I received an email from someone who wrote this in the subject line: I NEED you to be my mentor.
The person went on to invite me to be his/her mentor.
It made me remember a very painful time in my life when I approached a lady at church, desperate for a mentor. I was a new mom who grew up in a home I didn’t want to duplicate. I knew I needed help. When I asked the lady to be my mentor, she didn’t respond. Eventually, through her spouse, she said she didn’t feel she could be one, citing her own fear of not living up to my expectations.
Interestingly, a little later a woman entered my life who naturally mentored me, without me having to ask. And I found other ways of learning the craft of motherhood. I read a lot of books and I observed other mothers. I joined a mom’s group too.
It’s the same kind of process for a writer desperate for a mentor. You can go ahead and be bold and ask a published writer to mentor you. Sometimes that may work. But I will say that although I get a lot of requests like this, I seldom take them. Why? Because when I mentor someone, it flows naturally out of my already existing relationship with him/her.
So what’s a writer to do? 5 things:
1. Be open to finding a mentor in a natural way. Don’t force the issue, but live expectantly. You never know who will come into your life.
2. Mentors come in all sorts of shapes. Don’t discount someone who hasn’t yet published. He/she may have a lot to teach you.
3. Books and other sources of information (websites on writing) are mentors. Sometimes I think folks just don’t want to do the work. They want me to download everything I’ve ever learned about publishing and writing directly into their minds. But it took me decades to learn this much. In a sense, you have to take ownership of your own learning. Don’t be passive. Aggressively learn the industry. Don’t expect to be hand fed. Look at it as a treasure hunt. Become an investigative reporter on the subject of publishing.
4. We learn by observation, which means you need to read amazing, terrific books. Read great writing. Read inside and outside your genre. Pour through poetry. All this will help you hone your voice and will better your writing.
5. Surround yourself with a writer community. Just as I needed other mommies to help me learn how to mother (and to share my burdens), you need a community of writers around you. Form or join a local face-to-face writers group if you can. There’s something rich and dynamic about an in-the-moment critique. And you can’t beat the encouragement you’ll receive from fellow writers.
If you don’t have a writing mentor, don’t worry. Be proactive and do everything you can right now to better your writing. Who knows, maybe someone you meet at a writers group will walk alongside you as you pursue publication.
(Aside: if you really want a professional’s opinion of your work, consider hiring mentors Leslie Wilson (nonfiction) or Anne Mateer (fiction). You can check out their service here. Scroll to the bottom.)