September 04, 2020

On Being Mentored by Susan Barclay

As I was mulling over this month's prompt, I found myself in somewhat of a quandary: although I've attended numerous conferences, workshops and courses, submitted my work to writers-in-residence, and participated in writing groups, I wasn't sure whom to identify as a specific mentor who's given me "insight and encouragement" on my writer's journey.

I decided that the best place to begin answering this question was with a definition of mentoring. I found this description at the National Center for Women and Information Technology:

Mentoring is a process through which an individual offers professional expertise as well as support to a less experienced colleague. A mentor serves as a teacher, counselor, and advocate to a protégée... The intent of mentoring is not to remediate weak performance, but rather to shape a career that shows promise.

I remembered submitting a piece to Wayson Choy when he was the visiting writer-in-residence at my local library. It was he who powerfully spoke the words, "You are a writer," and made me feel that it was really true. Then I remembered previously writing something about that experience here and found this post on affirmation.

But think how crazy my life must have been this year for me to forget the most important mentor-student relationship I've had to date, apart from being a life-long reader who has learned from others by osmosis. And to have forgotten when it only took place over the last twelve months! I was embarrassed when it struck me that the answer lay so near. If you are reading this, Jane Ann, a thousand apologies for not thinking of you immediately.

I first met Jane Ann McLachlan at Write! Canada a number of years ago and submitted a piece for critique in a one-on-one appointment. It was then that she told me, "You have something to say." She encouraged me to finish the piece I was working on and to email it to her for further feedback when I was done. Sadly, the months then years went by and I never completed it. The opportunity slipped through my fingers like sand through an hourglass, if you'll pardon a  cliche that's as tired as I am.
But God wasn't done with this connection yet! A couple of years ago Jane Ann did a series of workshops at my library. I took part and signed up for her email list. When I received an email last fall, letting me know that Jane Ann was starting a mentorship program for a limited number of writers, I was interested, but questioned the timing. I had much on my plate, including a greater degree of eldercare. On the other hand, I wanted to finish my novel; it had been languishing too long. Could I take this on, push through and complete the work? By the time I decided to go for it, there was only one spot left. It was mine!
As mentioned in previous posts, I'm a pantser by inclination. So I wasn't overly thrilled to discover we had to begin by creating an outline and fairly detailed character sketches, using Jane Ann's very good book, Downriver Writing. That being said, I found the process useful and will likely make use of it again. 

Jane Ann definitely cheered me on with comments like
  • "You write very well - keep on going, you'll get this story written and it will be great!"
  • "What a gift for words you have."
  • "You are a good writer, and you’re here to learn. You have not made a single mistake here that I didn't make in my learning years, many times."

She also provided helpful feedback to improve my writing, pointing out what I couldn't initially see for myself, given my proximity to the story. She helped me identify my particular writing weaknesses and strengths, showing me ways to overcome the former and build on the latter. In my testimonial at the end of the course, I wrote: "Working on my novel-in-progress with Jane Ann over a 9-month mentorship has been a blessing and an encouragement. Although I have had to rethink my story and start over from the beginning, I know it will be a much better work because of her insight and direction. I look forward to working with her again in the future and highly recommend her to anyone who needs a strong set of editorial eyes."

Have I finished my novel? Alas, no; those eldercare issues grew more prominent after the new year and even more so after Covid hit mid-March. My mom fell in June and is scheduled for a pacemaker this month (unrelated issues). It was difficult to fit in the necessary writing time.

But I did finish the story I was working on when I first met Jane Ann and it is good. All I need to do now is decide on whether to self-publish it as an ebook or find a more traditional publisher.

If you haven't worked with a mentor in this formal way, I do suggest it. A mentor "knows things" and is willing to build into your life so that you can succeed as well. 


You can find out more about Susan Barclay's writing at


  1. This is very encouraging Susan! God's timing is perfect. One day that novel will be finished!

    1. Thank you, Tracy - may it be as you have said!

  2. Thanks for your post. I really don't have any personal mentors for writing but I certainly have four German men who inspired me to make my own electronic music.

    1. Well, that is pretty cool as well, Bruce!

  3. She sounds like an encourager as well as a mentor.

  4. That sounds awesome. I hired a writing coach recently, I contemplated it for months and finally went for it. So far it has been very useful, my coach is great at helping me think through my story and develop it. Mentors are so important!

    1. They are very important, Steph! Glad you have also found one who is helping you with your story!

  5. Thanks for sharing your rich experience and encouragement of being mentored. A good mentor will build into your life. I hope to see your ebook soon!

    1. Thanks, Sandi. I'm not sure how soon it will be, but hopefully sooner rather than later! I'll be sure to let my friends at Inscribe know when it happens!


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