Finding the Right Mentor



The Japanese word sensei is often translated as teacher. If you take apart the kanji, it means “[one who was] born before.” The implication is that this person has something to teach because they’ve been there and done it before you. It doesn’t mean they are inherently superior.


Worship Smothers Growth
For the last forty years or so, there have been lots of pop-culture ‘gurus’ who propagate their teachings as an image or product. They fall in love with themselves as the conduit, and insist they have all the answers. At their core, they are narcissists. Narcissists don’t have friends or students; they have slaves. Bad teachers will spoon-feed you answers in exchange for your worship, and never ask you grow or understand.

Growth Replaces Worship
A true mentor/student relationship is based on reciprocity. The master applies his intuition, skill, and careful listening to help the student grow. The student asks new questions incessantly, helping the master re-examine his craft and exercise new levels of patience. With no ego or worship on the line, both feel free to exercise their craft. You wind up progressing and co-creating together. A good mentor doesn’t want you to be them, they want you to be you. A great teacher will help you reach the next level. Learn well — that teacher will be you sooner than you think.

Don’t follow in the footsteps of old poets, seek what they sought.”
― Basho

Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.”
― Bruce Lee


4 thoughts on “Finding the Right Mentor

  1. redcapslice Post author

    I would say they come from unexpected places, but that’s not really true in my case. I was out doing something that was deeply and personally important to me, and someone a few steps ahead liked what I was demonstrating. It’s a lot like building a friendship — but a meaningful and well nurtured friendship.

    Wearing your enthusiasm and openness on your sleeve certainly helps.

    Have you had, or do you have a mentor? How did you meet?

    1. Margit Sage

      I don’t have a writing mentor. I started writing two years ago as a career change. I created a writing group a year and a half ago with classmates from a community college fiction writing class. I think I’ve grown and learned things from the group, but the other members are all younger than I am and less experienced writers at this point, since I’ve been writing full-time. I highly value their input, but I think I could learn different things from a more experienced mentor.

      I have had vocational mentors in my former life: teachers and coworkers. And I have life mentors in friends and family.

      1. redcapslice Post author

        Specifically a writing mentor. Great! Intention is set.

        What are you looking for in a mentor? If you could picture the perfect mentor for yourself, what skills would he or she have? What kind of person do you imagine him or her to be? Which aspects of your writing or authorship do you want to work on?

      2. Margit Sage

        I would like to have a writing mentor who has been published, so she can share her story of the querying and pitching process (and/or the self-publishing process if she has been sucessful with that route). I would like a mentor who can recommend which writing conferences are worthwhile and which are a waste of time and money. I would like a mentor who is willing to read at least some of my work and critique it, not only line by line, but overall for everything a short story or novel needs to have or be: character, plot, consistency, tension, etc. I want to feel comfortable talking to my mentor; I want them to make me feel at ease, like I can ask her any question I have. She can’t be intimidating. I want her to help me figure out what my best path is to success: should I try to publish short stories in magazines before I shop my novel around so I have some credentials to put in my query letters? Should I go for an MFA in writing (my degreees are both in engineering)? Should I just polish my novel the best I can and let the writing speak for itself? I want her to be the kind of person who coaxes me to ask creative questions, and who speeks her mind freely.

        Most of all I want to work on developing a routine for writing consistently. I seem to write in bursts of productivity, and I would rather write a little every day than too much infrequently. I would also like to work on my vocabulary. My husband criticizes my writing style as colloquial. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, necessarily, but I think that somtimes I have a tendency to overuse certain words, so I’m excited I just bought two huge thesauruses, because the online ones kind of suck. I recently went to a book club where Constance Hale was the speaker, and was truly inspired. Her book Sin and Syntax is awesome. I think I have a lot to learn there. I’ve dog-earred tons of pages. She’s coming out with a new edition this summer and I’m definitely going to get it too, so I can go over the material again with new examples to reinforce it. I guess what I’m getting at is, I think I could improve my grammar. I’m not sure if it’s worth the time and money of getting an MFA though. Not if my goal is to just write.

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