January is National Mentoring Month! A good writing mentor can have a positive impact on your writing and even your life. A writing mentor is usually someone with experience who is willing to offer advice and constructive criticism—while also being your cheerleader. Sometimes, you can find this inspiration and guidance in a well-written book or guidebook on your craft.
Read about the mentors who influenced the lives of the staff here at Writer’s Relief. Then tell us about a person or book that influenced your life and writing in the comment section below!
My writing workshop professor who taught me that the first draft is never perfect.
My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Skinner, who taught me how to read my ABC’s.
My college writing professor, David Galef, who told me to differentiate my work by focusing on character.
One of the biggest influences on my writing is the book Haiku: A Poet’s Guide by Lee Gurga. I would love to meet the author in person one day to thank him!
My dad always said, “You are who you go with,” essentially meaning, “You are who you associate yourself with,” and that’s why he’s my mentor.
My family instilled my love for reading: My dad wasn’t a big reader, but always bought me books. My ma is still an avid reader and always encouraged me to read. My Aunt Pat worked for Viking and would bring me books she thought I would like, and my Aunt Sis would sit and read to me for hours when I was a little girl.
I’d say my mentor is Carolyn Smart, my old writing professor. She was encouraging and pushed me to do a reading, which I’m always glad to have done.
Ronnie was my writing mentor. When I was a young kid, she was my foster mother. At one point during the time I lived with her, I wrote a short autobiography that she then sent to VIPS, which was the program where we met. It was published in their newsletter, and it gave me a lot of pride to know that people would read my story.
Words and Pictures: An Introduction to Photojournalism by Wilson Hicks. This book looked at photography from a totally different perspective. I learned different things from words and pictures, but both the book and my photojournalism teacher (Fred Parrish) taught me the technical details of focus and field of view—they can be way more interesting than they sound.
I was going through a creative dry spell, and felt very uninspired, when someone recommended I read Cat’s Cradle by Vonnegut. I absolutely fell in love with the book, and decided to read more by the author. It wasn’t until I reached The Sirens of Titan that I felt some kind of shift happening. It had been some time since the synapses in my brain had fired in such a way, and it was like someone had flipped the switch. This work sent me down the path of the surreal and the abstract that I still find myself occupying today. It’s a genre and style of writing I’m able to completely immerse myself in, and I can’t see going any other way now.
“I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” – Kurt Vonnegut
Question: Which writing mentor has had a positive impact on your life?
My father. He was a doctor, OB GYN, born in 1919. He was a talented artist, fluent in French,and had an ever inquisitive mind and sense of wonder.
I will always remember how he’d come home, sit in a comfortable chair in our sun room and open the daily newspaper. When he was finished, we often got into conversations about the ex patriot writers of Paris and their world, the history of which I was intrigued by and engaged in learning about, simply by opening one of many of my father’s books on the subject. There were many. And then the French poets!
In a different time, different age, he might have become quite accomplished, in some way, in the art world, however, what’s more of an accomplishment than ridding a woman of breast or cervical cancer or delivering a newborn baby into the arms of their mothers or fathers? Books lined the walls of the house I grew up in and I read every single one of them except for one, that held no interest for me. Maybe one day, I’ll be in the mood. My father passed away from cancer when I was 29 years old, but he left in me a legacy of continually learning and exploring the world of arts, and Literature, specifically. His grandson, also, is multi talented and a scholar of note already, in high school.
I might never have organized my Bronze Age Greece series ‘Peryton’ into a coherent whole without the help of Monique Raphel High. A respected writer in her own genre she was, for me, not only an eagle-eyed editor but a tireless booster and one-woman cheering squad.
I would fly in periodically from wherever I was posted overseas and we would wade through the mass of manuscript, trimming, fattening, sometimes kicking it into shape. The result is a polished and published tale about which Cecelia Holland, the HF writer I respect most, commented, “I love the writing, the immersion in the world. The lion hunt is fabulous. The horse is great.” Words that I value more than I would a Pulitzer nomination.
My account director when I was working in a busy PR agency in London. She taught me how to choose words wisely and cut out everything surplus.