In February of this year, I sent the following message out to my family, friends, and the writing peeps in my life:
CREATIVE WRITING MENTORING
A mentor is one who provides advice and support, watches over, and fosters progress.
As your creative writing mentor, I commit to providing expert advice and gentle support as we strengthen your creative writing skills through the creative process and application of this process in your life via one or more of the following:
- Provide specific advice and guidance for your writing
- Help find, create and promote your creative writing process
- Help find, create and promote your unique writing ‘voice’
- Help find, create and support your daily writing goals through creative scheduling
- Offer writing exercises to inspire and support your writing skills
- Offer insight and information regarding publishing (contests, submissions, companies, etc.)
- Offer editing and story structure support
- LOVE. LOTS OF LOVE.
I’d like to talk about the utter importance of having mentors in your writing life. Here’s the truth: I could not be the writer I am without the guidance, support, honesty and love of the mentors in my writing life.
What is a writing mentor? For me, a mentor is someone who fulfills any or all or some of the above. I know it sounds a bit…er, professional or serious…but mentoring is a serious gig. I added the ‘LOVE. LOTS OF LOVE’ bit for this blog. 🙂 (Don’t want to scare anyone away. Love needs to build itself sometimes, you know?)
I have mentors in my life outside of those specific to ‘writing’, but for the sake of this blog, I’ll be writing about the writing mentors in my life.
I’ve heard many stories of ‘the great English teacher’ who helped a writer out of her shell or who opened up the world of amazing books and incredible storytelling.
I’ve got several of those. I wrote about one of them before, Mr. Whittal. He was my grade ten English teacher – and he was totally awesome. To this day, I attribute my ability to ‘look outside’ my comfort zone for story ideas and different writing styles to him. Heck, he told me about Mitch Albom. Without Mr. Whittal, maybe I would have never known who Mitch was…or at least not in the capacity that I know him now. I know ‘Tuesday’s With Morrie’ would have found its way into my life, but I’m not sure Mitch’s sports writing would have. In any case, Mr. Whittal is a tall, gentle giant with a heart made of glorious words and joyful life. To this day, we communicate. It’s always cool to have teachers stay in your life. Relating to them over the years is always interesting and fun. Especially when they tell you to call them by their ‘first’ names.
Another teacher from high school who affected my writing world was Mr. Dunn. He taught me Writer’s Craft, and he let me write a poem for my final exam. Boy, was that ever amazing! The title of the poem was ‘Metaphor Whore’. I still have it. He was a drama teacher as well so our writing classes were always very layered. And dramatic. And awesome. I can remember one afternoon I was in total breakdown – exhausted, over-booked, over-worked…(yeah, I was in high school – not much has changed!), and he sat down beside me in the drama room, and just let me cry. He told me that it was okay for me to say ‘no’. I still struggle with this, but he was one of the first to tell me it was okay to take a break. He also would say things like: Vacuums suck – when we’d say ‘that sucks!’…and ‘things aren’t boring – people are’ – or something to that affect. He was great.
Still another teacher, Fr. Q, was truly a ‘father’ in my life. He taught Biology in the classroom – and passion and love and compassion in every other aspect of my life. I did well in Biology only because I loved him so much. Plus, he took me on my first ‘Q’ trip. A portaging trip in Algonquin National Park that he organized. He led these trips for years and years. To generations of students. Ask anyone who went to Assumption High School pre 1998-ish, and they’ll know about Fr. Q and his Q trips. Man, did that ever rock my world. I carried my first canoe (by myself, thank you very much) while on a Q trip. These trips were spiritual and invigorating and inspirational – and I wrote my little heart out at every rest and camp site. He was my confidante and soul-caretaker – which meant he always knew what I was writing. Especially with my poetry. We talked a lot about writing and poetry and nature and life and love. I couldn’t have done high school without him. He and I still write to each other as well. One of my favorite poems that I’ve ever written is dedicated to him: My Own Canoe, it’s called.
There’s Mitch Albom, as I’ve mentioned several times, who way back when I was a wee teenager, read my work and shared his critiques. I’ve read all his books, listened to his radio show. I write him a letter every Christmas. I go to every book signing if it’s here in town. And, most recently, he’s commented on my blog, returned my phone calls, and I know that in the not-too-distant future, we’ll finally get together for a bevvy and a chat about writing. How has Mitch been a mentor in my life? Well, his dedication to his community, his amazing writing style, the fact that his career has spanned genres and mediums over time is proof that it is truly is possible to be a writer – and use that career to help the world. Literally. His actions speak as loud as his words, and that’s pretty darn extraordinary.
Whether a mentor sees you often, is not as important as his impact on your life. Especially because life brings many changes. Changes that include moving, graduating, getting married, having children…Like a best friend, your mentor is always with you in spirit, guidance and heart – even if they physically can’t be with you. This thing called ‘the mail’ – be it snail or ‘e’ – allows for constant communication and sharing of work.
