Sunday, February 04, 2007

Mentor versus Tormentor

What makes a person want to become a mentor? This question popped into my mind today as I was breading cutlets for dinner. An online friend got a big fat smackdown from someone who is in a position to be a mentor - or at least a human to her. Didn't happen. The person chose to be a TORmentor. Why? And by mentor I don't mean the people who climb up on mount holier than thou and make proclamations about the right and wrong way to do things, as if God had spoken to them late one night. Tell it to a burning bush pal.

I'm dwelling in two worlds primarily these days. The first is the autism world where I am pretty darn knowledgeable, having logged over 300,000 heart and hands-on autism hours with my own kids. My second sphere is the writer's world where I am a painfully green newbie. I try to mentor parents in the autism world. And I crave and revere the advice I've been given by several wonderful mentoring writers.

So, I ask you. What makes a person a mentor versus a tormentor?


mcewen said...

Not really my field of expertise, but that said my brother is a journalist, published writer and editor. As he's in China he tries to mentor a lot of writers out there. [because of the language issue too]
Criticism [pointing out the positive and the negative] is essential and it's how you handle that information that really counts. It should be a positive learning experience, if it isn't then I think that's when you have your 'tormentor.'
Best wishes

LadyBronco said...

To me, a mentor would be someone who shares their knowledge, and is happy to do so. A mentor guides, gives advice, and is critical without resorting to being negative.

A tormentor would have no qualms with being nasty, negative, and doing nothing to further another's knowledge.

Good luck and happy thoughts to your friend.

ORION said...

I told you Kim - brilliant minds think alike!
So the topic is mentors.
To me someone is not a mentor unless the relationship is mutually agreed upon. I sometimes see new writers ridiculed and dismissed as annoying by established authors. The really great authors are not threatened and give back to the writing community.
The expectations have to be about the craft of writing and not just the shortsighted goal of "help with getting an agent."

Harvey Moskowitz said...

What makes me choose between being a mentor or a tormentor? Usually, it's the size of her rack. That, and whether she has a nice smile.

The Wandering Author said...

You don't say enough about the situation with your friend to suggest what the cause might have been in that specific case, but I think there are many possible reasons for this type of thing. Please note that, although most of these reasons could be due to the fault of either party, in practice the 'mentor' is usually more experienced and mature, so is more likely to be at fault. However, if the 'reason' lies in the 'mentor's' perception, they will blame the other party. This is in no way meant to suggest your friend was at fault. I simply find it a useful attribute as a writer to understand what may be happening from all possible perspectives.

1: Some writers honestly believe (rightly or wrongly) that a would-be writer simply doesn't have the talent needed, and consider it a kindness to 'scare them away'.

2: All beginning writers need encouragement and criticism, so they won't give up, but will learn the things they need to improve. Judging this balance can be quite difficult; some "hurtful" remarks can be intended as honest, helpful criticism. Since the precise balance required depends on the individual, anyone can misjudge their comments.

3: If a new writer's basic world view includes positions the 'mentor' is strongly opposed to, they may be antagonistic to the idea of that writer developing the skill to be heard.

4: In some cases, two people just take a dislike to one another. This, of course, leads to the one in the 'mentor's' position snapping at the 'junior' writer.

5: Some detail in a manuscript may unexpectedly open an old wound (for me, certain phrases in the news coverage of Princess Diana's death triggered flashbacks to a painful incident twenty years before). If you read a manuscript that inadvertently causes you that much pain, you may well 'snap back'.

6: Stress, overwork, even a simple headache can all cause a person to snap at another.

7: If one writer wants another to be their mentor, and the other has not agreed, they may see themselves as being pestered, and treat the newer writer as an unwanted pest.

8: Some writers are driven by envy / fear. They don't believe their own work is good enough to stand on its own amongst honest competition, so they seek to discourage others from becoming writers. (No, I don't mean every writer who makes a discouraging statement is motivated this way.) When you see a writer, whatever their status, who snaps at all other writers who are 'beneath them' and tells them they aren't good enough, this may well be the case, however. Especially if they also suck up to all those 'above them'.

9: Finally, of course, it just seems that some people enjoy being nasty. They're usually pretty easy to spot.

Most of the reasons aren't immediately obvious, and in some cases you may never figure out why a person behaved as they did. The real point is, if another writer is not helpful to you, you clearly need to look elsewhere for the help you need.

Harvey Moskowitz said...

I agree that there's not enough info being provided here, Kim. Tell us more. Cute smile?