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The Magic of Memoir Mentors
Text of video:
Hi, I’m Kathy Pooler. Welcome to Memoir Writer’s Journey. In honor of my third blogiversary I would like discuss the importance of having mentors while writing a memoir and to pay tribute to three people who have guided me in the process of writing my memoir -Linda Joy Myers, Jerry Waxler and Sharon Lippincott.
I am very pleased to welcome my three “kickstarter” mentors here today to discuss what it means to be a mentor and why it is so important for anyone writing a memoir to have mentors. They are all authors, memoir coaches and board members for The National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW).
Linda Joy Myers, PhD is President of the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW), a practicing psychotherapist,author of two books, and a memoir coach. I took an ongoing writing-as-healing workshop from her from 2009-2012.
Jerry Waxler, M.S is a speaker, therapist, teacher and author and co-founder and host of the Yahoo Life Writer’s Forum. I have taken two memoir writing workshops from him: Turning Memories into Story and The Hero’s Journey
I’d like to say a few words about how memoir mentors have helped me:
Writing can be a very lonely process and writing about one’s life can be fraught with challenges and obstacles, requiring courage, discipline, and patience .
I needed knowledgeable people whom I could trust with my story to teach me the ropes and support me when I stumbled.
By definition a mentor is a trusted counselor who is experienced and can offer guidance to help you develop.
Respect, trust, openness to learning are important elements for getting the most from a mentor.
I looked for the 3 C’s: Credibility, Compassion and Constructive Feedback.
My mentors gave me:
* The basics of the craft of writing through teaching- the hero’s journey framework, turning points, the tree of life exercise.
* A safe environment where I could explore my memories.
* Support in the form of a non-judgmental , listening ear when I dredged up painful areas.
* Honest and constructive feedback on the mechanics of my writing as well as on the effectiveness of the story-often pushing me beyond what I thought I could do.
Eventually we all become mentors for one another but initially I needed and found three mentors who helped me get started on my memoir writer’s journey.
My mentors have given me roots by giving me the basics and they have given me wings to apply what I’ve learned and to fly on my own. They have helped me believe in myself and connect with my dreams.
The main advantage of the mentor-mentee relationship is that the bonds of trust, mutual respect and friendship formed initially can develop into an ongoing meaningful connection- like a gift that keeps giving. I follow all my mentors on Facebook, Twitter, through their blogs and on NAMW events:
What are the essential traits of a memoir mentor, including what you look for in your own mentors?
In my opinion memoir mentoring requires the same basic skill set as any other mentoring, plus a couple unique to the niche. First a disclaimer: whether we’re talking about writing memoir or anything else, my mentors have all been people I already knew or worked with, not people I sought out or people in formal mentor roles. So for me, relationship has been key. Of those people I consider mentors, all have challenged me to rethink my beliefs and limitations, to think outside the box. Some were highly skilled and welcomed my questions, then provided guidance tailored to my situation. Others have lacked technical knowledge about the specific challenge I was facing, but they were good at listening and finding the key issues.
So to summarize, key points for me are a strong relationship, the ability to identify key issues in a muddle of confusion, and the ability to inspire me to stretch and try new things. Also, a healthy sense of humor and detachment from specific outcomes.
By the way, I’m a strongly self-directed learner, and I’ve had a lot of mentors I never met who live between the covers of a book, or I’ve heard them speak. They inspired me by words and example alone.
Getting down to the specifics of memoir mentoring, in addition to strong writing skills, a deliberately chosen mentor should have be able to give guidance in decisions about what to include, how to discern and articulate “Your Truth”, how to work around the sticky issues of offending others or invading their privacy, and similar concerns unique to writing memoir. You may also want someone who can tell when you are evading or unaware of issues and help you work through that. The writing itself is not significantly different from fiction or other creative nonfiction.
Jerry: What kinds of needs are prevalent for those people who are just starting out writing their memoir?
That’s a great question, Kathy. All stories start with needs, and I think of memoir writers as the heroes of their own stories.
Desire: The first thing you need is the desire to tell your story. I think it’s really valuable to get in touch with that desire because it will provide the fuel to pull you toward your goal.
Courage: You will need plenty of courage in order to face the fear and self-doubts about writing. It also requires courage to face memories, even when they are not pleasant.
Artistic ambition: It helps to have a fascination with the artistry of storytelling, including an interest in turning your life experience into something attractive and compelling. This includes a willingness to learn skills.
Curiosity: You need to be really curious about your life, about the forces that influenced you, about the sequences that led from one thing to another, about the human drama in which you participated. And as you write, one thing leads to another, and your curiosity takes you in directions you might not have considered when you started.
I believe all these qualities are important, and the absolutely most fascinating thing about memoir writing is that as you press forward to achieve your memoir writing goals, all these qualities keep growing.
Linda Joy: What is important for people to know about writing a memoir and finding the right mentor?
Our passion as mentors is to deliver information to memoir writers that we feel they need to know, to share our knowledge, and to offer support to developing writers. But the most important thing is that when the student is ready, they will realize they need help from a mentor or teacher. The impetus to keep learning and growing needs to come from the writer who wants to learn more and invest time, money, and effort in their writing life. That’s how we grow into authors.
How can you know when it’s a good time to find mentors? As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. The thing is—when we are writing a memoir, we’re learning new things on so many levels. There’s the use of language, learning the tools of story writing, finding out what makes good writing work, discovering our memories and the meaning they have for us, dealing with the inner and outer critics that can slow us down, and learning about structure—to name a few. I think most people who take writing seriously realize they need help to learn and practice these skills. In many trades, one becomes an apprentice. Learning to write is an apprenticeship, and we need to find mentor(s) who will help us grow and develop, and guide us to the learning that we need.
What to look for in a mentor. You need to feel comfortable, yet pushed. If someone just praises everything, they are being too soft on you. You need a balance between praise and support and a useful teaching critique that will pressure you to try harder and keep learning more. It’s normal to both be excited and deflated when learning new skills, so know that your mindset will shift and there will be good writing days and bad writing days, times with your mentor that make you feel amazingly happy and other times when you wonder why you’re doing all this. It’s part of the learning curve. Learning means we are not in our comfort zone much of the time.
Most people today forget that as adult learners, we need to remember: we are learning how to learn, we need to be open to being beginners, to not knowing, to being naked with our new skills as we peel away the normal personas with which we usually face the world. As learners, we surrender to the process, and open up to guidance by our mentors.
Checklist of what you think about when looking for mentors
- A good communicator
- Patient yet pushy
- Supportive yet challenging
- Kind but able to say when things aren’t working
- It helps to have a sense of humor
- Respect for you as a person and a learner
- Willingness to be flexible with you as you craft your story
- Someone you like to talk with, someone you grow to trust
- A track record in memoir writing or editing
* Memoir writing can be a lonely and challenging process as you resurrect painful memories.
* Know what you need and look for people to partner with to meet your needs.
* Memoir mentors can help you connect with your dreams.
* Mentors may change based upon your needs.
Look for a memoir mentor and be prepared to launch your dreams:
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How about you? How do you feel about mentors? What do you look for in a mentor?
Please leave any comments below. We’d love to hear from you~
Announcement:Congratulations, Shirley Showalter! Your name was selected to receive a copy of Daniel Boerman’s memoir, The Flying Farmboy: A Michigan Memoir.