The Truth About Mentors in Books and Real-Life

As writers, I think we can all agree that mentors are pretty important, whether we’re referring to the character role or real people impacting our careers as aspiring authors. Mentors serve to guide our heroes and ourselves, and whether the problem is helping us rise up to face a villain or finish a manuscript makes their role no less important.
So today, let’s talk about mentors, and the misconceptions we young writers often have about them.

First, I’m going to talk about fictional mentors. These are the characters in your stories that are there to guide your protagonist, to provide an image from which they can learn the truth about the “Lie” that they believe. They support them when they fall down but they also make sure they get back up. They’re your Obi-Wan and Gandalf, and they play an important role in any story.

But we often get a very stereotypical image set in our minds when we think of mentors, and considering that most writers try to avoid stereotypes, we don’t like that.

Trust me, guys, mentors do not need to be old men who hide weapons in their robes and the stash the secrets of the universe in their beards.

Sometimes that is what your mentor needs to look like, and that’s how your story goes. However, more often than not, your mentor looks nothing like that.

Your mentor honestly doesn’t even need to be one character. It’s easier if you only have one, and I would recommend having one main mentor, but in many cases reflections of your character’s Truth can be found in more than one character, as is the case in real life.

My protagonist’s mentor is mostly found in her eighteen-year-old leader, who has little age or experience to offer outside of the wisdom she has found in her own mistakes and struggles. She’s not an all-knowing elder that knows all the answers. She’s still growing herself, but she’s got a Truth that answers my MC’s Lie, and she is ready to share that.

That’s what’s important. Your mentor doesn’t need to have all the answers. They just need the one that your main character is seeking.

If you dig around in your favorite books, I’m sure you’ll see more than a few mentors like that as well. Unexpected mentors are all the more enjoyable to read about, because they’re a lot more relatable. They’re not the most qualified person or even a good person to be following the example of, but they’re doing their best. That’s all anyone could ask for.

So, now that we’ve discussed fictional mentors, let’s talk about real-life mentors. Writing mentors. Those very important but seemingly unapproachable people, which we all want but have no idea how to get.
Our issue is pretty similar to that of our fictional mentors – we have the wrong picture in our heads. Just like how we view fictional mentors as having to be old and full of wisdom and knowledge, we feel like writing mentors need to be experienced authors who have published dozens of books, have made a name for themselves, and have writing down to an exact science.
As you can probably guess, this is not the case.

Writing mentors don’t have to meet specific qualifications. All they need is to be a step ahead of you in their writing career. Find a writer that is ahead of you, whether that means they’re finishing up their first manuscript, working on a publication deal, or starting on their next book.

The point of a writing mentor is not to have someone hold your hand and drag you through the trenches of writing. The point of having a mentor is to have someone to encourage you, keep you accountable, give you some real and honest feedback, and give you some tips along the way.

Anyone who is slightly more experienced in writing can do that for you, which is why that’s all you need in a mentor.

Besides, it’s a lot easier to approach someone closer to your level than it is to go up to a well-known published author. It’s a lot less stressful, too. You’d be amazed at how many potential mentors you can find if you start looking.

So, to recap: fictional mentors don’t have to be bearded old men, and real-life mentors don’t have to be best-selling authors.

Now the only thing you need to do is get looking – unlike fictional mentors, real-life ones probably won't just show up. 

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