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Whether you’re a beginner looking to answers to basic questions or a frequently-published writer with years of experience under your belt, every writer benefits from having a mentor.
But how do you know what kind of support and guidance you need? And once you determine that, where do you find the right mentor?
5 Ways Mentorship Benefits You
If you’re not convinced you need a mentor, think about some of the benefits of working with one:
The creative energy to write cannot thrive in a vacuum, yet writing is often a solitary act. Input from someone outside of your writing process can breath oxygen into your work and spark new ideas.
2. Honest feedback
Every writer, no matter how experienced, needs a reader to show us when something isn’t working. We all need someone to point out that huge plot hole or to gently tell you, “You’ve done that before. Try something else.”
3. Professional development
Writing is as much a business as it is a creative endeavor, so it’s important to stay aware of new developments in the field. Your mentors share information or point you in the right direction so you can do your own research.
It’s easy to fool yourself out of writing, particularly when you hit a dry spell. A mentor helps you set clear goals and then checks to make sure you’re meeting them.
5. Emotional support
To be a writer is to face rejection on a regular basis. When no one wants your novel, agents aren’t writing back and you’ve run out of things to write, it’s crucial to have someone you trust telling you, “Yes, it’s hard. Keep going anyway.”
How to find a mentor
Every April, I run a women’s writing mentorship exchange, and I’ve learned so much from working with people to connect them with appropriate mentors.
First and most important of all: You and your mentor must have overlapping interests.
A budding YA novelist benefits from the experience of a published YA author. A woman turning to freelancing so she can work from home after having a baby gains invaluable support from an editor who hires freelancers to fill a weekly publication. A writer for a new late night comedy show guides a budding comedian in choosing projects.
It is not necessary that mentor and mentee share the same race, gender or background, but your mentor needs to be aware of underlying assumptions that might impact the mentoring relationship.
Some questions to ask yourself when choosing your mentor:
- Do you have the same values?
- Does the person have the expertise you’re looking for?
- Do you like the person’s outlook and the type of work they do?
You’ll also need to decide what kind of time commitment you want to make and whether or not you choose to pay for mentoring.
Where should you look for a mentor?
Once you have an idea of what kind of mentor you’d like to work with, it’s time to seek them out. These options are likely to offer candidates.
Self-guided writing groups
Find a group of writers to meet in person or online to read and workshop your work. This type of group is usually free, you can meet on your own schedule and develop a writing community.
Plus, commenting on others’ writing keeps you sharp and helps you develop critical analytic skills to apply to your own work. The main difficulty is finding the right group of people.
Free Facebook and Yahoo groups offer a space to share your writing, as well as find contacts and leads on writing jobs. Others are paid resources, including the large UPOD Academy (which has a free Yahoo group attached).
Choose your type of group based on how much you want to pay as well as the size of the group.
Smaller ones allow for more attention from the group leaders whereas larger ones will give you a larger pool from which to find writing partners and readers.
Take a course
Look to your community or art centers for writing workshops lead by local and visiting writers. Many colleges and universities also offer a regular schedule of continuing education writing classes.
The opportunity to receive constructive feedback lead by an seasoned instructor not only helps you edit your work — it also keeps you accountable. When it’s your turn to present, you must have your writing ready.
You can also find online writing classes through sites like Coursera and Writers.com.
As you spend time in these various writing communities, you’ll meet people who offer private paid mentoring. Paid mentorship allows you to focus directly on you and your needs.
A non-paid, one-on-one mentorship requires more give and take. It’s your responsibility to ask your potential mentor to work with you. You will be the one to make the effort to make contact and make sure the meetings happen on time.
In the course of your writing career, you’ll make business decisions; need editing, ideas for publishing, and contacts for agents and editors; and perhaps someone who will kick your butt into high gear and remind you to keep writing.
It’s up to you to find the best mentoring relationship for your goals and writing style.
Of course, no one mentor fits every need and not every forum will be the right one for you.
Give a new writing group a few commenting cycles to see how you feel about it. If you’re paying for a group, give it a month during which you take advantage of all the group has to offer.
What about a free Facebook group? Watch the group for a month or two and then determine if you’re truly gaining value. If so, great! If not, try something else.
Through trial and error, you’ll develop a network of mentors to support you. As you gain knowledge and experience, you can then pass that wisdom along to others who will benefit from your know-how, too.
How has mentorship changed your experience as a writer?