Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Measures of Success

Like everyone, I came into this life with a specific set of natural strengths. Unlike many, my natural strengths - organization, reading comprehension, attention to detail, intuition - dovetail nicely with the established norms of our public education system. As a result, I put very little effort into learning as a child. I listened to the teacher, did what was asked of me in class and scored very well on assessments (excepting math). I did very little studying or practicing.

Over the years, I occasionally came across challenges outside the realm of my natural talent: organized sports, foreign languages, musical instruments, the aforementioned maths. My experience with these tasks all followed a very predictable pattern. At first, I would feel excited and confident, sure I was about to join the ranks of the other natural athletes or musicians I knew. For the first month or so, I’d gather information and learn the basics. Things would progress nicely as I learned the details and organization of the task. Then, I’d hit a wall. Suddenly, I’d reach the steep incline in the learning curve, the point where you have to take all the rules of the task and practice them over and over until they become automatic (perfect example of this, check out this you-tube video about Collin Burns, Rubix Cube single-solve champion). Unless you are born with an innate skill for the task at hand, you must fail repeatedly so your brain can differentiate between the right way and the wrong ways to do it.

Because I learned so many things quickly during the first decade of my life, I had very little experience with failure. I didn’t know how to respond to my own lack of ability. When you’re an infant, failure is the norm, a necessary and oft-repeated step toward success. But when you forget that failure is a form of progress, or worse, convince yourself that the lessons inherent in failure are unnecessary for you, it morphs into something different. Failure becomes a trauma to be avoided.

To avoid the embarrassment and frustration connected to the trauma of failure, I learned to quickly walk away from activities if I couldn’t scale the steepest parts of the learning curve effortlessly. I didn’t play softball or volleyball with my classmates. I quit piano after a combination of overconfident song selection and reliance on last minute practice resulted in a horrific recital experience (there were public tears … I still can’t think about it without flushing in embarrassment). I learned the letters and basic vocabulary of the Russian language quickly, but gave up when I couldn’t immediately formulate fluent conversations with them. Most disappointingly (and having the most lasting effect on my future), I developed psychosomatic symptoms - headaches, stomach aches, hot flashes - whenever I walked into a math class.

Instead of facing these challenges head-on, I ran from them, hiding my insecurities behind the facade of my natural abilities. I barely passed my math classes in high school, but nobody seemed to notice or care because my natural talent for reading, writing, and intuitive test taking allowed me to shine in all my other classes.

Fast-forward to my adult life and you can see the same patterns emerging. Fortunately for me, intuition and a talent for language arts often fool people into thinking you know more than you really do. They also form the foundation for my chosen profession, teaching. (I’ll never know if I was drawn to teaching because it came so easily to me or if teaching was easy because I was so motivated to do it well.) Life progressed for a number of years.

Then, life changed, as life has a habit of doing, and I found myself looking for a new calling. Given my penchant for reading and writing, I’ve always toyed with the idea of being a writer. Here was the opportunity. Writing well enough to be successful in life and writing well enough to be successful as a writer are two very different things, however. It wasn’t long before I found myself face to face with a learning curve so steep it looked like a wall.

So I stopped. I dabbled in other things. I lounged around. I watched Grey’s Anatomy in its entirety. Twice. I spent a lot of time thinking about how much I wished I could be a writer. But when I actually wrote, I saw an impossible chasm between my ability and my desire. Ira Glass describes this perfectly:

The thing is, I’ve slowly realized that I need to write. There is a catharsis in writing that helps me recognize and confront the demons of my life, past and present. Just as I felt called to teach in my earlier years, I feel drawn to write, to express myself, to shape my thoughts into a specific pattern of words and commit them to paper.

It’s been five years since I first decided to try writing “for real”. I’ve spent more time avoiding writing than I have actually writing. Whole years have passed without me writing anything because “I’m busy” and “I have responsibilities” but mostly because I’m terrified of failing at something I want so desperately.

My periods of focus and progress have gradually lengthened. More importantly, my periods of paralyzed inactivity have gotten shorter. Life continues to present obstacles and distractions. My family’s needs loom -- more important, or simply more insistent, than my own -- sometimes for weeks. Once the external interruptions have passed, though, I return to the work. Internal barriers no longer intimidate me in the way they once did. I face the agony of sitting in front of a blank screen until the dam breaks and the words flow.

