests that, in the business world, employees with mentors make more money, get promoted faster, and take more pleasure in their work (even when working the same grueling hours as employees without a mentor). As writers, we are in the business of creation, as well as marketing. What would it mean to your work if you enjoyed these same benefits?
It’s been proven that when you tell another person (especially someone you respect) what you want to achieve you’re more likely to accomplish your goal. Having to update someone face-to-face is different from updating your friends on social media, and it definitely makes your progress more real.
3. You get to choose.
You know the ancient proverb about how you don’t get to pick your family? As Austin Kleon–and Seneca!– point out in Steal Like an Artist, you do get to pick your family tree of ideas — your influences. Pick any guru. That person had a guru, too. Find out about your hero’s hero, and so on. Keep following that branch until you get as close to the root of inspiration as possible. Now that’s some rich compost…
You know the great marketing opportunity that popped up for you, the one that seems too good to be true? Yep, your mentor tried it, too, and can warn you away from the real stinkers that you’re just too awestruck to see clearly. This kind of advice can save you some big-time regret…
5. They know when to quit.
No one can see through a writer’s excuses like another writer. But there will also come a time when you’re faced with a really tough decision. That whopper of a novel you’ve been picking at for ten years? TEN YEARS. Time to put it away. And I don’t mean just away like, See-You-In-6-Months away; I mean The-Plot-Doesn’t-Make-Sense-and-Never-Has away. As in, you bury those characters and write new ones who might just have the same names.
When you’re that invested in a project, it takes a special kind of trust to hear the advice no one wants to hear. Conversely, when you want to throw it all in and run off to be an accountant, your mentor can give you The Look, a laugh, and the critical reminder that we have to do this. This is what we do. It’s never time to quit. (And, if you find the right mentor, they’ll take you out for ice cream, too.)
Want to know how to find a mentor? Check out my next post.
Do you already have a mentor? How has he or she helped you improve your work?
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