Yes, it might be a cliché but that doesn’t make it less true. You can’t write in a vacuum. You need feedback, ideas and inspiration from outside. And yes, your mom might be enough for the early days, but eventually you’ll want feedback from somebody who actually knows their stuff. Enter the mentor (an unexpected rhyme, but I’ll take what I can get).
So what reasons are there to try a little harder to find one?
1. They will keep your feet on the ground
When you’re working as a writer for long enough without any feedback – either because you’re writing such quantity that you’re not actually getting any or because you aren’t getting paid – then writing can become entirely detached from reality. You have no idea what is working and what isn’t. And when you’re there a writing app can only get you so far. You need a real person’s opinion.
A mentor can bring you back down to earth. They can give you the feedback you need and once again make certain that your writing actually improves.
2. They can help you with other aspects of the writing world
Writing is not the only thing a writer has to do, nor is it the hardest. Quite the contrary. It’s everything that comes around it, the marketing, the finding of paying gigs, the finding of topics to write about, that can be far more difficult.
A mentor can help immensely in that regard. They can point you the way you have to go, so that you can avoid the big mistakes and make certain that you spend most of your time actually doing what you want to do – namely write.
3. Emotional support
Writing is tough. Often you go through long spells without really having any support. Those periods can be incredibly difficult. They can feel like you’re spinning your wheels in the air and not really achieving anything. That’s when you are the most likely to abandon ship and declare yourself a failure. A mentor can help you with that. They can remind you why you decided to try this project in the first place and they can tell you whether it is worth continuing on.
4. They can keep you going
Sometimes words spill from you like a river. Other times that dreaded writer’s block dry them right up. In that case somebody has to keep telling you you’ve got to keep trying. Otherwise a dry spell might turn into a dry season, might turn into a drought. And what is a writer who doesn’t write?
Where to find a mentor
This might surprise you, but the best place to find a mentor is among other writers. For example, visit Essay Supply. So if you’re not actually engaging with other writers (And it does happen) then you’re going to have trouble finding somebody to help you out.
So find other writers, be it online or by joining a writing guild in your neighborhood. Actually, I think I prefer the latter. Somehow writing needs to be talked about. You can’t quite the emotional reaction that somebody has to the text you’ve written from their lettered reply. You have to see it in their faces. Still, that’s really up to you.
Should you take a course?
It depends how good you are. If you’re a budding amateur but don’t have a big body of work behind you, then a course can teach you a heck of a lot, but it might not get you a mentor. After all, the teacher is going to have a lot of people to choose from and most of them are not in the mood to mentor everybody in the class. So it’s very possible that you’ll be disappointed.
Still, if a writer you really respect is teaching a class, you should still go for it and work really, very hard, to impress the person at the front of the class. Read their stuff and their interviews to see what makes them tick. So that you can both write in the style they like as well as find out if you actually like what they like. That last bit is very important.
Make sure you and your mentor have something in common
First and foremost, make certain that you respect your potential mentor – that you actually think they know what they’re talking about. If you don’t have that respect then they can’t be your mentor. Similarly, make certain that your potential mentor will and can respect you.
Don’t work with misogynists if you’re a woman. Don’t work with racists if you’re not of the same race (actually, don’t work with racists as all, if you can help it. They’re just not good people).
You have to have overlap in interests, writing style, theme or life goals. If you don’t have these things, it’s going to be very hard for you to respect each other and to enjoy working together. So before you ask somebody to mentor you, do your homework.
Read what they’ve written. See if you like it and whether you want your style to reflect more of theirs. After all, that’s what they know so that’s probably how they’ll influence your style.