Mentoring Myself, Or What Would Athena Do --- by Jane Kelley

In 2018, I was a mentor. The SCBWI-WI chapter asked me to advise an up-and-coming MG author. I chose Maria Parrott-Ryan. I learned more from her than she did from me. (If you aren't a SCBWI member, you should join. It offers many opportunities to learn, no matter what point you're at in your career.)

As 2020 begins, and I rewrite a novel for the one-millionth time, I sure could use some guidance. I'm not eligible for the SCBWI-WI opportunity. But I can learn from the one who was the very first mentor--Athena.
Athena, by Rembrandt
Yes. THAT Athena. Goddess of Wisdom. In Homer's epic, The Odyssey, Ulysses couldn't go home after the Trojan War because he had made Poseidon mad. As a result, lots of greedy, evil suitors were hanging around Ulysses's palace, hoping to marry his wife and get rid of his son Telemachus. Athena decided to help out Ulysses and Telemachus. She could have waved her hand and brought Ulysses home. But she didn't. She became a mentor. Literally.

What Does Athena Do?

1. Take the form of a trusted family friend.  

Mentor really was a close friend of Ulysses. So when Athena "becomes" him, Telemachus is more likely to take her advice. Just as I'm more likely to listen to a kindly uncle who wants what's best for my book than to a sneering critic.

2. Give practical suggestions.  

When Athena enters the scene, Telemachus is moping around and daydreaming. If only Dad were here, he would put things right. Athena gives Telemachus specific things to accomplish. Go find out what happened to your father. If he's dead, then bury him. And so I should find out what isn't working in my book. If a section is dead, get rid of it.

3. Be inspirational. 

Athena put menos into Telemachus. She gave him mental strength. As Homer put it, Athena "left his spirit filled with nerve and courage." She also had to inspire Ulysses after he finally made it home. Her words to him resound in my ears. "Where's it gone? Your power? Your fighting heart?" Writing isn't easy. That doesn't mean I can quit.

4. Protect them from attacks. 

Athena doesn't actually fight for Ulysses and Telemachus. She can't. They don't just need to win the battle; they need to win their self respect. She does, however, make sure his enemies' arrows miss their targets. Do I need to be wounded by self-doubt? What good does it do to read a mean-spirited review? Or hear someone say that no one reads books anymore anyway? Let those arrows pass me by.

5. Know when the work is done. 

Finally, on the last page, Athena calls a halt to the fighting. Enough is enough.

"Athena handed down her pacts of peace between both sides for all the years to come---the daughter of Zeus whose shield is storm and thunder, yes, but the goddess still kept Mentor's build and voice."

I'm very grateful that she did.


  1. This is so cool. I've heard this about SCBWI mentoring--that the mentor is every bit as(or more!) glad to have participated. Love #5.

  2. I ADORE this post! (I've been an SCBWI, too, for almost ten years now, and more than a dozen people). I loved how you mined the story of Mentor and Telemachus for so many great insights for writers. Thank you!


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