I am learning to see failure as a learning experience instead of a trauma.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Fact in the Fiction: Historical People as Characters

It all started when I did my son's homework.  Hang on, let me explain! His job was to pick a famous leader from his world history class and write a one page paper listing this person's biographical info and the strongest arguments to be made about the person's leadership. Then, my son would bring his arguments to class and battle it out 'Deadliest Warrior' style against another student's leader.

To help our son prep, my husband and I each took a person from the list and completed the assignment so we could have a family battle letting our son practice his offense and defense. I chose Hadrian, my husband picked Constantine, and our son picked Alexander the Great.

I wish there had been a fly on the wall with a microphone or video camera to witness our battle and record it for posterity. We sounded like geniuses and I was really proud of my son's grasp of world history.

Well, this led me to think about taking my research and using it for a short story about Hadrian's visit to Great Britain and the creation of Lady Britannia.

One fact I learned about Hadrian was his efforts to bring back what he considered classical Greek ideals. Can you think of another time in more recent history when Greek ideals were brought back? The Renaissance.

Maybe all this was on my mind when I wrote a piece of flash fiction based on a prompt from a song lyric:

"You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter." ~Taylor Swift

He was exotic. Beautiful. The colors of his body, dark skin, black hair, bright blue eyes, were a beacon. From the dais I stared across the ballroom before I could remember the company I kept. Next to me, father enjoyed his imported wine and the attention of a courtesan. I should have stayed put, but when he looked at me, caught my stare, and put a finger to his lips as if he would keep my imprudence a secret, I knew I had to find a way to him. To find out who this stranger was.

To be honest, I've been reading a lot of romances lately and I was going for a French ballroomy feel. I liked this piece and thought it could be the start of a larger story. Now, I've read enough historical fiction to have a general gist of courtly rules and such, but not enough to craft a whole setting and characters, so I set out to find out more--starting with the roles of women during the Renaissance. It was so much fun (I know, what a nerd) that I sent out a Tweet about it.

Now I have lots of great facts, timelines, and interesting people in my notes. The big surprise is that I am completely changing my character. The love struck girl is gone, replaced by the illegitimate son of Henry II of France, who was born to a mistress just after Henry became the Dauphin. He'll still have a love interest, and I am sticking to a real historical timeline and using a real treaty as a basis for the story. This son is a character I am making up, but Henri II is not.

My question now is, how much liberty can I take with characterization of the real historical people?

I've dug around a bit today and found out that the answer really depends on what the purpose of the story is and when it takes place.

Here are a few guidelines I plan to take into consideration from now on:
  • Is your character based on a living person? There is a whole set of laws covering the use of a living person's life in your work. No matter how you fictionalize him or her, you leave yourself open to trouble. Ever hear of the book The Help? The author got caught up in a lawsuit by the real life version of her cook/nanny character.
  • How well known is your character? You may find yourself trapped by the fame of your character and without room for making him someone we want to read about--our concept of the person might be too rigid. Also, the things he did or the people he knew can't be as easily manipulated as a fully fictional character can be. The flip side is that if you pick someone well known, we already know your character's name and your audience will be more likely to pick up your story.
  • Use historical folks as backdrops instead. Because of the previous pitfalls, it is often easier to use real people as a sort of biological landmark, a fleshy setting, in your writing. Because readers have previous knowledge of a person and that person's time and place, use these to your advantage. Create a new character and let the historical people provide challenges or help. 
  • Has the person been dead a long time? If I use Hadrian as a character, I have a lot of leeway because he has been gone so long he is nearly a myth. There is a record of where he went and the people who were closest to him, but the real words and the 'truths' are long lost. Using Henri II is similar, yet his life occurred more recently. Therefore, he is well studied and I may have to be more carefully in my treatment of him. In both cases the defamation laws protect me.
  • What is the purpose of your writing? Are you like me? Simply interested in a time period and have a set of actions which could have happened to a certain historical person? Will your take on the character twist the readers' understanding of the real person? Are you using his or her life to make a statement of some sort? It is advised to use caution, because the reviews can be scathing.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2016

