(Crossposted from Silk And Shadows)
In Ye Olde Days, a young boy destined to become a blacksmith would be set to the bellows, standing beside the grizzled smith, sweating and watching and learning. Eventually, under his master’s critical eye, the apprentice would be allowed to make repairs, and then the simplest of spoons or plates. After years of training, the master observing proudly, the journeyman would take his shot at creating Excalibur or the sword for the six-fingered man. And finally, the new master blacksmith would fire up his own forge.
Yeah, I never found one of those mentors either.
I hear mentors still exist. But I think they all live on a misty mountain somewhere, snapping at flies with chopsticks. (Probably because they don’t appreciate being called grizzled.) So in the end I found it easier to manufacture my own mentor, Frankenstein style, from a few disparate pieces.
The first task of a mentor, I think, is to teach. Once I found Romance Writers of America and joined my local chapter, I had access to all the classes, workshops, conferences, databases, and listservs that an apprentice could wish for. Plus a few. Learning is a lifelong challenge, and I expect I’ll never get enough of checklists and spreadsheets since they make such excellent tinder for my habit of burning down bridges in chapter 7.
Next, I found like-minded spirits to cheer and commiserate and compel as needed. My critique group, of course, has an intimate understanding of the writing process. But I also have friends – musicians, painters and filmmakers — who believe the creative call is every bit as legitimate as ”real” life. Their triumphs and tragedies provide a welcome counterpoint to my own.
Last, there are the stories that form the path itself. Some of the authors I consider guides, I’ve never met. Might never meet, if they’ve passed the grizzled stage and gone to the grave. Still, their works provide a way through the wilderness. Wherever I’ve stepped off that path for my own nefarious purposes, still I know there are others out here, carving away, pen as machete.
All of those pieces come together in my own story, which has been my first mentor, and my last and always. As tough and inscrutable as any ancient blacksmith, it blackened my eye occasionally (no doubt I deserved it) and ultimately gave me my own weapon in the aforementioned wilderness.
One of these days — if my book hasn’t led me astray — I’ll hack my way up that misty mentor mountain and we’ll all have a drink.