Back in college I had several professors who took me under their wing, so to speak. One of those professors loved Flannery O'Connor with all of her heart. She could quote passages, and I spent a lot of time in her cubicle talking about literature and staring at a jar of Adam's 100% Natural Peanut Butter she had on her shelf next to O'Connor's complete collection. I liked looking at that jar of peanut butter - the golden oil floating atop the creamy butter. I had another professor who loved Washington and wrote about volcanoes and birds and rain. He was the best poet I have ever met, and he always will be. Why? Because he taught me how to listen to my inner rhythm. When he read poetry, dressed in his grunge outfits and large combat-looking boots, he would sweep me away to somewhere new and exciting every time.
He made me consider words as single entities, each one magical.
I had other professors who would put their arm around me and tell me to keep writing. Sometimes I would hand over a poem or a short story and watch them read it during their lunch break, crumbs still collected at the corners of their mouths. Some of the most rewarding moments of my life were when those professors looked up and said, "Wow," and then proceeded to give me suggestions, guidance, more praise.
Do we need mentors?
Do we need them through our entire writing career?
I'm going to say no. When I was learning to listen to myself in college, I would sit under an oak tree and look out across the lake, wondering what to write next. I wanted to impress my professors. They were who I wrote for because they took a genuine, keen interest in my work, and I often think I still need that sort of direction, but it's more of a want than a need.
Many of us graduate to different levels of writing, and I believe there is a level where we learn to trust ourselves, know ourselves, enough to write without wires to hold us up. Validation is for those who haven't cut the wires yet. I'm still hanging on to a few. Are you? What point have you reached in your writing career?