Amanda Luedeke

December 2, 2013

Do You Mentor a Writer?


by MacGregor Literary award-winning author Jill Williamson

When I started writing I was pretty much on my own. I searched long and hard for local writing groups, but couldn’t find one. I tried a few online groups and eventually started one with another YA author I’d met online. We sort of mentored each other as we went along, the blind leading the blind. It wasn’t the worst way to learn. And we did learn. We’re both traditionally published authors now.

I also attended writers conferences, read books on the craft of writing, and read writing blogs. But I never sought out a mentor. I didn’t know how. I was too shy. And I figured they’d all say no, anyway. But once I was published, I liked helping other writers. So I started blogging for teen writers. I figured that there were plenty of blogs out there for adults, so why not create one for teens?

Blogging for teens was a way to share what I’d learned. And I wasn’t the only one with this idea. At a marketing retreat, I got to know Stephanie Morrill who started She and I talked and decided to combine forces. She had created an amazing blog for teen writers and graciously took me on as a co-blogger. Blogging for teens allows me to speak to hundreds of teen writers every week.

Later on we also put our various blog posts into a book we co-wrote called Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft into a Published Book. This book has enabled us to mentor in yet another form and had been read by teen writers all over the world. How cool is that?

I officially mentor two writers. I don’t think I could handle mentoring more than two as it can be very time consuming. But mentoring is also very rewarding. It allows me to give another writer the support that I would have liked to have had back when I started out.

If you’re thinking about mentoring a writer, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Define the communication plan.

It’s important to decide from the start how often you’ll talk and how, whether through email or phone or in-person visits at a local coffee shop. If you have some boundaries you want to keep, set those up in the beginning.

2. Be clear on what you will do and what you will not do.

There are authors out there who would send everything they’ve ever written to their mentor to read and send new material whenever they write it. But a mentor is not a personal slave, so be clear up front about what you will read and give feedback on and when you will do it. I tend to work on one project at a time with my mentees. I will also read query letters, pitches, and proposals too when they ask.

3. Help set goals and be sure and follow up.

Part of being a writer is meeting deadlines, so it’s important to help your mentees set goals and follow through. Be sure to put the deadlines on your own calendar so you can send reminders.

4. Give feedback but don’t try and make them into you.

Depending on the writing level of your mentee, it can be hard not to try and fix everything all at once. Some mentees need more work on their craft. Others don’t. It’s wise to work with authors who write things you like to read. That will help you remain impartial. Try not to over critique their stories, either. It’s a delicate balance. Remember that this is their story, not yours, and you are trying to help them grow as a writer.

5. Try to meet.

If you don’t know your writer personally, try to get together and meet. If not at a writer’s conference, than try Skype or Google Hangouts. You don’t have to meet on a regular basis, but there’s something wonderful about sitting and talking together face-to-face.

6. Be positive but honest.

Being honest can be a difficult dance at times. You are the voice of experience, and it can be tempting to be overly honest as we might with a peer. But new writers can be vulnerable, and it’s important to be positive even with criticism or the feasibility of selling a story idea so as not to discourage. Don’t be in a hurry to try and see that your mentee learns everything right away. Learning the craft of writing is a journey that each person must travel. We can help our mentees on that journey, but we can’t walk it for them and we should be wary of offering shortcuts. We mustn’t make our mentees dependent on us. We need to teach them how to go it alone so that someday they can reach out and find a mentee of their own.

Do you mentor a writer or share your expertise with other writers in some way? If so, how? Do you have any tips for mentoring? If you are a writer who would like a mentor, what help do you most seek?

GoTeenWriters_3D Bow 2This week the Go Teen Writers ebook is on sale for .99 in all ebook formats. If you mentor a teen writer, this might be a good gift idea for them. Also, feel free to visit and join in the discussions with teen writers.


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms and the award-winning author of several young adult books including By Darkness Hid, Replication, The New Recruit, and Captives. She’s a Whovian, a Photoshop addict, and a recovering fashion design assistant, who was raised in Alaska. She blogs for teen writers at You can also visit her online at, where adventure comes to life.

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  • cjoy says:

    Your post made my day! I saw your book advertised at the ACFW conference this past September and have been considering it for my son (almost 13, with a deep love for writing). I’m still in a learning curve myself, so I hardly know how to help him. This is exactly what he needs. Thank you!!

  • Morgan Busse says:

    You’ve always answered any questions I emailed you and helped me as a new author. Thanks, Jill! Your example has encouraged me to help other writers 🙂

    • jillmariewilliamson says:

      Thanks, Morgan! That’s very kind of you to say. I’m glad I was able to help. 🙂

  • Number 6 (Be positive but honest) is a really tough one for me. I was so fragile as a new writer that I tend to lean way too positive in my critiques.

