choices, decision-making, literature, mentor, writer, writing

Step 236: Mentor: A Memoir

I went to The Half King (one of the last great New York literary bars) last night to hear the author Tom Grimes talk about his new book Mentor: A Memoir. The book discusses Grime’s relationship with Frank Conroy, his mentor and friend whom he met at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop when Grimes was a graduate student at Iowa. Grimes explained how the book came about from a magazine assignment gone wrong. An editor had asked him to write a piece on Conroy’s work and instead the piece morphed into an exploration of Grime’s mentor relationship with Conroy. While not what the magazine editor asked for, the editor encouraged him to keep going and 8 months later Grimes had a book he never intended to write.

Exceedingly gracious and humble, Grimes also read a passage from the book from his early writing career when he waited tables at a small restaurant in Key West, Florida. He had a several second encounter with Conroy when Conroy spoke on a panel about writing in Key West. Conroy brushed him aside as just another would-be writer wanting admission into Iowa. Because of his rude behavior, Grimes wrote him off until Conroy called him to offer admission and a scholarship to Iowa after Conroy read his application and sample manuscript.

Throughout the talk, Grimes offered advice and encouragement to the audience about publishing, the craft of writing, the struggles that every writer faces in finding their own voice. The advice that sticks with me the most is his most simple and straight-forward: don’t let other people talk you into giving up; only give up when you think you should. It’s good advice for anyone who’s doing something they’re passionate about – their art, a business idea, an education, a community project, even a relationship.

There will also be naysayers, and sometimes those naysayers will be people close to us who care about us and our future. They will tell us how to spend our time, what skills to work on, where to live, go to school, and whom to be with. Ultimately, the only opinion about our lives that really matters is ours because we’re the ones we have to wake up with everyday, no matter what. If you can’t live with yourself and your choices, then it really doesn’t matter if anyone else can. You only get one crack at being you – make sure it’s done on your terms.

The Half King has a great slate of events that happen every Monday night. Check out the schedule and sign up for their email at