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Mentorship: Being a Mentor
you offer your friends what you know, and they offer you the same
I’m not sure who this newsletter is for, mentees? People who want to mentor? Both? I don’t know, a cardinal rule of writing is know your audience and I am definitely breaking it. Luckily this is my newsletter so I make the rules. Thank you, my captive audience, for sticking with me.
Once I’d signed with my agents and gotten my first book on sub and day job mainly sorted out, I applied to be a Pitch Wars mentor. Lift as you rise, I suppose.
I did it kind of as a hee hee ha ha joke, because I didn’t think they’d pick me (no book deal). But they did, because I had an agent, and sometimes that’s really the only benchmark a lot of these programs look for. It turns out, anyone can become a mentor. It’s definitely a for-better-or-for-worse scenario—bad mentorship can really harm a writing trajectory. Good mentorship can give you an invaluable boost. Every time we make a new writing friend or apply to these mentorship programs we’re rolling the dice on that—good mentorship or bad. We all know how harmful rude critique can be. We all know how much vulnerability it takes to be a writer.
When I was accepted as a PW mentor, I had a chance to think about all of the people I’d so desperately wanted to be mentored by when I applied to Pitch Wars and Author Mentor Match year after year. They were often just like I was then—agented, on sub, book deal not necessary. Hitting that first milestone (signing with an agent) actually gave me a ton of information that I was delighted to pass on. Networks I was excited to mobilize for someone else. There isn’t a magic moment when some supreme arbiter decides you’re ready to be a mentor, you kind of just decide that for yourself and give what you can. Sometimes this is through a formal program, sometimes this is a peer-to-peer relationship: you offer your friends what you know, and they offer you the same.
Mentorship is a means of pooling resources and doesn’t require a hierarchy. I consider all of my writing friends my unofficial mentors, because I learn so much from them all the time. I hope in turn I also offer them information, encouragement, and guidance. This is the first type of mentorship I ever participated in, before formal programs, before anything. You can also just call it ‘community’. You don’t need a program to have this.
After Pitch Wars I joined AMM, took on three mentees outside of formal programs, and then joined Rogue Mentor. We formed a group chat (The Raft). I shared my own work with them and got amazing feedback. When I was a mentee I felt like a little worm with nothing to offer my mentor, surely what could I give someone else?
Then, my writing leveled up by 200% by taking on mentees. Everyone, no matter the stage of your career, has so much to offer. I expanded my community. My mentees are brilliant, thoughtful, curious, and critical. I learned new things just to mentor them, I realized how much I knew by mentoring them, I developed my understanding of plot, voice, character by reading their work. I’m endlessly grateful to them, because they’re all fantastic writers and people. Walking with someone else through their revision makes you a better writer too.
Mentoring has been hands down the most fulfilling part of my publishing journey. It put into perspective how subjective everything is and de-emphasized the benchmarks of my own journey as I coached others through evaluating their careers more holistically. It’s a give and take, but I always remember what it was like to be a mentee and look up to my mentors and I remember: it’s my job to be kind, communicative, responsible, approachable, and forthcoming with information even when my mentee is not. It can be a lot of work and require a lot of patience, and if you don’t have the bandwidth to mentor, don’t do it. No one likes being ghosted or dropped. Set clear standards of communication and be honest with yourself and with others. And remember: there are a million ways to give back to the writing community beyond formal programs. Be generous with your friends and find people who will be generous with you.
To see what my mentees are up to, check out my website.
I’m also going to shoutout the Write Team Mentorship Program for doing fantastic work. I think their open inbox program was brilliant and know they’ll continue putting out great resources in the future. Make sure to keep them on your radar.
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