    Great post, Jill. And it was a no-brainer having you join Go Teen Writers 🙂

  • michelle grover says:

    Love this emphasis! I am SO convinced of the importance of equipping the next generation to speak (write) truth to their own generation.

    I’ve had the opportunity to review/edit/critique a few other books for peers along the way, and I love that.

    But I’m even more excited to mentor the next generation. I’ve been blogging for a while now at and am excited to be joining forces in January with some teen writers to launch “O. shoots!: a blog for teens.” I look forward to mentoring these teen authors as they grow in their writing and their faith … and I look forward to learning from them and growing in my own writing and faith.

    I’ll never forget when Jamie Langston Turner (one of my writing professors) and I went out for lunch, and *she* asked *me* how I was handling a certain element in my novel. The way she (an already established author) took in my own thoughts (as if I were a peer, though truly one of her students) still astonishes me. That lunch established my mindset toward the next generation of writers.

    Kudos, Jill! Thanks for writing! We all need the encouragement to come out of our writing cozy and connect with other writers! I love your heart for teens and the way you back it up with how you invest in them on an ongoing basis. Your dividends are coming!!! 🙂 Keep it up!

    • jillmariewilliamson says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Michelle. And good job reaching out to teen writers. That’s awesome. What an exciting new venture. And I love that story about your professor. That simple act of her treating you like a peer stuck with you. Reaching out can be so powerful.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    I’ve never officially mentored another writer (but what a great idea), however, when I’ve done other types of mentoring, I think I’ve gained as much as the person I was mentoring.

  • Ane Mulligan says:

    I did the same, Jill. Gina Holmes and I met at a conference along with Jessica Dotta. We grew up in the craft together. Today, through Penwrights, we’ve mentored a number of other authors, and most have published now. We have a few newer ones who are close. 🙂

    I also have a local group. It began as another ACFW member asked me to work with a new author. Both became dear friends! As an author, there is nothing sweeter than seeing your “menthe” grow and then publish! Most made it before me. LOL

    • jillmariewilliamson says:

      That’s wonderful, Ane! Congrats on the great mentor/mentee thing you’ve got going. I love that. And I totally agree that there is nothing sweeter than seeing those you mentored grow. So fun!

  • Sharon James says:

    Thanks, Jill. Do you consider mentoring a viable alternative to peer critique groups? Do you mentor for free or is it like giving music lessons? I have some wonderful mentors from conferences, but have not asked one particular person to look over my body of work and guide me on how to focus my efforts. That is a huge task, as you mentioned. Each teacher has a favorite genre, and they all want me to send work out. But where do I begin? It is more fun to switch between projects than to push something to the finish line. It is easier to post on my blog than to send essays or articles to magazines. Submitting to just one journal takes hours of research. My life is really busy. A mentor would help me focus, but am I willing to surrender my independence to have that accountability?

    • jillmariewilliamson says:

      I wouldn’t say that a mentor replaces your critique group, Sharon. A critique group is important because it gives a variety of opinions. A mentor might not be able to read your entire body of work. It depends on the person and their schedule. But a mentor could take a look at each premise and help you determine which are stronger. And I do think a mentor would encourage you to pick one and follow through to completion. That’s one of the best ways to grow as a writer. As for magazine articles, that’s a personal choice. I published a few articles early on in my writing journey, and you’re right. It’s extremely time consuming. But you do reach a wider audience than you can with a book. Yet I didn’t want to spend that time. I wanted to write books. And in the end, I chose to do what I enjoyed best.

      So I would say, yes. A mentor would ask you to surrender some independence and accountability, but if you want to finish your books and get published, you should be training yourself to do that anyway. You don’t have to do it. The fun thing about being your own boss is that you’re your own boss! But if you don’t set goals and follow through, you might never finish all those cool projects.

    • Sharon James says:

      Thank you so much, Jill, for your encouragement. I have a little more time for writing than in previous years and can give some time to my novel and some to sending out other work. As you said, I just need to pick one publication goal and follow through.
      On another note, thank you for helping my teenage son with his story at OCW. He met with another author as well, and was really inspired after the conference. He rewrote the first chapter several times and has added about five new chapters since.

    • jillmariewilliamson says:

      You’re welcome, Sharon. And you can do it! And your son is so much fun. I love that he writes mysteries. It’s a nice change from all the teens who write fantasy or straight contemporary. Tell him I said, “Good job!” 🙂

    • michelle grover says:

      Personally, I don’t know that a mentor would necessarily charge you, but it does seem like a kind gesture for their time investment if you would give them a “thank you” gift of some sort. Just a thought. Probably depends on your relationship with the person.

  • chipmacgregor says:

    Great advice. Thanks, Jill! I really appreciate your thoughtful wisdom.

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