Cracking the Code with a Mentor

Planet Earth. Image courtesy of stock.xchng®Throughout my career, I’ve had the amazing privilege to be a mentor to several people, including aspiring writers and editors. Many of these relationships began with me in the role of editor. The editor-writer relationship can be many things: transactional, perfunctory, frustrating, beneficial and inspiring are just a few descriptions used.

One of my favorite yet-to-be-published novelists loves to entertain me with tales about her editor chasing her around a cabin as they argued over a short story. And she loves him for it.

When something magical occurs between an editor and a writer, it can develop into mentorship. When I left an in-house job, I was honored by the number of writers who described my approach to editing as mentorship. It is pure joy to work with people who love words, whether they are seasoned pros or beginners with sentences as wobbly as a toddler learning to walk.

What can take a relationship into the mentorship-sphere? Here’s how a few authors described it to me.

  • Developing trust. Sometimes creating trust is as easy an as editor providing a few “whys” behind the edits – without being asked. It helps to show that an editor is red-penning with the story’s best interest in mind.
  • Understanding what the writer wants to say. My favorite moment is when an author exclaims, “that’s exactly what I meant – but I couldn’t find the words.”
  • Extending a safety net. It can be talking something through a panicked reaction to edits. Or maybe it’s encouraging the scribe to “open a vein,” knowing that you’ll be there to keep the story from sliding off some curvy road.

Not every word doctor will be a mentor – sometimes you just need someone an objective perspective and a sharp red pencil.

How has a mentor helped you? If you’re a mentor, what do you recommend for these relationships?

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2 thoughts on “Cracking the Code with a Mentor

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Windy. You’re writing group sounds amazing. It’s so great when you have a collection of people willing to be honest and cheer you on!

  2. I have been working with the same critique group for over two years. They are my best short story and essay editors, always ready to highlight a “good writer moment,” but honest enough to pick out all those pesky “needs work” areas too. Studying with this team of cheerleaders/taskmasters has lead to seeing my work published over 50 times so far and given me the confidence to finish my first novel. Mentors matter!

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