The Mark Blog

Bookmark This: Margaret Spilman On Your Mentor

2014 Emerging Voices Fellow Margaret Spilman writes about her relationship with mentor Melanie Thorne. From her nervousness before their first meeting to their revealing chats on the business of writing, Margaret shares how the mentorship was by far one of the most important aspects of the fellowship.
"Everyone needs someone in their corner, someone who has been there before. Someone who can cheer them on, guide them, and give them swift kicks in the ass when necessary. When you become a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow, suddenly you have this wealth of resources to grow your writing and cement your identity as a writer. One of the resources is your very own mentor to help guide you through the eight months and to be that person in your corner.
The Emerging Voices mentorship is remarkable because you get to have this person in your life, this published person who cares about what you write and how you write it, and will push you to make your stories better and better. I find that writing can be lonely work and find myself not wanting to show anyone anything until it is perfect. It’s hard enough to call yourself a writer and it can be terrifying to show anyone your work, especially when you’re stuck. There is this fear, at least for me, that someone will look at the rambling pages and raise an eyebrow and suggest maybe becoming a dental hygienist instead. Being an Emerging Voices Fellow is a stamp of approval that makes it easier to fully claim the writer moniker, but, even better than that, it gives you this mentor who you can show all those unpolished, sticky pieces to.
I didn't really know what to expect. When I had my first meeting with my mentor Melanie Thorne, I was going to have a coffee with someone who had signed up to help me, without even having met me, because of the power of the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices stamp of approval. I had a list of questions for her, trying to think of what I wanted out of the relationship, this bit of PEN Center USA matchmaking. I really didn’t need my list, because within two minutes Melanie had put me completely at ease and seemed to also be reading my mind, answering questions before I even asked them. Besides notes and guidance with specific stories, she has given me invaluable reading lists and helped me to search for flexible jobs that will leave me time to write and go to grad school in the fall. The mentorship hasn’t just been about cheerleading, it has been more about the practical aspects of being a writer: how to edit, how to network, how to make money. Really one of the best things for me as a writer has been to hang out with other writers, especially my mentor.
Melanie’s advice, guidance, and red pen have been more than just helpful, they've been energizing. It’s wonderful to be excited about getting notes back, to be excited to show someone stubborn stories that just aren’t working. Everything about being a fellow is valuable: the author evenings, the workshops, the voice class, the readings, the community of fellow EVs, but one of the things that I will treasure the most from this experience is the stack of stories that I have nervously sent to Melanie and the thoughtful notes she has given me back.”
Let’s keep the fellowship going! There’s only three more days left to meet our goal of funding the 2015 Emerging Voices Fellowship. Click here now to support this one-of-a-kind-program.