The ‘photo is of a few of a collection of poems and short stories inspired by natural settings. This special anthology was created by a group of young people I was privileged to meet when a colleague and I presented a workshop on writing in nature.
Several of these young people are girls, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at least a few of them decided to pursue writing. And that’s the thing. There are many young, female writers out there who have talent and motivation. But if you’re a writer, you know how frustrating and difficult it can be to channel your passion and your talent into work that gets published and that people read. It’s a lot easier to get through those challenges if you have a mentor.
Today is International Women’s Day. I think we’d all agree that we still have a long way to go to reach the point where women all over the world have equity. We’re getting there, little by little, but we’re not there yet. And sometimes thinking about what needs to be done can be disheartening. That’s where mentoring comes in.
You see, mentoring is something you can do without having to wait for a law to be passed, funds to be allocated, or a policy to change. It doesn’t have to cost a penny, either. And it can make all the difference in the world to a young person.
In this post, I’m going to focus on mentoring girls and young women in the world of writing, but you don’t need to confine yourself to that. I’ll bet your profession, whatever it is, gives you opportunities. I invite you to consider them.
Ladies, if you write, whether or not you’ve had anything published, you have much to offer girls and young women who want to see themselves as writers. You don’t have to be famous to be able to share what you’ve learned and reach out. Each country and area are different when it comes to working with students in school, but here’s what I’ve found.
Many schools welcome community members (like writers) who want to read to students, answer questions about what it’s like to be a writer, and so on. You can offer workshops, facilitate poetry slams or short story/essay readings, and so on if your schedule and your particular community allow it. If they don’t, your local library might let you offer a writing circle. There are a lot of other ways, too, in which you can reach out to young female writers.
Your presence as an expert writer (whether or not you see yourself that way) gives girls and young women a role model – someone who is like them. In sharing your own writing journey (including some of those – ahem – less-than-perfect moments), you are sending young writers the message that they can do this. In helping them work through drafts of their work, you are supporting it, and you are teaching them that what they are doing is valuable. Reaching back to the generation behind you means that there will be a new generation of confident female writers.
If you’re a writer, you also have an important role to play in mentoring girls and young women in their writing. Your responses to what they say and write tells them a lot about your assumptions about them. You have plenty of writing expertise and experience to share, and the way you share it makes a difference.
You can (and I invite you to) reach out to young female writers through workshops, readings, ask-the-author events, and so on. But just as valuable is your attitude towards what they’re doing. When girls and young women see that you view them as writing colleagues, this sends the message that they are worthy of respect. Encouraging young girls to keep writing, and supporting their efforts, tells them that you believe in them.
It’s straightforward enough to do that when, say, you’re facilitating a writing circle. But there are other, subtle but meaningful things you can do to support young female writers. For instance, you can read and discuss different sorts of books by women. Among other things, doing that helps you check your assumptions about what women ‘should’ choose as writing styles, genres and themes. It also gives you a solid background to draw on as you work with young writers. You can also use your professional connections to help welcome girls and young women into the writing community. The more people who support a young writer, the better.
Mentors can make a real difference for young writers. They provide guidance, professional connections, and support. And they serve as role models. Mentoring doesn’t have to cost anything, and the payoff can be tremendous. On this International Women’s Day, I invite you to consider mentoring a girl or young woman who’s becoming a writer. Who knows? She may end up being a world-famous writer in a few years. And you’ll be on her Contacts list. Just sayin’…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Carole King’s Where You Lead.