    Book Review: The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

    I'm somewhere in the murky middle-lands of writing a novel about sibling relationships, so after reading the back copy of "The Weird Sisters" by Eleanor Brown, I knew I had to read the whole book. "Research," I told my husband when he raised an eyebrow at the growing pile of paperbacks in our CostCo cart.
    The basic premise of "The Weird Sisters" is that three sisters - named Roselyn (Rose), Bianca (Bean) and Cordelia (Cordy) by their Shakespearean scholar father - each find their lives in various states of disrepair and make their way back to the small, academic Ohio town of their upbringing to lick their wounds. This return home also coincides with their mother's breast cancer diagnosis, leaving their loving but somewhat self-absorbed parents even more distracted than usual, and forcing the girls to eventually confront the more problematic aspects of their lives independently.
    I expected to enjoy it; there aren't many books I don't enjoy on one level or another. Given the numerous differences between my life and that of the Andreas family, however, I didn't expect the Weird Sisters to speak to me quite so strongly.
    My siblings and I with Dad - '90 or '91 -
    die-hard Mets fans all around.
    Most obviously, I bonded with the oldest sister, Rose. I am the oldest of four siblings and I, too, developed an overwhelming need to control situations and fix other people's problems. This passage, in particular, struck me: 
    "Rose never thought of all the responsibility she had taken on as having been permitted by someone. It was something that she just had to do. At dinner in a near-empty Italian restaurant, Bean and Cordy playing hide-and-go-seek between the legs of deserted tables, their shrieks making the waiters jump as they carried full platters to the table where our parents ate with their friends, Rose escorting them to the entryway and keeping them occupied with crayons and a long white strip of butcher paper ... In the living room, Rose carefully knocking the ashes out of our father's pipe as he slept peacefully in the chair.  Truly, no one had ever asked her to do these things, but we had relied on her to do them, relied so heavily that it had never occurred to us how unfair to her it might be, how much she had begun to think of herself as the person who did those things." 

    The look my sister has given me
    since we were very small
    whenever she thinks I'm wrong.
    Which is often.
    This brought such strong memories of corralling my own siblings at social events, of scrubbing the grout in the kitchen floor, of fixing scraped knees and learning to hang laundry on a line I could barely reach. No criticism of my parents or complaints of having to pitch in should be inferred in these memories, but they did instill within me an overblown sense of responsibility for the well-being of my family members, particularly my siblings. And as in the book, I suspect my siblings found my desire to help and protect them more than a little smothering at times.
    Rose allowed her sense of familial responsibility to tie her to her hometown. In this sense, I am more like the middle sister, Bean, who fled to New York City as soon as she was able.  I headed in the other direction, landing in southern California, but I was also escaping the small town claustrophobia that comes when everyone you pass on the sidewalk has known you, your family and your personal business for as long as you can remember. Although I avoided the kinds of mistakes Bean made (thank goodness for that first-born personality), like her, I have also begun a slow migration back to the small town lifestyle, if not the exact location, of my childhood. And just like Bean's return to the library or her bickering fights with her sisters, going back home triggers hot flashes of awkward teenage angst in my graying, sagging thirty-something body.
    My siblings and I with Dad - '06 or '07
    Yep, we're still Mets fans.
    Brown chose to tell her story using an unusual perspective, omniscient first-person plural. What this means is that we are privvy to the personal thoughts of each of the sisters and their perspective on the other sisters in a kind of rotating POV. At first, I was afraid that this would keep me from sinking into the story, constantly leaving me wondering "who's telling us this?" Once I got used to it, though, I liked that the plurality of the narration allowed the reader to become intimate with each sibling from their own perspectives and from the perspectives of both sisters. I found myself wishing I could experience my relationship with my own siblings from this POV, as I'm sure they see me quite differently than I see myself.
    In general, "The Weird Sisters" would probably fall into the "Great Beach Read" category. It's not the best writing I've ever come across, but it's solid and the story moves along. The Shakespearean quotes liberally sprinkled throughout are handled well, with enough explanation to avoid getting tedious for those of us who haven't read much of the Bard since high school. Many Very Serious Literary People on the Interwebz have criticized the book for a myriad of offenses - a shaky timeline, cliched plot devices and, most often, the fact that we never know what books the book-obsessed family members are reading* - but none of these problems pulled me out of the story.
    I suspect I'm not the only one for whom "The Weird Sisters" tapped into some latent capital-e Emotions revolving around my place within my own family structure and my thirty-something struggles with "adulting".
    *It's clearly stated many times that they read anything and everything they can get their hands on - instruction manuals, biographies, genre novels, cereal boxes - and being of similar nature, the lack of titles didn't bother me. What they read was less important to them than the fact that they were reading. I'm sure this idea is quite irritating to some.

