Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Of Mentors and Muses

Of Mentors and Muses
By Joanne Rock

Hello, Trans Canada Romance Writers! I’m so glad to have a chance to visit today and many thanks to Darlene for the invitation. I read the sites “About Us” page with interest, hoping to get to know you a bit before I wrote a blog. This part of the group’s purpose jumped out at me, “to nurture emerging writers and to support established ones.” I knew right away what I wanted to chat with you about—a time-honored writing tradition that doesn’t get enough attention in our “how to” talks about the business or the craft. That it, the fine art of mentoring.

I was introduced to this idea as a struggling unpublished writer, hungry for knowledge in the days when online writing groups were oh-so-new and hard to come by. AOL had thirteen romance boards in 2000, and my efforts to be published predated this. Alone in the wilderness, full of questions, I was living about five hours away from my local romance writing chapter. I joined Outreach, an RWA chapter that connected writers in remote locations. They had a program called Networking By Mail, which paired up writers to work together. That was helpful, but I didn’t really find my stride until I moved closer to a chapter that had a program called Big Sister that paired me with a working writer who knew far more about the business than me. I had my first mentor! And while the experience was incredibly helpful and put me on a much faster trajectory to publication, it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve come to realize how fortunate I was and how much other writers would benefit from both ends of this relationship.

A writing mentor, in my mind, differs from a critique partner in that the relationship doesn’t have to involve reading chapters. It can, and may really enrich a mentor experience, but there is so much besides writing that an aspiring author can learn from a more seasoned veteran. Some of the questions new writers struggle with:
How will I know when my work is ready to submit?
Who do I submit to?
What should a submission package look like?
How can I grow my visibility and platform?
How can I connect with editors and agents in a professional manner?
Should I write a series?
Should I self publish?
Are writing conferences worth the expense?
How do I balance work and family life?
How do I deal with rejection? And more rejection? And, yes, even more rejection?

The needs of a new writer are complex and extend to arenas far beyond the actual craft of telling a great story—itself a huge undertaking. A good mentor can help steer a new writer into a more positive direction simply by lending her experience.

To a certain extent, this can all take place online now. The cyber romance world has extended well beyond the AOL boards of my early years, and there are a wealth of groups on a variety of platforms to help writers connect. Yet I’ve noticed that some more sensitive issues fail to be addressed since there are some bits of wisdom we might not want to commit to a paper trail. When I had a writing mentor sitting beside me at a conference, she could discreetly point out possible good connections for me—and possible connections to avoid. Would she have ever written me an email that said “don’t submit your manuscript to Agent X—she has a bad reputation.” Maybe. Maybe not. But I feel sure that there was a level of personal insights I received because we could be all the more frank in person. Today, maybe adding some phone calls into the mentoring experience would allow for that kind of “for your ears only” information we wouldn’t care to have repeated.

The benefits of having a mentor as a new writer are numerous and obvious. Only more recently have I begun to appreciate how much mentoring helps the more seasoned author as well. For one thing, it’s great to connect with the enthusiasm a new writer brings to the table. It’s only natural to lose some of that after spending time in the industry—it’s a hard business full of rejection. So having an opportunity to work with a writer who is still completely in love with the storytelling is an inspiration, calling us to remember what we love about this work. That alone makes it very worthwhile to offer your time and expertise.

The benefit doesn’t stop there, however. Being a mentor allows you to remember how far you’ve come, and to enjoy the view from how high you’ve climbed. Five years ago, you might have only wished, dreamed and hoped that you could be as accomplished in your career as you are today. So often, we are too focused on the next goal to fully appreciate all that we’ve already achieved. Mentoring gives you a chance to step away from your career and see it from the outside, remembering how much you’ve done. My friend calls this being “present to the moment.” This is another beautiful gift of the mentor relationship. My call to action today is to consider finding a mentor or being a mentor, depending on where you are in your career. Both ends are incredibly rewarding. For the new author, your Muse will be freed to sing without restraint when you aren’t exhausted by career worries. And for the veteran, your Muse will savor the small ego stroke of feeling like she knows something special to share and pass along to a friend. Happy Mentoring!

Writers, what were some of your biggest frustrations starting your first book? Were you plagued by self-doubt? Confounded by how to juggle the backstory? Stressed about whether or not you’d ever write something worthy of sharing? Share with me today on the blog and I’d love to send one random commenter a copy of my most recent Harlequin Superromance, Dances Under The Harvest Moon.

