If you were a Renaissance artist your mentor would be your master. He would teach you your craft and employ you until you, too, were a master.
If you were Stephen Sondheim you would have Oscar Hammerstein for a neighbor and he’d take an interest in you, and you’d have your mentor.
If you were in an MFA program, you’d be paying handsomely for access to a working writer who would mentor you.
But the average working/studying/parenting/pulled-in-fifteen-directions aspiring writer, doesn’t have time to talk to her best friend never mind find and domesticate a wild working writer.
So who will inspire us? Who will teach us our trade? Who will be our mentors?
The only possible answer is to look to a book.
It’s all there. Every writer you’ve ever admired has shown you what they do, in every work they write.
Gather up their stories. Read them. Re-read them. Blog about why you loved them (or why you didn’t). Write down story sparks inspired by their works (what if you had a heroine like that? Would she have chosen him? What if you set a story in a record shop? What if your idea of a happy ending involves the bad guy getting away with it?).
The Good, The Bad And The “I Could SO Do That”
Read stories by writers you worship. Read stories by writers you think are pretty good. Read stories by writers you know you could do better than.
Make a list and think of these writers as your own, personal mentors. On a day when you’re struggling to put pen to paper, read one of those bottom-tier authors and fire yourself up with rage that they are producing more work than you! Or look to the top tier to remind you of what excites you, as a reader.
Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It
In this last few weeks before StoryADay May begins, read. Read! READ!
If you’re not already read short stories try these as a few places to start:
Nanoism.net (for Twitter-length stories)
Fifty Great Short Stories – stories from the first half of the 20th Century
Great English Short Stories – more early 20th Century short fiction
Project Gutenberg’s Short Story Shelf – public domain stories
Ploughshares Literary Magazine – literary fiction
Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine – science fiction
Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine – crime/mystery fiction
Storyville – an iPhone app that sends you stories every week
OneStory – One short story emailed (or sent to your gadget of choice) every three weeks