    Friday, June 17, 2016

    A Few Theories About Finding Creative Inspiration Through Music

    Ever heard a song and thought, that could be part of my story soundtrack? It happens to me a lot. Shazam and I are very good friends.

    I was intrigued as to how music helps me unleash my creative side--why music can inspire me. So, I did a little research and this is what I found...

    Mozart Effect

    The first thing I learned about was the Mozart Effect which claims listening to certain Mozart pieces can enhance our brain functions by allowing the right and left brain to work in harmony. The pieces, at a steady 60 beats per minute, help to regulate heartbeats and moods. Cool information, but not really what I was hoping for.

    You've probably tried studying to classical music because you heard it helps you retain information. I'd tried this too, a long time ago in the far distance experience of high school, but I did not know it had a specific name.

    Biology of Music

    Trying another search, I came across studies by the neuroscientist Anne Blood, who found links between music and the body's reaction to it. It's a bit complicated and I could not say it better than her, so here is a bit from her abstract.

    "Cerebral blood flow changes were measured in response to subject-selected music that elicited the highly pleasurable experience of “shivers-down-the-spine” or “chills.” Subjective reports of chills were accompanied by changes in heart rate, electromyogram, and respiration. As intensity of these chills increased, cerebral blood flow increases and decreases were observed in brain regions thought to be involved in reward/motivation, emotion, and arousal, including ventral striatum, midbrain, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventral medial prefrontal cortex....This finding links music with biologically relevant, survival-related stimuli via their common recruitment of brain circuitry involved in pleasure and reward."

    At this point I felt I was on the right track, learning more about why certain songs made me feel happy and therefore more likely to listen to and pick for my playlists. Then I came across this gem.

    Developing ESP

    Heck, for all I know it could be true. The ability of ESP is housed in the prefrontal cortex, and if music effects the prefrontal cortex, can you listen to the 'right' kind of music to increase ESP skills? I may not be totally on-board with this theory, but I think it may make an appearance in my new
    Sci-Fi manuscript.

    Thoroughly sidetracked, and inspired by an article about music, not music itself, I got back to work.

    Humans are Wired for Music

    Thank you, MIT, for getting me back on track. My big wows from the video below are...

    1) It mentions the brain and the mind. Last year, during a unit on the brain with my students, I posed the question, "Is the brain the same as the mind?" We held a lot of discussions and ultimately decided, no, they are not the same. Which leads to ...

    2) Are we born with the appreciation for music or does it develop over time? Do we respond because of the neural connections, or are the neural connections strengthened by exposure and use. Is it our brain that craves music or our mind? I'll leave you to ponder.

    Things were getting a little technical, so I started over, looking for how music effects creativity.

    Mind-Wandering Mode

    Either you are paying close attention to your task with your brain fully engaged, or you're not and your thoughts begin to wander. It is in this state of relaxation that your creativity becomes activated. A few more researchers found that:

    "You can stay in mind-wandering mode for a long time and still feel recharged and inspired to come up with imaginative ideas. You get into this mode by relaxing, letting go of the problem or task at hand, and voila — creativity ensues."

    Apparently, the big key to why I pick songs is that I enjoy them. The tempos and rhythms, the instruments, the vocal sounds... all please me and therefore I relax and I can go into the right mode. Writing mode.

    Tuesday, June 14, 2016

    The Power of Community

    The type-A perfectionist aspect of my personality is a double-edged sword when it comes to writing. I can create the perfect spreadsheet on how to progress through a project, but once that's done everything comes to a screeching halt.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewragan/6861394236When faced with beginning a task, especially one requiring actual effort, my brain immediately looks around for some excuse not to start.

    "Time to write, Brain."

    "Look at those dishes that need washing!"

    Recently I met another writer. As part of our getting-to-know-you conversation, she admitted, "No, I don't have any poetry published yet." Then she interrupted me to add, "But only because I haven't tried."

    She and I are victims of the same flawed thinking I often saw in my former students: it's better to fail through controlled avoidance than to discover that our best work just isn't good enough.

    One of the best ways I've found to combat this kind of fear-based paralysis is to communicate with other writers. I have experimented with several different kinds of writing groups in the past year. While each has had a different format and focus, they've all had one thing in common. They all challenge me to risk real failure.

