Writing Mentors


Effective writing mentors/coaches are rare. Mainly because most successful authors spend so much time writing or speaking that they simply can’t afford the time. In addition, there is an unspoken assumption that writing, unlike painting or music, is magical and no one can teach you how to do it. You just need to sit down and write. I agree that we need to sit down and write, write well. But how does the writer in us take shape? I want to encourage you to write and to consider the benefits of a writing mentor. The questions below should be a beginning if you do not already have one.

Anyone seriously practicing a craft or art needs at least one mentor. So how do you go about securing a writing mentor/coach? Ask yourself the following questions:

1.  Am I serious about writing? All of us think we have a novel in us. Or at least one great book. But only a small percentage of those who think this way ever write a book. Perhaps writing is just a hobby. If writing is more for you, if it’s a passion, then ask the next question . . .

2.  Lord, would you provide me with a mentor? Pray about it! Ask the Lord. When you’re desire is to honor Him in your craft or vocation, He will lead you to the right situation. His timing will be perfect. My first mentor was my fiction instructor at Bread Loaf School of English in Middlebury, VT. I attended there in the ‘80’s and we’ve been friends ever since. Our correspondence continues to be rich and meaningful. I’ve learned by reading all his books. He continues to coach me as I have need. And I value our relationship. I believe he was God’s choice for me. He was an answer to my early prayer.

3.  What do I need to learn? Be clear about what it is that you need mentoring in. First lay solid foundations. Learn about the Father as Creator and Poet. Remember, he’s an author (the Bible). You are made in his image. Second, read about the craft. Learn how you can do it better. Begin with my virtual mentors: my list of “Essential Books for Writers” is a good starting place. They are arranged the way I would arrange a course if I were coaching a group of believing writers. After you have read these, you are half way to an MFA for Christian writers. Writing well is the other half. I once had a friend tell me that a graduate degree is nothing more than a good set of bibliographies. Not actually, but he was close. So what do you need to learn? Perhaps you just need some cheerleading. A good coach is usually a good cheerleader and can encourage and empower you.

4.  Who can teach it to me? Who are the authors you appreciate? Make a list. Go down your list. Are they living? If so, they probably have a blog. If not, do they have a book on the craft? Have they written articles on writing? Most authors have. Do they teach or speak? Do a Google search. You’re sure to find your author if he/she is doing anything. Read everything your favorite author(s) has written. You have to be proactive and do your research if you’re serious about a mentor. A mentor is not going to call you up out of the blue (although God has done stranger things). But your Father will provide you with what you need if you work with him.

5.  How should I meet my prospective mentor? Take a course taught by him/her. Go to a conference where he/she is scheduled to speak. Don’t be a pest though. Introduce yourself. Ask if you may email him/her with a couple of questions. If you can’t meet at a conference. Email her/him if the email address is available either in the latest book or on the website. Perhaps your future coach is a blogger. Follow the blog and leave thoughtful, sincere comments. Don’t flatter, most authors are perceptive.

Just remember, many authors are extremely busy. Depending upon their renown, they may have received 30 or 300 requests like yours in the past week. Don’t be discouraged. Simply go to another author on your list of possible coaches. Many excellent authors are little known but may have the time and inclination to help others.

Be considerate in your approach, but don’t be shy. Be really clear about what it is you want to sharpen. What you want to learn. Be brief. Don’t be disappointed if they point you to a book or article. That’s being mentored! Don’t ever call! Unless you have an invitation to call, you are sure to be disappointed. This should be obvious. On the other hand, Skype is a really good face to face venue for coaching as long as you and your prospective mentor/coach have agreed upon it. Don’t expect to receive his/her expertise for free. “The workman is worthy of his/her wages.” Be creative, if you’re a blogger and have thousands of followers, ask if you can feature your writing coaches work on your blog in place of a coaching fee.

Examine your motives. If your mentoring relationship is not based upon the right motives, it will not produce the fruit that you, and the Lord, desire. Be certain that your motives are professional. I used to think that the ideal mentoring situation would be face to face. One of my mentors met me face to face a couple of times. Then we continued through email until our goals had been met. I’m no longer convinced that face to face is the best scenario. Close proximity could be devastating—for both of you. For you, because it’s too easy to become dependent. Result, you won’t risk. You have to take chances in your writing if it’s to crackle and snap. Fresh writing is free, even of your own inner critic. How likely would you be to risk if you had easy access to your mentor? Close proximity could be detrimental to your mentor too, because he/she might be interrupted once too often. Other risks include male/female challenges when face to face or becoming over dependent. Mentoring relationships need boundaries.

6.What should be our focus? This question is answered when you’ve answered #3. If an author agrees to coach you, make your goals SMART—Simple, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely. For help with focus and goal-setting check out the online “Goal Setting Guide.”

Just because writing mentors are rare is no reason you can’t find one. You just have to begin, be proactive, and remember: “ . . . be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1Cor. 15.58 ESV).

And Yes . . . I am a writing coach, but my expertise is non-fiction and Christian assisted publishing. If you want to contact me see my “Writer Coaching” page or write to me at: david@davidcalves.com  Just be sure to be brief and to the point. No life stories. No advertisements please. Show me you’ve read this post. Wouldn’t hurt to leave a comment too. Then I’ve been introduced.

QUESTION: Do you see the need for a mentor/coach? Do you have a coach? Or perhaps you are a mentor . . . could you make other suggestions?

©2011, David C Alves

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