Don’t go it alone: the importance of mentoring

Getting connected with writers who have gone through the same writing blocks as you is an invaluable thing, and an excellent resource to have under your belt.

I recently did an interview with the CEO of Express Media, Joe Toohey, which became the basis of a recently published article on artsHub – So you want to be a writer?

Among the most interesting things that came out of talking to Joe was the importance he placed on mentoring as a way for young writers to truly get better at their craft.

“I think mentoring is absolutely a really important thing, not just for writing but in any art form,” Joe says. “If you’re constantly talking to people and saying ‘How do you approach this?’ and ‘This is a problem I’ve got, have you ever had that problem?’, more often than not, you’ll find that someone will say, ‘Yeah, you know what, that exact same thing happened to me and this is how I dealt with it.’ I think that this sort of discussion and feedback is invaluable.”

This got me thinking as to how young writers can go about finding a mentor to help them through this tricky writing business, and what makes a great mentoring relationship.

In 2007, renowned author Christos Tsiolkas (The Slap) was paired up with emerging young writer Jim Thomson. In an interview with the ABC, Tsiolkas shared the approach he took to mentoring Thomson.

“My aim was to get Jim as confident as he could to actually get the narrative down, to get the structure down in regards to the novel. I remember the work on the first chapter and we could have spent weeks or months on that chapter, but my sense was there were other things that I think Jim needed to do in terms of getting the novel done, and I knew that an editor would be working with him on some of the questions that I had in the back of my head and that this wasn’t the place for them,” he said.

Thomson also shared how his work benefitted from the expertise that Tsiolkas was able to provide him with.

“I guess through the mentorship it was really a sense of validation, that there was substance to what I was working on, and that along with many other factors has made me really think about this is how I want to spend the next few years, really trying to focus on getting this book out there and having it be the best it can possibly be,” he said.

So where exactly does a young writer find someone to help them through writers block and the like?

Robin Williams mentors Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting”

One of the greatest places for young writers (or artists of any kind) to find a mentor is to apply for the JUMP National Mentorship Program for Young and Emerging Artists which connects young writers aged 18-30 with an established writer. Writers Victoria also provides mentoring services, with the next round opening on September 3rd.

But it is still possible to find a mentor without engaging in a specific program.
By connecting with your local writers centre, joining a book club or bugging your university, TAFE or even short course writing teacher you should be able to find
a person– or, as Joe recommended, persons – to hurl those difficult questions at.


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