How do you find your mentor?

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Asking an author to be your mentor before you’ve worked together is a bit like asking someone to marry you before you’ve gone on a date.

(Note: it is not out of line to ask an author if they will consider reading your work for a fee. Just be respectful of the author’s time: as you know, it is currency!)

But mentorship is different. It’s a relationship. You find a mentor in the same way you find a life partner: by being focused on the present. By being intently and decisively your best self.

Q: How do you find the ideal mentor?
A: Practice being the writer your ideal mentor wants to work with.

It sounds like a contradiction, I know. You want to find a mentor so she can help you become the exciting and skilled writer you’re meant to be. But what if it works the other way around?

How would you behave right now if you knew you were going to meet your ideal mentor next week?

You would be writing, of course! You would be working on your stories. Hard. You would want them to be the most exciting, intriguing and skillfully written pages your mentor has ever seen.

I do not mean for this to be a frustrating answer. I’m serious. I’ve put a lot of thought into how to articulate this particular quandary to you. This is the glowing-red truth about your search for a mentor (or an agent, or a publisher):

Your success as a writer will always rest on the quality of your writing practice.

There is no other way.

Growing as a writer – that includes finding a mentor, finishing a book, maybe even hiring an agent – will always depend on your writing first.

So if you want to find a mentor, first do this:

  1. Make writing your priority.

  2. Cultivate focus.

  3. Read.

  4. Take your eyes off publication; put them back on your practice.

  5. Repeat.

Put your writing practice in high-definition.

This is because mentorship is intense. If your writing practice isn’t sufficiently intense already, there’s a big chance that you won’t even recognize mentorship when it presents itself.

At the same time, put yourself out there. Go to readings and panel discussions; post comments on writing websites and blogs; write thank you notes to authors; read your stories at open mics; have discussions with writers you admire. Definitely attend workshops and apply to writing retreats.

Be a charged particle in your atmosphere.
That’s how your mentor will recognize you.

If you can’t afford classes right now, read! Study the kind of writing that turns you on, and then try to write that way. Any author you love can be a mentor if you study their work closely.

Does all of this sound impossible and maddeningly simple at the same time?

Yes.

But you’re a writer, so you already know this paradox well.

xo,

Sarah” width=

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9 comments

Samantha Campos

Thank you! This is exactly what I needed to hear (er, read) right now.
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Nikki Reklitis

Thanks Sarah. This specific topic has been on my mind of late and I've learned that now is not the time for a mentor. Other work must come first: a focused practice and time spent out at readings, panels, etc.
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Mary Nicholson

Thank you Sarah- sound advice. Now I am going to get writing!
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Thank you so much! It is disheartening taking classes or workshops and just not feeling it click with the instructor. Currently I am in a situation where I am taking a class and it just isn't the atmosphere for me. I let it get me down thinking maybe I wasn't ready to learn, but I just don't feel that's true. I bubbling inside to expand my practice. From reading your post I can see there are so many ways to get out there and find where I fit. "Be a charged particle in your atmosphere"... brilliant!!! It is so true, I can't expect to find a match made in heaven on my first time out. Also, I can't let negative influences be the only voice I hear. Taking in information from every outlet possible is the key to finding a process and eventually a great mentor. Thanks Sarah!
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Robin Sparks

Thanks Sarah for this timely tome. It cemented for me what I had already recommitted to doing and began again yesterday. I am the mentor I am looking for and the way to honor myself and my writing is to make writing a priority, cultivate focus...Thanks for your insights.
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Love this post, Sarah. Such sound advice!
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"Be a charged particle in your atmosphere." I love that sentence so much,it gives me goose-bumps. I love the thought so much, I'm going to embroider it onto something. Watch out.
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Mary Alterman

Take your mind off publishing and put it on practice. Lost that for a bit. Always good to recover. Thanks.
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YES! Nobody wants to mentor someone who doesn't show up and do the work. Love this, Sarah.
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