Jane Christmas, memoirist and mother extraordinaire, has had an incredible impact on my writing life. I met Jane when I was the Arts Editor at The Lance Student Newspaper. I interviewed her when her first book, The Pelee Project was published. She was in Windsor for her book tour (I believe) and we managed to set up an interview in a hotel room. She was the first author I interviewed. That was over ten years ago (at least!). There was something magical about Jane that captured my heart. We made a connnection that day, and it was the beginning of a long relationship that still exists today. She writes memoirs that I love. Her writing teaches me. She teaches me – quite literally. I organized a writing retreat on Pelee Island and I invited her to participate as the guest writer – and she said yes! We gathered novice, emerging and pro writers together for a weekend of writing bliss. Jane’s set everyone’s writing fires ablaze. Thank you, Jane! My first published book is a memoir. Jane held my shaking hand and weary mind throughout the process. I couldn’t have done it without her.
Poets Mary Ann Mulhern, Penny-Anne Beaudoin, Terry-Ann Carter and Marilyn Gear-Pilling are mentors to this day. These are incredible women writing about incredible things – and writing with dignity, integrity, passion and honesty. They teach me to write through it all. We do readings together. We attend writing salon together. We exchange poetry and prose over email. We are part of each other’s writing lives, and we’re blessed to be able to do it frequently in the same city.
Mentors pull you out of the muck. In fact, this is what Penny-Anne sent me when I was in the muckity-muck after finding out I did not place in a writing contest:
I mean, sometimes I kick myself for ever getting ‘down’ on my writing life. Look at who surrounds me. Angels.
My editors Anne Marie, Janine, Greg, and Jess. Sigh. All mentors in their ability to find the pure and grammatically correct in my words. Danica, my best friend, who all these years has been under my nose, sticking her nose in book after book, has arrived with pen-in-hand and editorial prowess sticking her nose into my book…what an amazing gift.
Of course, many of us have been mentored by Marty Gervais. Publisher of Black Moss Press. Teacher. Photographer. Poet. Historian. Poet Laureate of Windsor…the list goes on and on (literally). I met Marty when I was in high school for the first time, but it wasn’t until I was in university that we became friends. It was to Marty that I firsts declared out loud: I am a writer! Black Moss Press and the Editing and Publishing Practicum at the University of Windsor, published my book, ‘Laughing Through A Second Pregnancy’. I had the honour of going to France with Marty for a writing retreat that he organizes. We’ve done readings and workshops together. I’ve been in his creative writing classes. He sets the ‘mentor’ bar as high as it’ll go, and he exists there for all the writers he mentors. I am grateful and honoured to call him a mentor, and most importantly, a friend.
There is a hero in my life. His name is Christopher. He’s my best friend, and he happens to be a phenomenal writer too. A playright. A screenwriter. A novelist. (I’ve actually stopped writing at this point to think about how I can describe him and our writing relationship…) He is to my writing what love is to my life. We ‘feel’ and ‘experience’ the written word from the same place in our souls. He understands me just by looking at me. He can reach into my words and point out the things I need to work on, leave in, shift around, or take out. At the end of a completely uplifting, reality-checking message he sent me, he wrote this:
He gets me. All of the ‘me’s that I am – and all of them bundled up into the writer that I sometimes forget…or fear….or shun….The writer that I am.
You’ll notice that I’ve said ‘I couldn’t have done it without him/her’ throughout this blog. Writers need each other. We need to mentor each other. To teach and guide and support and soothe each other as we learn to do our ‘art’ the best that we can do it. I simply can’t do it without these amazing writers in my life.
Does a mentor have to be ‘living’ to be a mentor? No. I’m sure we’ve all read a book or story that moved our spirits and hearts so profoundly that the words and their meanings, the stories and the characters, fit into us like a puzzle piece, and stayed attached. When that happens, transcendance happens. The writing is the mentor. In this regard, I owe much of my writing passion and skills to Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg.
But golly, if that writer is alive and you somehow manage to be a part of his or her life. That you dare to write that letter, to send that message, to make that call, to go to that signing, to take that class, to join that writing group, to go to that reading – and you speak to or communicate with the person who wrote the words or said the words that affected you on a core level. And by a series of small miracles or maybe just one giant one, you have a long, genuine, heartfelt, honest writing relationship with this person – and he becomes a mentor to you – and you to him. It happens. It happens over and over.
Artists stick together because we speak the universal language of love and creativity. We’re foreigners in some circles if we are alone. Mentors translate. They guide. They welcome and show us around. Then we learn the language, and we become mentors ourselves.
Who is your writing mentor? (And thank you for reading to the end!)
(First person to comment about his/her writing mentor wins a copy of ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg.)