Making it alone

 Word count: 324                                Reading time: 2 mins

Until I met my husband I was unaccustomed to asking for help with anything. Ever. Years together taught me to accept his assistance with challenges that I would formerly have considered mine and mine alone.  However, Alan’s not a writer so he couldn’t help much with this compulsion once it was unleashed.

Never mind, I thought. I’ll embrace the cliché; I’ll be a writer scribbling away in a small dark room with little help from the outside world. <sigh> It always amazes me that as I get older I remain chronically naïve, clueless even, about some aspects of life. When I broke out of my self-imposed isolation and started taking courses in 2009 my writing improved in leaps and bounds.

As a recent article in the New Yorker pointed out, there will be no Maxwell Perkins to encourage today’s writers to reach for the sky. The days of publishers grooming new talent are long gone. We have to find our own mentors, usually at a real financial cost. But find them we must. Just like musicians need external ears, writers need independent eyes to excel. And, as always with writing, we must remember this is a highly subjective business. The top mentors and coaches in all disciplines have blind spots. It’s up to the mentee to listen, learn, and then choose the best path. 

Case in point: the gold medal high jumper from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. If Dick Fosbury hadn’t defied his coaches, high jumpers might still be using the Straddle technique to clear the bar. He revolutionized the sport by hanging on to his vision and developing the Fosbury Flop.

Fosbury’s achievement also illustrates an irony in all this; coaches and mentors can help us reach our potential but when we jump, we jump alone.

What are the roses and thorns of working alone? Of working with a mentor or a coach? What did you look for when you chose your coach or mentor?