How to choose a mentor

Today I want to talk about choosing a mentor.

This comes up a lot for me because, in my experience dealing with new authors (and sometimes veteran authors), I come across a writer who have potential, they simply lack guidance.

When I meet a new author who I know has potential, I ask them if they have a mentor. Most of them, to my surprise, do not. I always ask, “Why?” Here are the most popular answers to the question:

“I don’t know how to find one.”
“I cannot afford one.”
”I didn’t like the one I had.”
“I don’t think I need one.”

Having a mentor is an important relationship to have in this industry. Choosing one, isn’t something you should take lightly. There are some things you need to consider before selecting the person for the job. I’ll try to touch on as many as I can here.

Do you and your mentor “fit?”

Read my blog post on “what kind of writer are you?” It touches on things you should consider when making the decision to write. I feel they are important to know before seeking out a mentor.

This is an important note: Finding a mentor who you feel comfortable with means you have similar, or complimentary, personalities. If you are an author who writes in a specific genre, you must find a mentor who understands the genre. There are different rules, different tones, and you’ll want to understand how to network with readers and other authors around you.

If you are an author who likes a lot of feedback, or wants to be able to contact your mentor frequently, you need to have a mentor with the time and patience to give that to you.

If you are an author who only wants to talk to your mentor when you have a question, or run into a problem, you need to find one who can work with this type of situation.

Do you need a mentor who will respond “in person?” (Video, face-to-face) You’ll need a mentor willing to do that. Some mentors only like to respond, and work through email.

For myself, I like to have a set schedule, and chat through video conference. With everything I do, it’s not fair to those I mentor, if I cannot give them undivided attention when I’m working with them. Mentally, I want to prepare and dive into what they are doing with confidence. I can’t do that without notice and prep time. I still answer them whenever they have a quick question, or run into an issue, but the bulk of our work is done during out scheduled meeting days.

Are you getting something out of it?

This is one of those relationship where you need to be getting something from it, or it doesn’t work. You should have benchmarks and goals in mind at the beginning. If you don’t feel you are meeting these goals, then you’re probably not a good fit.

A mentor should be teaching you how to find your voice, structure your story better, teaching you elements used in creative writing specific to your genre, and critiquing your work to challenge you.

Are you ready to be challenged?

If you aren’t, then you still have a lot to learn. Critique is part of the industry. Taking constructive criticism and learning from it, is a part of the growth process. Would you rather get criticism from someone you trust? From someone who has your best interest in mind? Or, would you rather get scathing critique reviews from readers who don’t care how their words affect you?

Personally, I’d rather hear them from my mentor. I know when my mentor says something doesn’t work, or isn’t great, it’s because he truly wants to see better from me. He believes in my skill, and pushes me to keep getting better.

How do I find a mentor?

Finding a mentor isn’t as hard as you think. A mentor can be anyone who has more experience in writing than you do. You don’t have to keep the same mentor, either. Once you’ve come to the finish line of your mentoring relationship, you find another mentor. The other option is to have more than one mentor. Just be sure you’re still learning and growing, otherwise, you’ll both be wasting precious time.

All it takes is asking. If you know of an author whose work you admire and has the skills you desire, just reach out. Most authors I’ve run across are honored by the request. It’s not a guarantee they will accept you under their wing, but it could lead to a recommendation. Mentoring takes a lot of time. If the author you ask is on a tight schedule, or insanely busy, they may not be able to devote the time it takes.

Networking, as I’ve mentioned many times before, is your life string in the writing world. Who you know, is as important as, what you know.

Can’t afford to pay a mentor?

Not all mentors charge but that doesn’t mean you don’t pay in some way. They may have you doing homework, grunt work, or co-writing something with them. Any mentor who does not charge should be given the proper respect and credit. It means they are doing it for the love of the craft, and teaching, or helping someone, is the payoff. Some authors do it to give pay back the kindness they were shown. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they get out of it. And just because they do it for free doesn’t mean you have to enter the relationship. Ask what they expect, explain what you expect to learn, and see where it goes. If they expect too much, or you aren’t comfortable, don’t agree. Be honest and let them know it’s not a good fit at this time.

Mentors are important for the many reasons I’ve listed, but there are many more reasons to consider:

A mentor has more experience in the industry which means they can offer you advice on publishers, agents, other authors, conventions, book covers, contracts, etc.

A mentor will have (hopefully) developed skills to make your job easier! For example: Avoiding overused words, avoiding head-hopping, knowing what “show, don’t tell” really means.

A mentor will also walk you through trivial things: I feel like I’m not good enough, I don’t know how long my story should be, how to outline a story, how to respond to bad reviews, etc.

I’m curious to know what you think about having a mentor. Do you have one? What are some invaluable lessons you’ve gained from working with them? Do you have more than one mentor? What are the benefits/cons to having more than one?

Categories: The Pages, Writing and Publishing, Writing TipsTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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