    One-on-One Meetings


    One form of community is to set up a regular one-on-one meeting with another writer in your area. I have an uncle who has been writing in one form or another -- music, newspaper, novel, screenplay, etc. -- for most of his life. I respect his talent and I value his opinion. Whenever I get the chance, I like to take him to his favorite coffee shop, buy him a half-caff latte, and pick his brain. He's helped me explore my personal motivation for writing and, in sharing his writing habits and routines, helped me begin to develop my own.

    It has proved helpful to have to look my uncle in the eye and explain why I haven't written a single word all week long. On one hand, he's in a position of familial authority, and I don't want to disappoint him. On the other, he has known me my whole life and it's safe to talk to him about my personal demons. He's got to love me regardless of how crazy I sound!

    The More the Merrier

    If you're not up for one-on-one time, there are many ways to find a writing group to join. Schools often have writing clubs that meet regularly. Announcement boards at gyms, coffee shops or places of worship often have notices about clubs that are looking for new members. I've found many of my new writing buddies through the wonders of Google and the Meetup.com website.

    Writing groups come in all sizes and styles. There are groups dedicated to a single genre and groups that welcome everything from screenwriting to poetry. Some groups meet multiple times a week, while others meet only once a month. Whether you're looking for writing prompts or critique, hand holding or a kick in the butt, there is a group out there to meet that need.

    Small Groups

    I recently became part of a small group of women writers. There are many things I enjoy about having a small, consistent group like this. I like the intimacy of seeing the same faces each time we meet. It's allowed me to start getting to know them not just as authors, but also as friends. Everyone gets equal opportunity to share their work and present their thoughts each time we meet -- something that isn't always possible with larger groups.

    Larger Groups

    I am also part of a larger, more fluid group that meets twice a week. I never know who is going to be there (although there are a few dedicated regulars), so I never know what unique perspective or new bit of expertise I'm going to get. The frequency with which this group meets gives us time to broaden our focus beyond critique. Some meetings are all about writing -- speed writing based on ten minute prompts or committing a two-hour block of time entirely to writing silently. Others are spent discussing things we've read and how they influence and inspire us. My favorite meetings are the ones dedicated to the rambling conversation that happens when you put a bunch of writers in a room together.

    Find Your Group!


    Being part of a writing group takes time and energy. It means putting on clean clothes and leaving the house. It requires courage, strength, and open-mindedness. These are a small price to pay for the accountability, camaraderie and learning opportunities that come from having a community, if you ask me.

    Saturday, June 11, 2016

    5 Tips for Magical World Building

    I always have this nagging feeling I can do more, can change just one element of a story and all the pieces will fall in line.

    So...when I saw a class for magical world building held by my professional organization, Writers' League of Texas, and taught by Katherine Catmull, I jumped on it. Frugal as I am, I found this class important enough to pay the couple bucks for late registration.

    Here are the 5 best tips I learned about creating a magical world:

    1. Know your genre. Are you writing fantasy or sci-fi? These can be broken into categories.
    • Hard sci-fi, think Star Trek (based on the science)
    • Soft sci-fi, think Back to the Future (based on the characters, but uses science) more
    • High fantasy, think Lord of the Rings (totally new world)
    • Low fantasy, think Harry Potter (set in our recognizable world with paranormal elements)
    2. Grow your setting. In order to create my setting, which I would categorize as low fantasy, I needed to learn more about the mythology I wanted to use and the real places I wanted my characters to visit. I needed seeds. Once I learned more about what I was working with, I was able to let my ideas grow from the seeds-this way my mythology was correct and I could change it in believable ways. My realistic settings also ring true to readers thus increasing their engagement in the story.

    3. Avoid cliches and do not become a Mary Sue. We know werewolves and vampires, witches and dragons, and a whole host of other creatures. When creating your characters give them a life and a wit of their own. Make your readers say, "That is the nicest Harpy!" It will keep them interested in the story because you are not giving them more of the same old same old.

    I had never heard of a Mary Sue before the class. Basically, Mary Sues are the fantasy version of you as a character, a way for you to be present on the page and vanquishing your own enemies disguised as demons. Mary Sues can become rigid and flat characters because they are stuck in our own heads and we have trouble letting them grow.

