I was far from being a perfect mentor. I was at turns harsh, distrustful of their instincts, focused on the wrong things and even, well, overly enthusiastic! But hey, I was learning. Teachers and coaches should know more than their students, but that’s only part of the job. They have to be good at asking provocative questions to give the writer’s working methods a gentle shakedown, to keep the fire stoked. I’ve worked with mentees who have more experience than I do. In a good pairing, the learning is equal.
Why do mentors do it? It can be for the pleasure of giving guidance that was given to them. Because they recognize a version of themselves in a younger — or older — writer. They fall in love with the writing and can’t imagine not getting involved. Being in the inspiration business gets them out of bed.