Turn Your Favourite Writer into Your Writing Mentor
Anyone with an aspiration needs a mentor. This is especially true for writers. A writing mentor can provide you with practical advice, encouragement, and offer unique insights that come from years of experience.
But did you know that you can make a writing mentor out of someone you’ve never met (and maybe never will)? You can even acquire them by the dozen, or simply as you need them. All that’s required is an eye for work that speaks to you, and a willingness to get lost in that writer’s voice and the world they create.
One of my personal favourite writing mentors is Barbara Kingsolver. The Poisonwood Bible (1998) stands out in my mind for blowing me away with amazing storytelling, depth and complexity. It was her 2009 book, The Lacuna, however, that made me want to write. I wanted to write a book JUST LIKE THAT.
I can’t say I'm there yet but, when I'm stuck or losing faith in myself, I pay Kingsolver’s website a visit. Reading about her writing process reminds me that getting there is going to require serious persistence. Like many writers, Kingsolver claims to dislike advice, but she loves talking about her writing process. This makes learning about writing, from writers, as straightforward as a Google search.
Here are a few other tips for making the most of your writing mentors:
- Once you’ve found a book that sets the bar for your own writing aspirations, study it. Ask yourself what it is about that book you would like to emulate, and then start asking yourself how the author did it. So many of the questions will be answered in the work itself, as well as the introduction/prologue, afterword, author interviews, and so on.
- Check out the author’s other works. This will help you to track his or her growth and progression as a writer. This, alongside reading about the author’s career, will likely offer a sense of reassurance about what it takes to write a great book. Occasionally, an author will whip off a best seller on their first go, but most write plenty of work that flops before they write work that flies.
- Copy whole sentences and paragraphs, over and over. This might sound like a form of punishment, but seriously try it: every day when you sit down to write, grab a pen and paper and your favourite book and copy out your favourite passages. New words and new rhythms will seep into your writing, unconsciously. You need to try this…
- Learn about your mentor’s writing routine and see if there is any aspect of that routine that might work for you. Tom Wolfe, apparently, dressed up in a three-piece suit every morning before sitting down to write, and set himself a 10 page (triple-spaced) daily minimum. If he finished in three hours, he had the rest of the day off. If not, he was stuck at his desk for as long as it took. I wonder if the suit helped?
If you don’t have a mentor that immediately comes to mind, get reading! When you find your mentor, set an imaginary date to meet with him or her each week. Reading, YouTube videos, listening to interviews, and copying are all part of the fun. Your mentor and her (or his) books are always there when you need them, so take advantage of having a set of shoulders to stand on.
Meribeth Deen is a writer, coach and makes up half of the Writer's Compass. She passionately believes in the power of writing and storytelling, and loves helping emerging writers find their voice and deliver it to the world.