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Mentorship: Being a Mentee
On self reliance and setting productive goals, a more practical newsletter
A mentor is not a golden ticket to success, within or outside of a formal program.
In fact, some mentor relationships are abject failures. You get ghosted or your visions don’t jive or personality wise things just aren’t a fit. That’s awful and terrible, but it isn’t the end of the line for you. First of all, no one ever said you can’t have multiple mentors (and they can do the same thing or different things!) and no one said you need a formal mentor in the first place.
Sometimes it’s just you, your writing, and your friends helping light the way. Peer to peer mentorship is critical. But let’s say you are a mentee. Personally, I’ve benefited both from people who just passed me advice along the way and from a structured program—Avengers of Color, and I know sometimes, as a mentee, you just don’t know how to take advantage of the relationship. Hopefully your mentor helps guide you and answers questions you didn’t even know to ask. But regardless, it’s critical to set both boundaries and expectations.
First, remember that your book is yours. For better or for worse, you only ever have to implement feedback you agree with (although I'd recommend you ask yourself why the other person provided that critique and how you might address the root cause, so long as the root cause isn’t like, racism, which happens frequently and should be ignored). On this first day of Pride, I really want to emphasize this point. So many people along the way may ask you to change your character’s sexuality or how their disability affects them to make the book more “marketable.” They may ask the same for race and cultural identity markers. You’re not a commodity, and no matter how much pressure is placed on you, you always reserve the right to say no.*
*as a brief aside, sometimes saying no could cost you the book deal or the opportunity, which is often unfair, depending on what’s being asked of you! That means saying no can be complicated and difficult, but I do want to empower you to remember you can say no (just not necessarily that you can say no without consequences).
Second, figure out what you need from a mentor for the relationship to work and what you want from them. Make sure they can give you what you need (Basic respect? Check-ins? To review your query materials? Brainstorming help?) and if they can’t, either part ways or understand that and work with what they can do. I.e., don’t get your hopes up. You may want them to get you an agent or a book deal, chat with you late into the night, be your BFF, etc., but remember no one actually legally owes you their time, so be realistic and be clear. Open communication is key to developing expectations.
Third, set a goal THAT YOU CAN CONTROL. E.g., I want to be querying by the fall. I want to learn how to revise this book. I want to learn how signing with an agent works. Etc. Practical things that you can achieve. I want to sign with an agent by xyz time is not a useful goal because it isn’t in your control.
Fourth, respect the boundaries of the relationship. Set your own. Set your own. You are just as deserving of boundaries as your mentor. If you need to draw hard and fast lines about when and how you’re contacted and what can change in your book, do so. Again, you are in charge of your own working relationships, and you need to learn to advocate for yourself in this industry.
Fifth, you are a fully formed person, so don’t let other people step on you (in general) just because they’re in a different stage of publishing than you. Take control of the journey when you can—you don’t have to take nonsense and abuse. You should have a life outside of writing to turn to and a sense of purpose to guide you even if a mentorship relationship falls apart. If it does fall apart don’t blame yourself or view it as a reflection of your worth—it takes two to engage in this relationship, and two to end it.
Formal programs are certainly not a requirement for advancement in the industry. As I said in my last newsletter, they’re a roll of the dice: when they’re good, they’re great. When they’re bad, they’re deeply harmful. But I do think it’s necessary to find ways to grow in your writing and mentorship, whether peer-to-peer or in a formal program, is a way to do that.
Mentoring is a tool to be used, not a golden ticket, not a dictatorship, a tool. Empower yourself to wield it.
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