Writing is often thought of as a solitary activity.
It doesn’t have to be!
There are a lot of writing communities out there: online, writer groups, critique groups, and more!
And sometimes? If you have the opportunity to reach out to someone at the next stage of their writing, you can find a mentor.
Not all mentors are created the same, and not all mentors are right for you.
What to look for in a mentor
1 – They Write In Your Genre
Before anything else, you need a mentor that knows your genre. Managing expectations is key. Yes, you want novels that have twists and turns. Yes, you can have novels that push the boundaries.
But. You should still write with a reader in mind, even if that reader is you.
A picture book is going to look different than a cozy mystery is going to be different than an epic fantasy. If your mentor doesn’t write in your genre, they might miss you overdoing a trope, or get confused with why there are dragons.
2 – What Writing Strength Compliments Yours?
Writers typically have a particular strength.
3 Main Writing Strengths:
- World Building – these writers build worlds that are complex. Fully three-dimensional immersive worlds that fascinate, without breaking the readers sense of disbelief.
- Plot – these writers have intriguing plots that carry you along for the ride. You just have to find out what happens next.
- Character building – these writers create characters that you just can’t leave.
If you’re comfortable with your world building, you’re likely going to want a mentor who is strong in plotting or character building. You’re going to want someone who can bring your other aspects up to the level of your greatest strength.
3 – What Writing Style Complements Yours?
Besides looking at your strengths, you also have to be aware of your writing style.
3 Main Writing Styles
- Sensory – these writers create meals you can taste, outfits you can feel exactly where they itch, songs you can sing. This often compliments a world-builder, but not always. The biggest thing these writers need to look out for is losing sight of the plot and having the reader lose the plot. These writers often need to trim words.
- Screen play – these are the writers that show every stage direction, but don’t give you motivation or thoughts. These can have great action sequences, but can give the reader trouble connecting to the characters. These writers often need to fill in detail and round out their world.
- Lost In Thought – these writers let you into the main character’s head (1st person or close 3rd point-of-view). They share the character’s thoughts, feelings, observations and rationalizations. But, sometimes the characters aren’t that observant and you miss sensory detail and action. These writers often need to both trim down the thoughts, and add in sensory and action.
Just like with writing strength, finding a mentor with a style that compliments yours can help fill in the aspects that you don’t focus on.
4 – What writing stage are you in?
You want a mentor who is ready to help you with the writing stage that you’re in. One that is comfortable with whatever stage you need to get through next.
We already know there are tons of writing stages and we all have our unique strengths and weaknesses.
- Writing — looking for someone to bounce ideas off of
- Revision — looking for someone who can recognize plot holes, pacing issues, and unneeded tangents.
- Editing — looking for someone who in attentive to phrasing, word flow, and dialogue. Who can notice inconsistencies in voice and tense.
- Querying — looking for someone who’s queried in the last 10 years: they’ll know the market, the trends, and the process better than someone who pre-dates the predominance of email queries.
- Publishing — looking for someone who’s been published the way you’re being published. Indie, small press, and trad(itional) publishing all have different benefits and detriments, so you’ll want someone who can guide you through whichever publishing route you ended up going.
- Marketing — looking for someone who knows what works, and what doesn’t work in your specific market — both genre and publishing-style-wise. Different markets work differently.
Some can mentor you through all stages, whereas others are more comfortable with particular aspects of the process.
Beware: Things To Watch Out For
All that said, even mentors that compliment you well might not be right for you. Here are some things to watch out for:
- Mentors who don’t get your story, even after explanations. They won’t be able to offer usable feedback.
- Mentors who are not responsive. This one’s self-explanatory.
- Mentors whose feedback doesn’t bring out the best in you. For some? Some ignore soft feedback, some find sharp criticism either makes them want to give up or dig in their heels and justify themself.
- Mentors who love everything or hate everything. There’s always stuff you can improve, but if they hate everything, it can be hard to figure out where to focus your attention.
- Mentors who are abusive. If you leave conversations from them feeling personally attacked and beaten down, if they’re assholes to you or others — you do not owe them. You can end a mentorship relationship at any time. CAVEAT: The writing community is small. If you’re worried about repercussions, break off a relationship in whatever way makes you feel most safe. You can politely thank them for their time and tell them that you want to go in a different direction, or that you need a break from your writing. Or? You can tell them where they can shove it.
Where To Find a Mentor
There are lots of places to look for a mentor, but many organizations offer mentorship opportunities.
- Twitter contests — such as #PitchWars, #WriteMentor, and more.
- Professional organizations – the writing society for your genre. (Google knows the way).
- Local Writing Clubs
- Online Communities
- Teachers – Take some writing classes and see if you find a teacher you work well with (or even fellow classmate).
Do you have a mentor? Where did you find them?
Have you ever had to ‘fire’ a mentor? I’d appreciate hearing about other warning signs but understand discretion.
I am hoping this year to find my first writing mentor, and I’m looking to a professional association to find one. (I’m excited, actually!) Thanks for the post.
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This is SO good. It is so easy to assume a good mentor, (or any mentor) will be a good mentor. Even among really beneficial advice there will be tips that simply don’t fit for your story, your tone, or your style. Thanks for sharing this.
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Not every story will resonate with every reader. And sometimes, you have to be in the right place at the right time.
And that’s OKAY.
Just re-read my initial comment (that made perfect sense when I typed it) that was /supposed/ to be A good mentor will /always/ be a good mentor.
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I don’t think that’s true. I think that’s on Mentor are better suited to help you improve different aspects of your writing. I’m not saying they can’t help, but I’m saying that that’s not necessarily where their strengths are.