Friday, January 27, 2012

Working with a Writing Mentor, Part 3: When Should You Trust Your Mentor?

The one person whose advice you should listen to absolutely without question is your mentor. Now, just by coincidence, I happen to be a mentor. Mentor is a word that comes from ancient Greek and means someone who has made endless mistakes over an entire lifetime. I’m joking, but it is true that over the course of decades in the arts, a mentor has made almost every possible error that a writer can make.
The reason this is good news for you, is that your mentor can perhaps prevent you from repeating some of those mistakes yourself.
In reality, the goddess Minerva in Homer’s Odyssey took the form of the character named Mentor to guide Telemachus in how to deal with those pesky suitors, who were hitting on his mom, Penelope.
Sometimes you don’t understand why your mentor is recommending certain changes in your work. Feel free to ask if you don’t see why your mentor is suggesting something. But at some point, if you are a creative writing student or a new writer, you sometimes have to take it on faith that your mentor is guiding you in the right direction. As the words of the spiritual go, We will understand it better, by and by.
That isn’t to say that you should follow your mentor without question. You should be particularly attentive to your mentor’s blind spots, and the places where your mentor’s aesthetic may not coincide with our own. Your mentor could be from an older generation. Things that make sense to your generation might seem odd to your mentor. Your mentor may be of a different background in terms of class, race, gender, sexuality, etc., and that might create areas of aesthetic disconnect.
That doesn’t mean your mentor’s advice is wrong, but it might mean that you have an area where your taste does not overlap. In those areas, just politely agree to disagree with your mentor’s opinions. But make sure you’re not doing that out of laziness about questioning your own assumptions or naiveté. 

Other recent posts about writing topics:
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka

1 comment:

  1. Funny you should write about his Zack. I decided that this semester of the MFA program, I'm in year 2, I would focus on revisions for final 2 submissions. And that I would work only on pieces I had already submitted to my mentor, Ernestine, and I would apply, w/rigor, her suggestions so that I could take full advantage of working with her this year. I had toyed w/the idea of revising yet other drafts from year 1, but realized that I wanted to incorporate (and struggle with) the guidance provided by her. Ultimately no one's gonna make or break me but me - but I may as well get all I can out of my teachers while I have them!
    Enjoying your blog.