    4. Everybody needs rules. As the author, you are in charge. Whatever rules you set up for your characters and setting, be sure to follow through on them. Be consistent.
    • The sun never sets. Do not let one of your characters enjoy a sunrise.
    • There is not enough water-sensory details should reflect this. A fine dust tickled his nose...
    • The Big Bad Guy needs to eat jalapenos every three days to fuel his badassery. Keep him well stocked in peppers.
    • Good Girl's left leg was crippled in at accident at the age of 13-any flashbacks better hold true to this age.
    I make a small spreadsheet for myself and refer back to it often. Think of these elements as your children-they better have a darn good reason to throw a kink in your plan. 

    5. World view is point of view. In my notes from class I wrote, "world view is what you know, story view is what the characters know, the reader falls in-between." As you craft your world, think about how much you want the characters and the reader to know. Is your character a 'native' who knows all the rules and therefore nothing seems strange or out of place to them, or is your character a 'tourist' who learns the rules as he goes? 

    Tuesday, June 7, 2016

    The Joy of Rejection

    "By the time I was fourteen ... the nail on my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing." ~ Stephen King, On Writing

    I received another rejection letter the other day.

    I have a self-imposed submission schedule that requires me to put at least one story out there into the big, bad world each month. Last month, I entered three short story contests and completed one conference application that require a writing sample. This month, I've already entered three contests and I have plans for at least one more.

    I make each submission assuming it will result in a politely worded "thanks, but no thanks." As a new writer, I think I'm at an advantage when it comes to handling rejection. Although my loved ones assure me that I have talent, I've never gotten that kind of feedback from someone who wouldn't have to make eye contact with me across the Thanksgiving table or didn't have to worry about me unfriending them on FaceBook. I'm confident enough in my own writing to be willing to share it with others, but not so confident that I expect any of those others to pay me for the privilege of sharing it with more people.

    When I receive a rejection letter, it becomes a badge of honor. "You took a risk!" it says. "You did something hard and scary and even though the worst possible thing happened, it didn't kill you!" The letter goes in my binder so I can pull it out to remind myself of these things the next time I'm hyperventilating over the terror of hitting "Submit".

    I've survived enough rejection letters that my heart barely skitters at all when I see the name of a magazine or writing contest in my email or mailbox. (That's a lie ... my heart skips all over the place. But I don't get that vision-blackening rush of blood to my head anymore.) A rejection is a rejection is a rejection, right?


    This time, while still rejecting my submission politely, the letter also included the following:

    "We want you to know that we considered your entry to be in the top 15% of entries for this particular contest. We don't rank stories past the top ten, so we can't tell you exactly where your story would have placed, but your story was definitely one of the more successful entries. "

    Cue the whooshing of blood rushing to my head. It still makes me feel a little dizzy just to re-read it. They want me to know that they liked my story! An actual professional with no emotional tie to me said something encouraging to me!

    This is my favorite rejection letter so far. I can't wait for the next one to show up.

    Saturday, June 4, 2016

    The Meaning of Mentorship for Authors

    Practice what you preach... The saying has never meant as much to me as it does now.

    Finding a mentor to support projects and research has long been a requirement for students in my gifted education classroom.

    While going through the revision and editing process for my current manuscript, I found myself wondering about applying the same requirement to myself. After all, I am working on a project and conducting my own research to make sure I am growing in my craft as well as getting the Norse myth facts straight.

    Should I not take on the use of a mentor?

    Well, yes, I think I should. The good news is that I think I've been doing this even though I did not label it as such.

    Here is the textbook definition.

    And here is my take on it....

    Having a Mentor
    • Every time I read a new story, I've gained a new-if informal and unwitting-mentor. The styles, word use and treatment of different genres sink into my subconscious and I am able to pull from those lessons as I create my own work. It's said that authors need to be readers and I think this is why.
    • I'm grateful for the mashup of mentors at conferences. Each has put themselves out there and shared an area of expertise. 
    • Great blogs from agents and other writers are fantastic. True, they are not writing just for me, but in a way, I think that is better. Each has taken on the responsibility of educating the masses.
    • The people in my writing group are also mentors to me. As they share their experiences with drafting, entering contests or querying agents, I learn from them.
    Being a Mentor
    • If my group members are mentors to me, I hope it can be said I have helped them in some way. 
    • I mentor my students. Sometimes this is on the topic of writing or making a presentation. Often it takes the form of general advice.
    Sometimes, I forget just how far I've come as a writer and a teacher. Finding mentors, and being a mentor in return, reminds me of the importance of recognizing and celebrating growth.