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Do you need a mentor or a writing coach? Part 1 of 2

While writing is a solitary pursuit, you walk the path alone at your peril. Not only do we need people to help us improve our craft, we need emotional support in this crazy business. In the best of circumstances, you can get both of these things through a mentor.

For a long time, the term mentor was used in the business world as a person who would show the less experienced worker the ropes, steer them in the right direction, and help them craft their career. As time has become scarcer, it’s hard to find people willing to give of their time to mentor. But you can hire a coach.

It works much the same way in the writing world. When you are just starting out, it’s helpful to have someone show you the ropes, point your writing in the right direction, and help you craft your career.

Whether you are looking for a mentor or a coach, here are some things to keep in mind.

What is a mentor/mentee relationship?

  • Every group/relationship is different
  • Can be as simple as providing a thorough critique and advice or as deep as a good friendship.

It can be a variety of things. It can be anything from an in-depth critique that takes your writing to another level to someone to hold your hand on the writing journey. It can be one person or a group of people. Some of the best mentor relationships are a group of writing friends that challenge each other with their craft and give emotional support.

How is it different from a critique group?

In many ways there is a lot of overlap. If you want a mentor who will help you with your craft, you will get a critique of your work. But they can also explore the world of fiction and how to write it. With my clients, we’ve talked about POV, characterization, grammar, plot, sentence rhythm, pitching, and goals. We’ve discussed some of our favorite books and what we can take away from them. I’ve recommended books on craft. Yes, these things have all come up in my critique group, but in my mentor groups, we’ve addressed them more deliberately and more in depth. For my coaching students, they can get a private, individualized fiction class.

What kind of mentor do you want?

This is something you’ll want to spend some time thinking about because your answers will determine who you look to for help. Do you want market info, encouragement in making a pitch, someone to hold you accountable, or someone to teach you craft? You can have any or all of these things with a mentor. They key thing is to be upfront in what you are looking for and to realize that not all mentors will necessarily be willing or able to give you what you need.

There isn’t a formula for what makes a good mentor relationship. A good mentor relationship is when everyone is getting what they need out of it.

What to expect from a mentor. What to look for.

  • More experienced writer than you but not necessarily published.
  • Someone who’s growing and continually learning in their craft
  • A person that you click with
  • Honest communication

Someone who has more experience in writing than you do. This doesn’t mean they have to be published, but if you look at Randy Ingermanson’s level of writers, you’re looking at a senior, maybe a junior.

You also want someone who’s growing and learning in their craft. You want that, not only because the market changes so quickly, but because someone who is learning and growing is excited about fiction and likely to pass that on to you.

Someone with whom you click. This is that indefinable chemistry. You want someone who gets what you’re writing. It doesn’t have to be the same genre but you need them to be excited about your work and pulling for you. You don’t need someone who’s going to beat you over the head or be negative. Now that’s not to say they shouldn’t be honest. But their style of communicating needs to mesh with yours.

It needs to be someone you can trust to have your best interests in mind. If they say something isn’t working, you need to be able to trust their opinion on that. That doesn’t mean you have to take everything they say. But you need to be able to trust that they are trying to improve your work, not sabotage it or bring you down.

Additionally, they need to respect your voice, or help you try and find it, without making you sound like them.

At the same time there needs to be a level of honesty both ways. You can’t have someone who tells you everything you write is great. You won’t improve that way. And you need to be honest enough to tell her what you’re looking for and if her feedback is helpful or not. If there’s something you want to learn more about, you need to tell her that to. Your mentor won’t be able to read your mind or know what you need if you don’t speak up.

At the same time, respect the fact that your mentor is working on her writing career as well and might not always be available at your beck and call. Again, good communication and talking about expectations can go a long way to avoiding hurt feelings.

Stayed tuned for Part 2 and learn how to be a good mentee and how to end your relationship without burning bridges.

Jennifer's latest books. Coming Home A strong- willed young woman must discover her brother’s killer before she’s the next victim. The prequel, Be Mine, is also available. Can a simple thank you note turn into something more?
 Cover image of Coming Home by Jennifer Vander Klipp Cover image of Be Mine by Jennifer Vander Klipp

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