Since we are almost upon Valentines’ Day, I decided to write about love. But, not romantic love. Today, I think about that love important to us writers and others trying to achieve a dream—love from—and for—a mentor.
Since relaunching Mentor Monday here on my blog, I have been thinking a lot about mentors. I’ve found myself thinking about what makes them the driving force that they become. After some thought, I got it. I suppose it’s obvious, but I’ll spell it out anyway. (Writers like to do that.)
Mentors have the knowledge of a particular subject matter and the willingness to impart it to us. They are passionate about their area of expertise. But, as writers for example, we meet a lot of people that fit this description. So, what sets a mentor aside from a teacher?
It’s that they care. They care a lot. Yes, they care about their content area, but what sets a mentor aside from an instructor is that they care about you. They care far more about the person than they do about the student.
And, as the one being mentored, we feel that in our cells and it drives us to work harder, I think. It did with me anyway. The child in me wanted to please, to impress, to have my mentor be…well, proud of me. Even though I was grown and teaching third grade at the time.
I’m embarrassed to admit that, because it feels childish, but that’s what it was. I wanted to see that “ya done good, kid” look in her eyes. I never figured I’d get published; I just wanted to impress her. But, the other, crucial side of it, though, was that even if I had tried and failed, she still…
…she still would have been proud of me. And you know what? That’s the real key, because knowing that—that I had nothing to lose by pushing myself, taking chances, trying to achieve the difficult task of becoming published. Well, knowing that the outcome didn’t matter set me free to put myself out there with no worries. There are so few times that you can put so much on the line and yet have nothing to lose. Yet, this was one of those times.
She is not a writer, yet she is my writing mentor. Why? Because she introduced me to myself by being my mentor on life and teaching and children. On raising a family and having a happy marriage. On taking care of myself and focusing on what’s important. Where as I had been bobbing around looking for direction, I had become tethered to someone I knew would not let go.
In the beginning, I used to write stories and show them to her. She told me they were wonderful even when I knew they weren’t. But, that was okay. Eventually, I would seek out a critique group to deliver the bad news. Those stories eventually came around to chapters about a young girl who lands in a foster home with a foster mother who is willing to impart life lessons–but also cares about a kid that can be a real pain sometimes. And how transformative that is.
My real mentor’s initials are J.M., so I named the foster mother in my debut, One for the Murphys, Julie Murphy. The scenes were emotionally honest. There were no filters in writing them—after all, no one else would ever read them anyway. Right?
Some day, when I manage to post my “Dear Teen Me” essay that’s been sitting on my computer, you’ll be able to see (if you care to) the before and after in me. Until then, you’ll have to trust me. That this “Mrs. Murphy” broke through a layer that no one had before. She reached inside and I felt a parent’s love. And, published author or not, changed who I am and who I’ll remain.