About Joanne
Joanne Rock is the author of over seventy romance novels. A native of upstate New York, she spends her summers ninety minutes from Montreal, a city she visits often for hockey games and—of all things—her favorite barbecue restaurant. Learn more about Joanne’s books, including her upcoming debut book in the Harlequin Desire series at http://joannerock.com

Her boss wants her in his office—and as his bride! 

Adelaide Thibodeaux grew up with Dempsey Reynaud, and she’s worked for him for years. But when the billionaire football coach springs a surprise engagement to keep her from resigning, it’s a low blow. Just as she’s ready to strike out on her own, she’s stuck in a fake relationship with her boss, biding her time… 

But soon Adelaide faces a second blow: she’s actually falling for the man! Can a relationship founded on a lie become the real deal? Or will they fumble before the end zone—and stay in the friend zone?



  1. Welcome to the cafe today, Joanne. It's a pleasure to have you here as our special guest!

    Thank you for explaining that a mentor differs from a critique partner and even a beta reader. Sometimes I get stuck with my writing and have questions about the publishing industry. Where do I turn for this help? I think finding a mentor may be the answer.

    1. And I think that some writers who might shy away from the time investment of critiquing will still embrace a mentoring relationship. I was so helped by my own mentors that I try to pay it back by mentoring often! Advice that is so basic-seeming to a veteran can be really ground breaking for a newer writer needing direction. It's a win-win!

  2. I belong to a online writing group and we have evolved more from a critique group to a mentoring group. Those of us with experience help the new ones that join and offer advice and support.
    As to being a "new" write and plagued with self-doubt - I'm an experienced writer and still have those moments.
    Upstate New York is not that far from where I live. Beautiful country.

    1. Agree that the angst never goes away! I'm telling myself that I'm super excited about my Desire debut, but a fair amount of that jittery excitement is nerves, pure and simple ;-). Anytime you show your work to a new editor, agent, audience, colleague, I think those old worries crop up again.

      I get to see some of the mountains of the Adirondack Park from my house and they never fail to impress!

  3. Wonderful post. Thank you for promoting writers helping writiers. I too had a mentor starting out. The things she taught me I use every day.

    1. The most significant mentor of my career was the same woman who paired me up with my critique partner. She said, "You need to work with her." She literally dragged us together to introduce us and said, go work! And it was such a good pairing... But then, she had been a high school English teacher so she probably knew a thing or two about how to get people to work in groups! ;-)

  4. There's so much writers need to know nowadays, not only about writing the book, but also about publishing and marketing it and I can only imagine how valuable it would be to have a mentor to help and guide you and answer your questions. And that's interesting to hear how much a younger writer can also help a more seasoned author, that's interesting, I never thought of that before, but I can now see how such a different perspective can be helpfull. Newer people in an area or business have a different perspective than the more seasones ones and I definitely think help can go both ways.

    Now I am not a writer, but I would've loved to have a mentor when I first started organizing blog tours. I did have the furtune of starting as a publicist for a small publishing company and while I got thrown into the deep end basically, I did learn a lot there and the other publicists did gave me some advice. I also learned from my mistakes and knew what to do and what not to once I started my own business. So it's been a valuable experience in that regard.
    It's such a competitive business as well and I don't think blog tour organizers really talk with each other or swap ideas or tips, but that would be beneficial and helpfull. I think it's great to see how with writers that seems to be case, they don't see the other as competition and it's awesome to see how authors can also help promote other auhtors their books and help eahc other out and share tips with each other. Great post Joanne!

    1. Thank you for stopping by the blog, Lola! We are lucky in the writing world that people tend to reach out to help those new to the business. I was floored the first time I want to a writing meeting and got to sit near famous, multi-published authors who asked about my writing and offered thoughts on submitting work. I floated along for months on that!! And I'm sure that there's a need for mentorship among many entrepreneurs as they get new businesses off the ground. It's one thing to have an idea. But to build it and send it out into the world is not easy!

  5. Lola R, you're our winner! Congratulations and if you contact me with a mailing addy at jrock008@gmail.com, I'll get Dances Under the Harvest Moon in the mail for you asap! Thank you so much to Darlene for having me!