By Margaret Lucke
Studies have shown that people who've had mentors in their field of endeavor are more likely to succeed than those who don't. Recognizing this, corporations often set up formal programs to foster mentor-mentee relationships. But the most valuable opportunities to teach and to learn often don't come from those kinds of structured situations but from school, from friendships, from moments spent in the company of people who take an interest, offer a word of encouragement, or provide a good example.
Here are a few of the many things I've learned as an aspiring writer (and I'm always aspiring to learn more), with deep appreciation to those who imparted these lessons to me.
At age six, I was excited to finally being going to school, which I looked at as a huge adventure. I was fortunate to have Miss Taylor as my teacher because she reinforced that idea. I already knew the alphabet and how to spell and read a small selection of words. Under Miss Taylor's tutelage, it all came together and the world of books opened up to me in a whole new way.
>> Mrs. Angell, sixth grade teacher: Creative writing is fun, and is worth doing.
Mrs. Angell believed it was more important for her students to learn how to stretch their imaginations than it was for them to score well on standardized tests. Each month, she had us produce a class magazine, which we called "Glimmerings." Every kid had to submit an original work to each issue -- a story, a poem, an essay, a puzzle. We wrote our entry in our best handwriting and added illustrations, and a student editorial board assembled everything into the current issue, which was displayed in the classroom for everyone to read. One month we carefully inscribed our work onto mimeograph masters and Mrs. Angell produced individual copies for each kid in the class. I still have mine.
>> Mrs. Henderson, high school English teacher: Be willing to explore life and literature beyond the boundaries of what you'll learn in school. Also: If you want learn how to write clearly and cogently, read a lot and write a lot.
With her hair in a bun and her sensible shoes, Mrs. Henderson was the perfect image of a straitlaced, boring teacher. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. She truly enjoyed her students. She took us on field trips to the theater, maintained a library in her classroom of books we wouldn't find in the official school library, and encouraged us in all manner of intellectual explorations. She was also an excellent and enthusiastic instructor when it came to imparted writing skills. I was fortunate to have her as a teacher for three out four of my high school years.
>> Larry Menkin, writer/producer/actor in the early decades of TV: Apply seat of pants.
This of course meant the seat of your own pants, which were to be applied to the seat of your chair -- because no matter how strong your desire or how good your intentions, it's only when you're actually writing that the writing gets done.
I took a writing seminar with Larry for more than a year. For much of that time I was the only student, because when the original seminar ended and the other students left, he invited me to stay. He offered to be my mentor and coach because I was what he called a "money player." Unfortunately he didn't mean that I was destined to earn a lot of money. A money player was someone who had the talent, drive, and determination to stay in the game and ultimately to succeed. I learned a great deal from Larry, including the value of sticking with the goal. Equally as important was knowing that someone who his kind of professional credentials believed in me and was confident that I, too, could achieve my dream of being a writer.
>> My writer colleagues.
I'm not going to name names or single out any particular lessons because there are simply far too many of them -- my fellow members of Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime; the writers in my critique groups; the students in classes I've taught; my fellow LadyKillers; and all of the wonderful authors who, through their books, lectures, panels at conferences, and cocktail party conversations, have imparted advice, insight, encouragement, and inspiration.
To all of you, let me say thank you.