Writing Pedigrees

mentor-4205038_1920You may be asking yourself “what is a writing pedigree?”

It is a reasonable question as pedigree implies a superior genetic history while writing is simply words on the page. On the face of it, they have nothing in common. When referencing a writing pedigree, I am referring to the historical and instructive influences older writers of note have on younger writers of note. The older writer nurtured the younger writer’s skill development, bringing forth their genius. There are direct lines of influence. For example, David Farland (AKA David Wolverton) provided instruction to Brandon Sanderson. Brandon Sanderson later provided instructed Brian McClellan. This is a direct chain of influence from one writer to another which took the form of direct mentoring.

This is not the only way a writing pedigree develops. There are indirect influences, as well. J.R.R. Tolkien influenced each of the men above through example and life choices. George MacDonald influenced J.R.R. Tolkien. Some of you may be wondering why this matters. Considering the impact of one person on a life or a career can provide a framework for being intentional in the development of networks, associates, acquaintances, friends and even spouses. In a world where true mentors are rare, observing the mentoring relationship between those of exceptional levels of success can hone social instincts. 


There is an old adage: If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you follow them? Couched that way, the obvious answer is “No! However, the enjoyment of our friends, the desire for their approval and respect might encourage us to dance closer and closer to that cliff edge. This is the impact our choice of society (i.e. who we keep company with) has on us. It can draw us nearer to or further away from danger. The impact of influence is even greater when it comes to mentor-to-mentee relationships as well as peer-mentor relationships such as that shared between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Observing, knowing, and understanding the nature of an acquaintance between two individuals is important for the insight those observations offer (Note: the point is to understand how each benefits the other, not pass judgement on the association).

mentor-2062999_1920To ensure this point is a clear as I can make it, I will step out of the writing sphere and draw an example from the world of composers. Mozart and Salieri were contemporaries of each other with Mozart being the younger of the two. Salieri has been depicted as being extremely envious of Mozart in plays beginning just six years after his death. Imagine, for a moment, what sort of composer Mozart would have become if Salieri had been his mentor. Perhaps Mozart would have emerged as the composer we know him to be today, but if the depictions of envy are to be believed, there would have been an impact on Mozart’s style, skill, perhaps even his confidence.

Most people are aware that we need to choose our friends, associates, mentors and teachers carefully. I recognize this. What I find lacking is the awareness of how to do this. Observing and studying writing pedigrees gives us the back ground knowledge to make educated decisions in who and how much any one individual is allowed to influence us as writers and as people. This knowledge, then, has applications which extend beyond writing to every facet of our lives. 


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