Making it To the Top

Not long after I moved to Colorado, I hiked my first "fourteener," a 14,000 foot mountain. Well, the truth is, I hiked my first AND LAST fourteener. I haven't done it again. (That's me at the top proudly holding up a piece of notebook paper that says, "Mount Quandry 14,028.") My hiking companion was in much better shape than I, and could easily have summited long before me. For the last quarter mile, straight up through the rocks and shale, he pretty much pushed me up that peak. He wasn't about to let me stop so close to the top. It was his idea to go on this trip, he was sure I could do it. I didn't share his confidence. But when that final step over the last piece of rock came, and I was there at the summit, he got out of the way. It was just me. On top of the world. I did it.

In my mind, finding the right writing mentor is very similar. Shirley Peddy, Ph.D. author of "The Art of Mentoring," suggests three steps a mentor should do to help the mentee: they should lead, follow and get out of the way. I suppose it's possible to find one person to accomplish all this, maybe a Super Mentor, but I have been more successful at finding different people to specialize in these roles.

The Mentor who LEADS- This person believes you can do things that seem almost impossible to you at this point in your writing career. I've been lucky to have incredible teachers and successful authors who led me in my writing journey to places I never dreamed I would go. Usually, they are way out ahead, in much "better shape," but they have a vision of what's ahead, based on their experiences and expertise, I can't yet see.

The Mentor who FOLLOWS-. This mentor is pushy. I think of her like a writing personal trainer. She encourages, challenges, and doesn't take no for an answer. This mentor helps you do it on your own, but with a very "hands-on" approach. A good friend, who serves in this role, was constantly asking me, in almost weekly phone conversations, "Why aren't you writing? You can't just QUIT." It worked. Maybe I respond well to guilt, but, hey, whatever works, right?

The Mentor who GETS OUT OF THE WAY- This person, when asked, gives focused advice and counsel. He is, of course, knowledgable and experienced, and is an important resource when you need specific information or assistance. This mentoring relationship is one that encourages independence because, after all, we ultimately have to accomplish our own writing goals. No matter how fantastic the mentor, no one can do it for you.

I would add one more.

The Mentor who THROWS A LINE OUT BEHIND TO PULL SOMEONE UP-Maybe this mentor is you. Children's writers are a giving, caring group. I have experienced wonderful kindnesses from mentors in all of the above roles. With it, however, comes the responsibility to share. To pass it on. Sometimes it feels a bit awkward for a newcomer to ask for mentoring. It feels like when you sent that note in second grade that read, "Do you want to be my friend? Circle yes or no." For this reason, I encourage you to look for those who might need YOU to lead, push, or get out of the way. As a teacher, I know you learn something even better after you teach it. So while mentoring is certainly a way to give back to others in the journey, it's also a fantastic learning experience.

Climbing a mountain is hard.

Writing a book is even harder.

Don't do it alone.

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