April 23, 2020

How to Develop a Mentorship

Young hispanic boy and girl looking through a book together with text: Creating a Mentorship

Over the years, I’ve received many emails from writers asking me to be their writing mentor. I’m honored by the requests, but like many authors with larger-than-they-can-keep-up-with platforms, I simply don’t have time to fulfill every request for help I receive.

Instead, I hope my blog here can act as a “virtual mentorship,” as many of my posts are essentially brain dumps of everything I know about a topic. I’ve joked before that one reason my posts are epic-length (and take me so long to write, often requiring 6-8+ hours of work) is that I’ve learned too much stuff about writing to keep my brain dumps short. *snicker*

But recently I did volunteer to become a writing mentor, and I want to share this opportunity with hopeful mentees here. So let’s talk about how to make the most of a mentorship — real or virtual. *smile*

What Is a Writing Mentorship?

As we probably already know, a mentorship is a relationship between someone wanting to learn and someone willing to teach. When we’re learning something new, we’re often eager to find someone we trust to give us the lowdown.

In the face of uncertainty or not knowing where to even start learning, it helps to feel like someone is holding our hand, leading the way. A mentor can help us identify priorities of what to learn first or steer us away from scams and missteps.

That said, in the writing world, we might have need of many different mentors over the course of our career, as no one’s an expert on everything. We might turn to one expert to beef up our writing craft skills, and we might need someone else to help us with marketing advice.

Mentorships Aren’t for Everyone

However, just as not every writer is cut out to be an editor (or even a good beta reader), not every experienced author will make a good mentor. For example, not everyone has the patience or eagerness to teach or knows how to structure information to make it easy for others to learn, or they simply might not remember enough of what it was like to be inexperienced and thus fail to communicate on an appropriate level.

On the other hand, not everyone is a good candidate for being a mentee. Mentorships are a two-way street, and while the idea of “hand holding” is nice, mentees really have to be the one driving the relationship. Mentees can’t just expect to passively absorb everything they need to know or have their problems solved for them.

Would we make a good mentor or mentee? Click To TweetInstead, they need to take charge of reaching out and initiating contact, not just for the initial request for mentoring but also on an ongoing basis. Many mentor experts have too many demands on their time to do unprompted check ins, so mentees need to be assertive enough to follow up with their mentors when needed.

Plus, all the knowledge in the world won’t help someone who’s not open to hearing it or willing to put in the work to apply it. Part of respecting a mentor’s time and assistance requires mentees to make progress and get better on their own as they learn with their mentor’s guidance.

Why Is It Difficult to Find a Writing Mentor?

Even if we’re a good candidate for a mentorship, we’re likely to struggle with finding a good partner. The career of writing is so broad, from drafting and editing to publishing and publicity, that it’s highly unlikely for someone to be an expert in all things writing related. That breadth of necessary knowledge also makes it hard to find a mentor unless we really know what type of help we need.

Personally, I can attest that those who message me asking specific questions are more likely to get answers than those with more vague or general questions, like “how do I get started writing?” Specific questions often lead me to write a blog post for the answers, or I might reply with links to posts I’ve already written with the answers.

If we just ask someone to be a mentor and leave out specific details of what we’re looking for and why, many writers (who often suffer from self-doubt and impostor syndrome) are likely to demur. No matter how much they do know, they might think of all the aspects of writing they’re not qualified in and say they’re not “expert enough” to be a mentor.

At the same time, those confident they’re qualified often aren’t qualified at all. (Why can’t people like that suffer from impostor syndrome? *sigh*) Or they might claim to have knowledge just to lead us astray with a scam or to sell their products they claim to be the “magic bullet” we need to be successful.

Other Difficulties with Finding Mentors:

Writers might also struggle to find mentors for other reasons, such as:

  • Writing in a Less Common Genre: Expectations of writing, storytelling, publishing, and marketing can vary from genre to genre, leading to the possibility of inappropriate or inaccurate advice from experts in other genres.
  • Fewer Contacts in Writing Community: Because mentorships often grow out of existing relationships, those with limited contacts in the writing community often struggle to connect with more experienced authors.
  • Can’t Find a Trusted Resource: Related to the above, some writers stumble into writing communities with shady practices, so the contacts they have aren’t trustworthy or genuine. Mentorships require both parties to be vulnerable with each other, as mentees need to expose their weaknesses and mentors need to be willing to share lessons learned from their failures. Mutual trust helps mentees feel confident in their mentors’ advice.
  • Member of a Marginalized Community: Between issues like racism, homophobia, or others questioning the experiences of an #ownvoices author, writers from marginalized communities can run into problems with unsupportive—or even hostile—mentors.

