December 12, 2017
By Art Holcomb
For a while now, I’ve been talking about the six pillars of education needed by all writers to succeed.
Pillar #1 was all about the need for high-quality craft educational information.
But the next pillar is something that most writers know in their hearts they need but never believe that will ever have a chance to get – a constant mentoring presence in their lives.
Now I can talk about all the things a mentor can offer: directions, support, and honest critique. But all those things become meaningless unless you can get the one thing that we all absolutely must have sometimes . . .
Answers to our questions – when we need them.
Let’s break that down . . .
ANSWERS: Your job is to CREATE. Let that concept settle in for a minute.
Writing is all about you taking your native talents and using them to make connections that are unique to you – and then presenting them to the world.
Your writing is unlike anything anyone else is doing.
Because of that, your journey as a writer is unique.
And there will be plenty of times when you hit a road block or become lost. It is at those moments when answers are the most important thing in the world to you.
Here are some of the questions I face regularly – even after forty years of writing:
- Why isn’t this working?
- How can I say this better?
- Am I reaching the reader?
- What am I really trying to say?
- What is the truth I’m seeking?
- What does my work say about human nature?
- What the Hell am I doing here?
And here’s where a good mentor can help you. They will know which questions to answer and which one to let you seek out for yourself.
. . . TO YOUR QUESTIONS: Now, in almost every case, your questions will not be my questions. Certainly in the beginning, we seek similar information; if this wasn’t true, there would be no reason for books, seminars, classes and even StoryFix to exist. But your journey is unique and therefore your questions will be unique. And perhaps, most importantly, it is vital that you really understand – truly understand – the answers you get. That is when a personal mentor is valuable – they can make sure you really get it before you move on.
. . . WHEN YOU NEED THEM: The right answer is no good to you if it comes too late. We all know that feeling when we are stalled and have no idea what comes next. A simple word, a brief explanation, the right direction at a critical moment, is all we need sometimes to get us on our way. The ability to ask that question and get the right answer when you need it can make all the difference in the world.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
In my writing life, I have had many writing mentors:
- My sixth grade teacher, Pat Hanzad, who first recognized my abilities and encouraged me to express myself on paper.
- Sal Orlando, my high school English teacher, who absolutely hated everything I wrote for him.
- David Gerrold (of Star Trek Tribble fame), my first real writing teacher, who first showed me what I could really accomplish.
- STAR TREK Showrunners Brannon Braga, Rene Echevarria and others at Paramount Pictures who trained me over the sixteen years I worked with them.
- And people like comic book legends Len Wein and Jim Shooter, and my great friend – the science fiction novelist Howard V. Hendrix – who were always there with guidance and support.
In each case, I had a personal relationship with the people who helped guide my career.
And that made all the difference.
Books and seminars can really help. Classes and conferences can be inspirations. But a personal relationship with a mentor means that you are never on this journey alone.
Through this relationship, you see that writing really is an apprenticeship rather than a long, lonely trek through a vast and endless desert.
HOW TO FIND A MENTOR
It may seem daunting, but mentors are out there waiting for you…
Use what you already have: Do you already know a writer who has had the kind of success you’d like to have? Is there someone in your circle who has the knowledge you seek? Take them out for coffee and ask whether you can pick their brain. Be respectful at all times, but the best writers know that we didn’t get here on our own – others helped us along the way.
We can never repay them for that kindness, but they might be more than happy to help you as a way of paying those people back.
Join a community: The more you mix with successful writers, the more opportunities you will find. Online Facebook groups can be a great way to meet other writers. Local critique groups, classes, conferences and other educational opportunities can give you a way to making personal connections and find great mentoring relationships.
The key thing is to always:
- Seek out writers who are more successful than you,
- Be respectful and professional when you approach them and
- Be honest and genuine.
Take a DIRECTED class or webinar: If you have a need to work on your dialogue skills, for example, find a class that focuses on that single issue and you will see your crafts skills multiply. But always be sure that you are concentrating on specific and targeted skills sets. A general class may be interesting, but one that is designed to meet a specific need will be much more helpful. Places like The Writer’s Store and others available online can get you started.
Hire a consulting mentor: There are hundreds of writing teachers like myself and Larry who work with developing writers to help move them to the next level of their careers. Sometimes all you need is a quick conversation for some much needed assistance or direction, or some concentrated time spent working on specific issues like dialogue, plot, emotional impact or career guidance. However your needs manifest themselves, there are people out there to help you. Larry’s information and services is listed on the site, and you can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about my seminar and consulting services.
And finally, drop us a comment here: Larry and I are always looking for ways to serve you better. If there is a topic that you’re interested in, or a question that we might answer, it could be of interest to other writers and could make for a good post on StoryFix. Feel free to send me an email with your idea and we can see what we can do!
NEXT TIME: We’ll talk about the third pillar of writing: The Short Feedback Loop.
Until then – Keep Writing!
In addition to Art’s contact information (above), you can learn more about his courses and consulting/mentoring programs on his website.
Also, you may recall Larry has offered an evolving series of affordable story analysis programs, with different focuses, in addition to his video training programs. The latest evolution will be announced next week, when Larry’s next post goes up.