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 www.GoTeenWriters.com. 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?
This 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 www.GoTeenWriters.com 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 www.goteenwriters.com. You can also visit her online at www.jillwilliamson.com, where adventure comes to life.