Tammy sent excerpts of her book, unique and riveting. She was talented. Back and forth, we emailed about editing, publishers and agents. I encouraged her in the face of the inevitable rejections, reminded her of the current tumultuous state of the publishing industry and, when she secured an agent, cyber celebrated with her.Not long after, I received the email I’d been hoping for. Tammy announced, “My book sold!—for many writers, the three happiest words in the English language. (The most jaded among us say, even happier than “I love you.”)
Reading Tammy’s thank you, I thought, Hurray! another writer launched. Not by me certainly, but with a little nudge from me. I’ve been nudging quite a bit over the last decade. The way I see it, mentoring upcoming talent is not only a pleasure and a privilege, it’s a responsibility. Years ago, I got nudged myself and I’m determined to translate my gratitude into something useful.When I was in college, three professors took a special interest in me. Harry Lee, a novelist of grand repute in the 1950’s, no longer writing by the time I sat breathlessly absorbing his knowledge of the craft; Shirley Yarnall, my creative writing teacher with two novels and an off-Broadway play under her belt; and Jeanne Roberts, a world renowned Shakespeare scholar who guided the freshman literary magazine. These generous souls didn’t confine their teaching to the classroom. Lee gathered students around him at the local pub where he talked about writing over beer and Cokes. Shirley had English majors sitting at her feet in her living room as she discussed how they could improve their work. In her eighties, Jeanne showed up at one of my book signings so I was able to tell her tearfully how grateful I was for her always challenging me to meet her high standards. Throughout my career, others—mostly in midlife and beyond—mentored me. And now I figure it’s my turn. Many of my friends think the same way.
Nancy Baggett (right) recently held a launch party for her marvelous new book, Simply Sensational Cookies.Well, not just for her book. She made sure to share the spotlight with Jeanne Sauvage and Jeanne’s debut book, Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays. The women met online when Jeanne adapted one of Nancy’s recipes to a gluten-free version. They met in person at a meeting for culinary professionals and stayed in touch. Later, Jeanne asked Nancy to write the forward for her book. Nancy says, “After testing several recipes, which I thought were fabulous, I agreed.”At the launch party, the beaming first-time author (left) thanked Nancy for her contribution and her friendship. For more on Nancy's book and some great dessert recipes, go to www.kitchenlane.com
Richard, a physician, teaches radiology to young doctors heading into his specialty. “I love these kids. Yes, they’re adult men and women, but they’re kids to me—like family. I’ve had a wonderful career. Now it’s payback time.” He not only instructs his students in the medical discipline, he takes an interest in their lives and their futures as he helps propel them toward success.
Alan coaches math to middle schoolers. He gets paid a pittance in dollars for his work. But the rewards are inestimable, he tells me, glowing at the high marks his students receive after he’s gotten them up to, then past, grade.Toba volunteers to work one-on-one with underachieving high school students—some of them potential drop-outs—encouraging and helping them find within themselves the ability to succeed academically.
In my version of the aphorism, there’s a time to sow, a time to reap, and a time to mentor. So play it forward. Pay it forward. Try mentoring if you want to leave the world a better place than you found it. And there’s a splendid personal bonus attached: as you show newbies the way, you renew your joy in the work you’ve always loved.Toby Devens