Writing Mentors: Where’d they go?

Whatever happened to mentors?

I want to know what happened to the one-on-one, master-apprentice relationships people had a long time ago.

The modern equivalent seems to be an internship, which is great for vocations that are objective, like particle physics or journalism, but don’t really have a place in the world of the arts.

Oh sure, you could intern at an art studio, answering phones and designing brochures, and maybe getting the office coffee once or twice. You could intern with a creative content team and do similar stuff. You’re there for a few months and then they kick you out, sometimes unpaid, into the cold world.

But where have all the apprenticeships gone? Those artistic relationships where one experienced, successful artist cultivates a developing, still-feeling-around-in-the-dark-a-little artist? For, occasionally, years? What happened to those?

I mean, there are seminars, and workshops and retreats and classes and all manner of other resources nowadays, resources that have more or less taken the place of a true mentor. And they are great! All that information you can learn is useful and can help.

But it’s all so…fractured.  Part of my goal for this blog is to provide a consolidated list of resources, and my own experiential writing advice in the hopes of alleviating some of that broken feeling. I’m trying but it’s hard, because I’m just starting out myself. It’s the person-with-a-flickering-flashlight leading the mostly-unable-to-see around in a dark tunnel over here.

The amount of information out there on writing and publishing is overwhelming. I have a degree in creative writing and I still feel like I know absolutely nothing. My professors were encouraging, sure, and I had the benefit of an independent study class, but there was no real mentoring. There were hundreds of students in each field of study—it was nearly impossible to form that kind of relationship with the teachers.

For one semester, I mentored 17 freshmen in English and Biology. I was able to get a solid rapport going with three or four, but I had my own schoolwork to do, so I’m not sure how effective I was. And they had all their other schoolwork and parties and hey, that person is hot, etc., so even if I was an effective mentor, they may not have benefitted from it because, you know, ooh shiny.

Mentoring appears to have gone the way of the dodo because “ain’t nobody got time for that.”

I don’t know, maybe I just overlooked all the mentee opportunities that drifted in my direction. Maybe I am just woefully uninformed. The timing wasn’t right. Who knows?

Here is my proposal: If you are an expert in your field, make the time to mentor someone. Help cultivate skills and careers. Introduce new ideas. Encourage exploration. Assist in networking. Teach your little bird everything you know, and then point them in the direction of more knowledge before throwing them out of the nest.

Do this not because you are getting paid to do it (because, really, you shouldn’t be), not because you want to feel generous and loved (though, that may be a bonus), but because the arts deserve just as careful a cultivation process as the sciences.

If you, the expert, sees someone flailing around, don’t laugh or deride them. Throw them a freakin’ rope.

And you, the non-expert—the potential mentee—until you find an in real life mentor focus your energies on someone in your field that you admire, whose sensibilities jive with your own. Follow that person on Twitter. Read his blog. Stalk her on Facebook. Perform some distant Vulcan mind-meld and absorb all his thoughts like a desperate sponge.

It helps, when swimming through that muddle of information, to have a buoy to guide you. Your unknowing Internet mentor may not know ALL the ways of your art, but perhaps, that guidance will help whip your thoughts into an orderly line.

Meanwhile, is there anyone looking for an older-model mentee? Because, uh, I know a girl.


Here are some handy links on writing mentors I found:

What is a writing mentor?

How to find a mentor.

For you script writing television types, CBS has a writing mentors program you can apply for–but you have to live in Los Angeles.

Poke around on Google, and you will find other mentoring programs that are hyper-local for which you can apply. I like the idea of a more organic, one-on-one relationship, but you find what works best for you.

Good luck, my doves.


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