Relationship Help for Writers ~ Mentors

Welcome back, class!

Jenny had a question after yesterday’s class about Compatriots. She wondered about having writer friends online, which we hadn’t discussed.

The answer is an easy one, though, for dealing with online compatriots. All the things we talked about in yesterday’s class hold true for online writer friends as well. It’s still about support and encouragement, friendship and respect. It might take you a little longer to spot an unhealthy compatriot relationship online since there’s that extra layer of separation, but you still want the same qualities in your online relationships as you do in your offline ones.

Now, on to today’s relationship…

No Grovelling, Please
Also known as Mentors

Some writer relationships will involve you and a writer (or writers) at different career points. Maybe they will be at a somewhat more advanced point in their careers; they’ll have more or specialized experience, and will have something to teach you. These will be your mentors. You’ll take workshops or classes from them, hear them give seminars or talk on panels, or possibly work in structured mentoring environments. With luck, they’ll be motivated by more than just money to share their knowledge with you; they’ll genuinely want to see you become a better writer. But even if they’re just in it for the money, they may still pass along valuable information and tutoring.

At some point it may also be you who is the more experienced or knowledgeable writer, mentoring others.

What’s important to remember when you are being mentored is to be as objective as you can. You may admire and respect your mentor, but not every word that falls from a mentor’s mouth is going to be gospel. No-one is going to have the same experience or background or goals in their writing life as you will, so not everything that worked or happened to/for them is going to be the same for you. It’s wise to evaluate what you take away from mentoring relationships to find the nuggets of wisdom or truth that have real meaning for you.

If you’re on the other side of the table, and mentoring other writers, your objective is to be helpful. Remember what it felt like to receive criticism, even the kindest, most constructive criticism. Remember that your job is not to tear other writers down, it is to help them build their skills. Remember that (ahem) not every word that falls from your mouth is going to be gospel for the writers you’re mentoring. Not one of them is going to have the exact experience you’ve had, and they may also have different goals and aspirations and ideas about how to attain them. Remember that you were once a learner, too.

Mentoring relationships can go badly in various ways. Mentoring should not be a “master and slave” relationship, but a “teacher and student” one—a mentor with the wrong attitude can actually make you feel worse about your craft than better about improving your skills. That said, if you are being mentored, it usually does little good to challenge your mentor. You don’t have to believe everything he or she says, but you don’t have to argue about it, either. Take it in, take it home, think about it, and if necessary, do your own research. Sometimes you will learn things in a roundabout way, from things you actually disagree with your mentor about. That’s all right. Even if they have only served to open your eyes to a different way of thinking, that’s still a valuable experience.

If you’re the mentor, don’t expound your opinions as if they’re the One True Way. Your job as a mentor is not to create little writer clones of yourself; it’s to help individual writers grow in their own ways and learn to follow their own paths. Don’t expect that your knowledge or situation or experience is going to hold true for every writer—it can’t possibly. Share what you’ve learned that you hope might help others, and stop there.

Well, that’s the end of class again! Tomorrow we’ll talk about Colleagues.

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  1. ethel louise clark

    Thank you for being today’s mentor. Now I will get back to my writing. Looking forward to tomorrow’s tidbits.

  2. Sherry, I just read every article here until my eyes are tired but my mind is stimulated enough to try the 750 words at a shot. I am inspired by your words of writer wisdom.

  3. Sherry, from time to time, I read your blogs over again because your words are worth reading again. I feel as though you are a mentor from the first day I met you at the first workshop.

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