Finding a Mentor By Susan Johnston

I used to pooh-pooh the idea of a writing mentor. I figured I was doing well enough on my own, and I wanted to be published based on my own merits. Plus, why would an established writer want to spend time with someone who’d only published a handful of articles in magazines most people haven’t heard of?

I was totally wrong. I met my future mentor, Rachel, at a brunch where she was the keynote speaker, and we clicked immediately. Our first meeting was a four power-mile walk, during which we discussed our boyfriends, favorite authors, and, of course, the business of getting published. We were on such a roll that I skipped the turn for my apartment and walked halfway to hers just so she could finish her story about an editor. We lived in the same neighborhood, and she asked if I’d ever written for the town’s glossy magazine.

“I want to,” I said, “but I just haven’t come up with any great ideas.”

“Easy,” she answered, “I have a new book coming out, so you can write about me.”

I pitched it the magazine, but they weren’t interested, so I went to their competitor. The other magazine snatched up the idea and even included photos and web addresses for both of us. Fast forward a few months, and I got a voicemail from the editor at the original magazine I’d pitched. “I have a story for you,” she said. “Call me back.”

I did and it resulted in two assignments in two months. Meanwhile, Rachel and I agreed to meet on Sunday evenings to track our progress and brainstorm for story ideas. She had been focusing on a screenplay and her second novel, but decided she wanted to write more nonfiction pieces. I had been published on several websites and in a few magazines, but wanted to break into more national media markets.

Our knowledge and skill sets complemented each other nicely: she’d been published in several national magazines but needed a jolt of inspiration while I had the enthusiasm, but needed a little more direction. Together, we came up with dozens of ideas and offered support via email and in person. We’d chat over dinner at her house, where I’d tell her about my job and my friends. She’d tell me about her son and family, both of us pausing frequently to scribble down ideas. Her support has elevated my writing and boosted my confidence, all because I went to talk to her after brunch one day.

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