The Art of Mentorship: A Mutually Rewarding Arrangement

My mentor said: “I know talent when I see it, and I see it in you. Keep writing!”

Those few words set me on a path I would travel for the rest of my life. The person who said them was a newspaper reporter with many years of experience as a writer. I was a 30-year-old space salesperson for a small newspaper, who wrote at night when the dishes were done and my kids were asleep. I had no idea if what I wrote was any good or if I was merely indulging in a fantasy. My first mentor saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. In a single sentence, she gave me permission to take my writing seriously and stick with it, which I have done for 56 years.

Words are powerful. If I didn’t know that then, I have certainly learned it over the years. Words can crush you when someone says you don’t have what it takes to make it, or they can ignite a spark that will keep on burning as long as you nurture it.

That journalist was only the first of many professionals who guided me through the rough terrain of building a career when there was little to suggest I could. I didn’t have a journalism degree or even a background in English. I had never had a job as a writer. In those early days, I had yet to have anything published. But for reasons I could not fathom, there were people who believed in me. And so, I began to believe in myself.

One of those people was a powerhouse in the public relations field. She was a founder of a prestigious PR firm and a known supporter of young women who were trying to make it in a highly competitive arena. She was outspoken and brash, two traits I experienced up close and personal, sometimes flinching at her unfiltered honesty. But she also provided me with support, insight, and endorsements for close to 20 years.

Another woman I greatly admired wrote a weekly column for a respected community newspaper. She never missed a week unless she was traveling, and during those times her column did not appear—except the week she asked me to write about the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, which I had never seen. Her shoes were impossible to fill, even for one week, but I did enough research on that play to write a book. She liked it, her editor liked it, and her readers let her know they liked it, too. I was over the moon with joy at the response and remember that feeling even now, after more than 50 years.

There were other mentors over the years. Some turned into friends, others passed through my life for too short a time to be able to thank them. No one had yet coined the phrase “pay it forward,” which was the natural thing to do, especially in the writing world. If someone helped you, guided you, mentored you, you can’t pay that person back in kind. You can only pass the gift along. And I was in a perfect position to do that.

My first writing job was as the editor of a city magazine—an insane choice on the part of the publisher who hired me. At that point, I was a green freelance writer who was suddenly running a magazine, something I knew nothing about. I needed help with a lot of things, but one of the most important was filling the magazine with content. I did it by talking to many gifted writers—editing their articles, sometimes even rewriting them, and conducting “journalism school” when necessary.

The writers were euphoric, not only because I published their work, but also because I seemed to be the only editor in town who was willing to talk to anybody, read anything, and consider any piece of writing. It’s hard to say who benefited more—writers who wanted to be published or this editor who needed high-quality material to publish.

It was a wash. Everybody won, but in the meantime, without realizing it, I had become a mentor. What made it possible to assume that role was the little plaque on my desk that said, “editor.” Fortunately, throughout my working life, I found many other opportunities to help writers write, which became my mantra.

All of this came full circle in the last phase of my career when I became a ghostwriter, editor, and book coach. There is no better way to help writers achieve their creative goals than to wear any one of those hats, and I was fortunate to wear all three.

As much and as often as I was able to pass along the gifts my mentors had given me, I did so. The secret nobody told me during those early years is that when you teach, you also learn; when you put someone in touch with their own gifts, you become more aware of your own; and when you help another person become her best possible self, you become the best possible you.

There is no better example of a win-win situation.

Bobbi Linkemer has been a professional writer for more than 50 years. She has written 28 books, coached many aspiring authors on how to write and publish their books, developed and taught writing courses, and written on a wide array of subjects for print and electronic media. Her most recent book is How to Age with Grace: Living Your Best Life in Your 70s, 80s, and Beyond.

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