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"So you want to be a writer?" Advice from a mentor (that stuck).

In my last post I mentioned Seth Godin’s articulation of heroes and mentors. Here's a video of him explaining what he sees as the difference:

Heroes are much more readily available and scalable than mentors, but that shouldn’t at all suggest that having a mentor – if you have the good luck to find one – is undesirable.

Having the right mentor – even someone who may not know you well – is a compelling opportunity to catalyse your self-development. Mentors also come in varieties: some are formally appointed, and some we encounter through more informal means. I’ve been unusually lucky in that I’ve had the benefits of both those types. This is the story of an encounter with one of them, and because what I gained from that experience pertains specifically to writing, I can share this with you now as I begin to do more of it.

Six years ago, while studying the liberaI arts, I was in a position to indulge the incredible luxury of requesting a willing author to be my mentor. At the time I was enjoying an exploration of long-form, non-fiction writing and was keen to learn how to do it well, which would entail investigating the process of producing such work. While I never got around to discussing aspects of the craft with this person, he quietly asked me a simple yet profound question during the course of our first conversation, when I told him I wanted to become a writer.

That conversation went something like this:

Mentor: "So, Ritvik, you want to be a writer?"

Me: "Yep, that’s what I want to do."

Mentor: "Fantastic...So. What do you have to say?”

What do you have to say?

That question had me blank, and I think I recall stumbling my way through an answer that vaguely referred to my interests before humbly conceding, “Perhaps that’s what I have to figure out.” It was an extremely short conversation, but it had a disproportionately huge impact. That question remained with me, and it prompted me to start thinking hard about the subjects and things I was truly interested in. Years later when I first stepped into a newsroom, I’d be faced with the question that occupies the other half of this below venn diagram by Michael McWatters that I think approximates content strategy well: “Who cares?”

Why should those questions matter?

Because, as Ryan Holiday says in his fantastic book on creating work that lasts, you want to know who you’re creating something for, and for what purpose.

“You want what you’re making to do something for people, to help them do something – and have that be why they will talk about it and tell other people about it.” - Ryan Holiday, Perennial Seller

Because, as Charles Bukowski warned, “the libraries of the world have yawned themselves to sleep” over the kind of writer “dull and boring and pretentious” and “consumed with self-love”.

I realized I needed to find what I was going to say and to whom I was going to say it, and what follows is how I set that process in motion (it’s still ongoing).

Business and economics always held a magnetic appeal to me since school.

I was fascinated by the lore of business success and the stories and trivia of people who actually reaped it. The world of money, wealth and the people was fascinating to a schoolboy. I’d studied accounting in college and worked a trade accounting job in the back office of a niche hedge fund for a couple of years. When using a Bloomberg terminal to look up the details of big corporate news that impacted markets (and the firm’s positions), I felt only more curious about what it must be like to be on the frontline of such developments. Being at a firm that intersected high finance and technology introduced me to stories of financial market success (and failures). I felt the prospect of a whole other life tugging at me, one far from the repetitive but cush confines of a job at a firm that partied hard, paid well, and had an excellent culture and people.

Combining this curiosity for business with writing – a craft I’d been cultivating since I contributed my first article to my school newspaper in 5th grade – felt like a good idea, and this thinking led me to decide to train in financial journalism. That my own parents were journalists and that dinner-table conversations lent me a comfortable ring-side view of their careers, I was somewhat confident in making that decision. The baptism by fire I received when I began working in journalism a few years later would do that in, but I survived.

Along the way, I’ve encountered many ideas as my reading habit expanded alongside a widening appetite for different subject matter, all informed by some deep conversations with some peers. I think all those things, added to my own stories of personal growth (such as the one above) would make good fodder for this blog, among other smatterings of my interests. I'll try to weave it all together in an interesting way.

I'm still finding what I have to say, and I'll keep doing it.

Thanks for reading.

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