We Are Each Others Mentors

I was at a reading by Bonnie Jo Campbell and a group of us writers were talking about poetry versus short stories versus novels and writers asking each other to provide feedback on their work. Campbell said that from her understanding, fiction writers cannot have mentors. Her logic is that there are only so many times you can ask someone to read a draft of a twenty page story, let alone at 500 page novel manuscript.

This I understand. But I disagree that fiction writers cannot have mentors. For me, there are two types of mentors: the type you study under physically and who provide you with feedback, and the type you choose for yourself by reading and studying their work on your own. In this way, mentors do not need to read (or critique) your work for you to learn from them.

abcd1Sarah Monette  (aka Katherine Addison) is my favorite author and she is my mentor. Whenever I reread her Doctrine of Labyrinths  series, I study her mastery of first person narration. I study her subversions of fantasy tropes, her ability to keep even the most beaten down characters active and pulling themselves from victimhood.

When reading Monette’s collection of fantasy short stories Somewhere Beneath Those Waves, I am again her mentee. From her short fiction I study her flash pieces to tell a tight and developed story. I study her balance of plot and character to keep a narrative moving. I study and take notes on her craft of suspense, her characterizing details. I study under her and she is my mentor, though we have yet to meet.

I understand that being self-taught from your own reading list does not equate to in person interactions and receiving feedback on your work from writers you trust. Their feedback and time is invaluable. But for those of us currently without those resources, I find that all writers can be each others mentors. We can all learn from each other, no matter whether the work we’re reading has won a Nebula or is an author’s debut publication. We can all be each others mentors.

Take a look at your reading list. Whose writing can you learn from today?

0 thoughts

  1. Sarah Monette is a brilliant writer and the DoL novels are among my favorites in my entire library! Every time I need a little nudge in my own writing, I can open up one of those books to any page and be drawn into her lyrical prose. Everything I write is a little more beautiful after just a short immersion in her world!

  2. I completely agree that the writers we read can be our mentors. I’ve found more and more lately that as I read for pleasure I notice what I am like about the story I’m reading and what I don’t. In the back of my mind I’ve had moments where I’ve thought “oh I like that. I need to remember how they did that.” or “uh, I don’t like this at all. I have to remember not to do that.” I think both sides are helpful. You can learn from the authors you admire but you should also learn from the authors that you don’t.

    As for Sarah Monette, she is easily at the top of my list too. I am always amazed by her writing. Everything she does is beautiful even when terrible things are happening to her characters or when she’s scaring the daylight out of me.

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