Early in my career, I met my own mentor, Michael Collins. He nurtured my writing and was key in the completion of my first novel. We worked together for two years and I feel that if I had not had his help, I would still be struggling through that first novel. Certainly, I would not have the personal, expert advice I received from Michael during that time. Right now, I’m working with one student who is a dream student–considerate, willing to try new things and to take advice.
So, how does the mentor-mentor(ee) relationship work? Well, for those published authors with the heart to help see other writers grow in their careers, all you need to do is mention that you wish to work with a mentor student and you’ll have several knocking at your email within hours.
Conversely, for emerging writers searching for mentors, it’s a little more difficult than just a mention but don’t fear. I’ve included this topic as part of my 7-part discussion on the mentor-mentoree relationship.
- Finding a mentor–It’s not all that difficult, really. If you attend writing workshops and conferences, all you have to do is go up to an author presenter, someone you feel you could learn from (this is key) and ask if they ever accept or are accepting mentor students. If they do not mentor, move on to someone else. Also, ask authors you may know via your social channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkeIn) but keep asking until you find someone to work with. Finding a mentor sometimes takes perseverance but it will be worth it to your writing career.
- Setting boundaries–Boundary-setting is as simple as stating how many times per month you will meet (or e-meet) with your student. As a published author you are busy not only writing but marketing your published work so the student will need to fit into your schedule and not the other way around. Next, decide how long each meeting will be and where–whether in a cafe, via email, the phone or on Skype. Stick to your scheduling as closely as possible. You do not want to send mixed signals about the meetings or their times. Although sometimes issues come up and you may have to postpone but try to stay on a fixed schedule.
- Goals for you as the mentor–Mentoring emergent writers is one of the greatest and most fulfilling activities I do as a career writer. My time spent with mentorees not only affords them information I have received from my many (many) years writing and working in the publishing industry, but it also tests my knowledge. I learn so much as we discuss writing and the industry as we work through our meetings.
- Goals for the student–The best mentor students come with set questions and goals for their writing. Of course, every writer wants to hurry up their careers and to become published but sometimes the hurry-up part isn’t the most important. Sometimes learning craft is or learning business issues (approaching a publisher or agent, writing the query letter or proposal). However, one thing I wish I had known, before venturing into this whole writing thing, was to be patient. I tripped and made many stupid mistakes along the way and have suffered for those mistakes. This is one lesson I try to instill in my mentor students who seem to suffer from impatience as I did. And then, of course, to answer their set of questions about publishing, marketing and writing.
- Tracking progress as the mentor–The mentor can either track progress on paper or simply by asking from time-to-time if the mentor student is still benefiting from the meetings. But make sure the student doesn’t feel like you’re trying to get out of the relationship unless, of course, it has become onerous or toxic, because every once in a while the mentor will get into a relationship where the student is refusing to apply concepts to their writing or is not doing the work you’re setting out for them. If you (as the mentor) are feeling anxious about each meeting then maybe it’s a tell that you should get out. Maybe you should move on and let the relationship end. If this happens, do it kindly but truthfully.
- Tracking progress as the student–Likewise to tracking progress as the mentor, the student should be the true beneficiary of the mentor’s knowledge. Sometimes, however, the student will be intimidated and not as upfront about how they feel sessions are going, or how much they are benefiting from the relationship. As a mentor student, you must tell the teacher what you need to learn but you must also tell her if she’s not fulfilling what you need from her. This is why goal-setting is such an important part of the mentor-mentoree relationship.
- Mentor relationship success–Progress checks with each other are critical to gauging success between the mentor and student. I find out by asking my students these questions: (1) is there is anything they are not getting from me that they want from me (aside from a publishing contract, that is); (2) if they are still feeling inspired and motivated to write; (3) if they are still happy with the relationship; and (4) if they are feeling stuck on a subject or in their writing. I guess one true way to calculate success comes after the relationship ends. Several of my mentor students have sent me emails letting me know that they have since become published. What great news! And what a wonderful way to gauge the success of our relationship.
Remember, discouraging critique causes confusion and dwindles the spirit. Whereas, motivation and encouragement will create in your mentor student a sense of achievement and the will to win.
Here are some links to help you find a mentor:
American Writing Programs: https://www.awpwriter.org/community_calendar/mentorship_program_mentee
Writer’s Relief: http://writersrelief.com/blog/2014/01/find-writing-mentor/
Goins Writer: http://goinswriter.com/find-mentor/
I write books and some of them are bestsellers. ~Susan.