Three kinds of mentors for writers and why you should have them all
In the 12th century BC, when Odysseus, the legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, left for the Trojan war he left his son Telemachus in charge of his friend named Mentōr.
Since then, the Greek word Mentor became synonymous with someone who teaches, gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.
All beginning writers need mentors. Mentors are those kind souls who say to you “I believe in you,” even when you don’t or especially when you don’t.
Writing is said to be a solitary profession. We are expected to tread in isolation and toil quietly. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Your writing journey can become a joyful walk through paradise if you can find a good mentor. A right mentor can instruct, guide, support and encourage you and help you realize your full potential.
Who is the right mentor?
According to Patrick Boland, a consultant, executive coach and educator, a right mentor has three main characteristics:
- Good mentors are open as a person. They see the world as an exciting curious place and he is open to ideas and possibilities. He is comfortable in his skin and wants you to be comfortable in his skin and wants you to be comfortable in yours
- They are more interested in what is going on internally than externally.
- They celebrate your rise but also sit with you during your falls, through all the disappointments, heartbreak and hurt.
A right mentor will bring you through the whole learning cycle of trying and failing, trying and failing better.
A right mentor is someone who meets you where you are.
A right mentor is someone you admire and want to be like.
Finding the right mentor is not easy. Fortunately, mentoring can happen in many shapes and forms. It can be formal or informal and may change and evolve with changes in your needs.
Here are three kinds of mentors you should look at.
The dead mentors are the writers who have died a long time ago. But they have left their advice behind in the form of books. They are the best kind of mentors because their advice is time tested. Besides they can’t say ‘no’ to mentor you. They are dead.
You can pick and choose which was you want to follow. You can also pick the advice that appeals to you and applies to your circumstances. Not every piece of advice is applicable to everyone. And it is quite possible the time is not right for certain counsel. In those scenarios, you can use your own judgment to decide what to take and what to leave.
“The best mentors can help us define and express our inner calling,” says Anthony Tjan, CEO of Boston firm Cue Ball Group and author of Good People. “But rarely can one person give you everything you need to grow.”
Dead mentors with their books can easily cover that gap.
Alive mentors could be hard to get because you need their permission to be your mentors.
Sometimes, your agents, your editors, your writing coach (if you have one) or even your writing-group-buddies can fit the bill.
As your mentor, their job is not to solve your problems (writing or otherwise) rather than it is to help you see it clearly. They do that by observing, listening, challenging, asking focused questions, and making you reflect back. They can suggest strategies for solving problems you might not have considered and can help you think “bigger picture” on ideas and possible solutions.
Your mentors can be your cheerleaders. Having the positive support of a cheerleader can give you the necessary motivation to keep going. Our parents, spouses and good friends can fill this role for us in many ways; and professionally, having a person in your field saying, “you can do this” can be a tremendous asset. As your cheerleader, they will be genuinely happy for you when you succeed and will cheer you out of the hole when you can find no way out.
In his TED talk, Anthony Tjan identifies five kinds of people you should have in your corner – the master of the craft, the champion of your cause, the copilot, the anchor and the reverse mentor. It is not possible for one person to cover two or more categories — so use this list as both a guide and a nudge to deepen your bond with them. You probably already know all of them.
Find writers you admire. Writers who are living their life in a way you aspire to. Get to know their routines, their resources, how they go about their days. While their way is not the only way, you can gain valuable insight into steps you might want to take to get you closer to your goals.
By online mentors, I don’t mean dozens of online programs dedicated to pairing professionals with potential mentors. Most of these online mentors are just salesmen trying to make money from emotions.
I am talking about online educators. An educator is a person who takes the time to share their expertise with those who want to learn. Educators love to help others by sharing their wisdom. They want to see everyone succeed.
There are many writers who are sharing their craft online. They are willing to teach what they have learned through their blogs and courses. They are imparting information for free. You can subscribe to your ideals who are doing things you want to be able to do. Search for any topic online and you will find a lot of free information. These are your online mentors.
Here is a list of some I follow:
- Advanced Fiction Writing
- Writer’s Digest
- The Creative Penn
- The Write Life
- Austin Kleon
- James Clear
You can choose a more suitable one from this extensive list.
The best way is, to follow them for a while. Don’t follow too many at a time, otherwise, there will be too much advice (sometimes conflicting) and you won’t be able to act on it. Write down what interests you and really try to incorporate or use it. If it works or benefits you keep, it. Otherwise, discard it. When their well dries, or you think you are learning no more from them, stop following them and find someone else you can learn from.