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How a Writing Mentor Can Help You
By Julie Rayl

Do you know what a writing mentor is? If you don't, you're not alone. Mentors are not as common in this profession as in others. According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, a mentor is a trusted counselor or guide. A writing mentor, then, would be a trusted counselor or guide who is a writer him/herself and can help you with your writing.

So what can a writing mentor do for a writer? They can offer advice on anything from how to begin your novel or article to how to handle a book signing. Mentors can offer valuable education gleaned from their years of experience, offer support during a period of writer's block and give encouragement when you've received your umpteenth rejection.

Dr. Shirley Peddy, Ph.D. author of "The Art of Mentoring," suggests three steps a mentor should do to help you the mentoree: they should lead, follow and get out of the way. By lead, Dr. Peddy means the mentors should be in charge of the relationship in the beginning. They should give advice and counsel. Share their wisdom of what has worked and what hasn't. Then the mentor should guide the relationship into one where the mentor follows what the mentoree is doing. Help him to do it on his own. At this point, the mentoree can use the mentor for advice-- for example, the mentoree could state something like, "This is what I'm thinking of doing; what do you think?" A mentor does not want a mentoree to become dependent, or the relationship won't work. The last step is for the mentor to get out of the way. The mentor can help you realize that you can now do it on your own.

What shouldn't a mentor do for a writer? A mentor should not allow the mentoree to become dependent on them.  A mentor needs to teach the mentoree how to go it alone. No relationship should continue forever. He or she can leave the door open and have it become a collegial relationship, or end it altogether.

Now that you know what a writing mentor can and shouldn't do for you, how do you go about finding one? There are a number of places one can find a mentor.

If you are involved in a writing group, find someone you admire and ask if he or she has time to answer some questions you have. There are many academic writing teachers who are ready and willing to help a writer out. Also, if you belong to a professional organization, they may have a mentor program. Writers Guild of America (http://www.wga.org) has a great mentoring program for beginning screenwriters. All one has to do is pick a name out of their directory and send an email. If the screenwriter has the time, he or she will answer back, and the mentorship begins. There are also many Websites catering to writers that may offer a mentor program.

Dr. Peddy suggests going to an expert who is in your field. For example, if you are writing a nonfiction book, search the library or Internet for books that are in that area and call or write the author. Dr. Peddy says that most people are very eager to share their knowledge; they find it flattering. The worst they can say is "no."

When approaching a possible mentor, there are several ways to go about it. Before approaching someone, find out some information on her, read her stuff, and tell her you like it. Be respectful of her time-- if she doesn't have time to talk with you, ask if she knows of any other writers who might have the time. Never tell her you're looking for a mentor-- that could
make her feel uncomfortable. Call to set up a time to talk with her and never take up more time than you promised. "Mentoring is about building relationships. Ask them some questions and don't pretend you know them," says Dr. Peddy. She recommends that after they have helped you, give them a reward. Send them your book or article that they helped with. Flowers with a thank-you note is also nice.

Now that you've approached your mentor and are beginning a relationship, don't feel that the mentor should be doing all the work. The mentoree must do a few things in order to make the relationship successful. This is a two-way relationship; be sure you're reciprocating by giving feedback on how your mentor's advice is helpful. Mentors want to know that they are helping you. Pass along the advice to other writers and tell your mentor you did that. It will please the mentor to know that you liked her advice enough to pass it on to others. If you can do these few things, then you're sure to have a successful relationship.

Julie Rayl is a freelance writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah.


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