How to Mentor a Writer

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Just yesterday morning I found an article I had to return to my best friend and mentor, Viola. We had met long ago when I was in charge of the church newsletter and desperately needed an editor. Being about twenty years older than me, Viola had just lost her husband and had the skill of old school grammar and punctuation.

We immediately clicked. She was the example of the feisty, pioneer type of little old lady I wanted to be. We shared histories. Mine was obviously shorter than hers, but I loved hearing about her past and the obstacles she had overcome in her life.

I invited her to go with me to the first writing conference I ever attended. She had expressed a desire to write her memoirs, I just had the avid desire to write. I was in over my head and on the long ride down there I shared with her my long kept secret desire of wanting to become a writer. Viola fast became my hero. She had always admired my style of writing for the newsletter. At the conference, when we were seated with an agent, she sang my praises to her.  The agent eagerly questioned my goals, story ideas and ended up giving me her card.

So began Viola’s mentoring job.

On the way home from that conference we brain-stormed and the plot platform for Windswept Hearts was created. Through the years she kept asking, prodding and singing my praises. When I finally handed her the manuscript for editing, despite her recent stroke, she faithfully found all my grammar and punctuation problems. When the book was published, she eagerly bought ten copies and gave them out as Christmas presents.

The way Viola lived her life was such an example to me. Despite losing her husband, she continued to live a full life. She loved to travel, visiting family all over, including family in Alaska. Her imagination and creative talents amazed me. She always had a project going such as painting, wood burning, and writing. Her natural curiosity and inquisitiveness led her to learn how to use a computer at the ripe age of eighty. She lived a Christian example of a very fulfilled woman. Even though the era she grew up in demanded she be a housewife, Viola was always a quiet rebel.  Intelligent, witty and bright she filled our time together with stories.

After the church newsletter moved on to become simply a bulletin every Sunday, Viola and I continued to stay in contact, though not as much as I would have liked. Life got in the way, but we continued to make a lunch date every now and then.

It never seems enough though, when someone passes on. Yesterday morning as I was planning on calling her for a lunch date and returning her article, she had a massive stroke. Her family rushed to be at her side and she was not alone as she went home to the husband she missed so much and the Lord she loved so dearly. Her family included me in their calls to inform of her passing, showing me her love and consideration lives on in her children.

As I work on my next novel, I find myself bereft of some of the joy. I realized today how much I depended on my one-woman-cheerleading team. I  will miss sharing plot ideas and discussing the creative process. I will miss her chiding me on my dismal misunderstanding of the use of grammar. I will miss so much listening to her own stories and encouraging her to write them. I will dearly miss my friend and mentor over all.

And if Viola were here, she would encourage me to not mourn or complain at her leaving, but to find the joy in having had the time together. To appreciate what we shared and built  and to keep on writing.

Viola would be delighted to find out my next heroine will be sharing her spirit and love of adventure, and embarrassed to find out I based the character on her!  She would shake her head, laugh and again remind me to review the proper usage of commas and punctuation!

Through my work, I will continue to keep our friendship alive, writing the best I can to honor my mentor.