So there are many reasons why most writers don’t have a mentor. Which brings me to…

Introducing the Inclusive Romance Project!

A couple of years ago, author and DEI (diversity/equity/inclusion) expert Kharma Kelley guest posted here with what authors needed to know about the then-new GDPR laws. We’ve kept in touch since then, most recently as I absorbed her insightful advice regarding RWA’s diversity issues.

So I was thrilled to see her start the Inclusive Romance Project, which organizes opportunities and resources to help writers succeed—especially those from underrepresented groups. As she says in the IRP home page, everyone deserves a Happily Ever After.

In addition to IRP’s Critique Group, she also recently announced a new Mentoring Program. I knew that if she was behind the program, it would be done right. So for the first time ever, I signed up to become a mentor. *grin*

Are You a Romance Author?
Check out the IRP Mentoring Program!

The call for Mentors has already closed, but if you’re a romance author and you think you’d be a good mentee candidate, you have until May 1st to apply to be a Mentee.

IRP Mentorship Program - Romance writers! Deadline May 1st

Applications are open to every romance writer, especially those who might struggle for mentorship opportunities. As IRP says on the website:

“All romance writers are welcomed to apply, especially #ownvoices, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, disabled and other members of underrepresented communities.”

The IRP Mentoring Program is scheduled to run for 6 months, starting on June 1st. And Kharma is an awesome organizer, so she already has policies and schedules in place for her to make sure all parties are doing their part. *smile*

What If We Can’t Find a Mentor?

Great, but what about writers in other genres? Or what if the IRP Mentoring Program reaches capacity?

How can we seek out virtual mentors to help us learn writing, publishing, and marketing? Click To TweetAs I mentioned in the intro, we can seek out “virtual mentors” to learn from. At each step of our writing/publishing journey we can watch and learn what authors who succeeded at that step did and try to emulate them.

In addition, we’re blessed with many authors in the writing community who love to share their knowledge—and blog posts, Twitter threads, workshops, critique partners/beta readers, editors, writing forum posters, etc. can all be sources of good writing advice if we listen to the right people. With good resources, we can learn whatever we want.

Here are some of the many resources and tips I’ve shared over the years that might help us identify good virtual mentors:

Don’t Forget to Look Around Here

Also, like I said earlier, I hope I’ve shared enough knowledge here over the years to be a virtual mentor for at least some of those I can’t help more directly. This blog has over 1000 posts about almost every imaginable writing-related topic.

In the sidebar, the “GOT A QUESTION” search box allows you to search my posts for anything you want to know. (Put quote marks around words if you’re looking for a specific phrase, such as “past tense”.)

I also use tags for many common topics, such as showing vs. telling. So if you find one post on a topic you need, scroll to the bottom of the post to see if I’ve used that topic as a tag and click to find other potentially relevant posts.

If you can’t find a post answering your specific question, feel free to message me through my Contact page. As I mentioned above, I often turn questions into blog posts here to dig into the answer. *grin*

Have you ever participated in a mentorship? Were you a mentor or a mentee? Do you have any other tips or insights about successful mentorships? Do you plan to apply to IRP’s Mentoring Program (let me know so I can look for you!)? Do you have any advice for finding or using virtual mentors?

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Sara Letourneau

Is a writing coach the same thing as a mentor? I’ve been one for about a year now, and I absolutely love it. 🙂 And one of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a coach (and would thus pass on to new mentors and writing coaches as well as writers) is to listen to your clients. Ask them questions, and find out not only what they’re working on but also WHY they’re doing it. Knowing a writer’s why will give a coach a better understanding of the project and whether the coach and the writer are good fits for each other in terms of the project itself as well as each other’s values.


Thanks for posting this! I applied (last minute) and so nervous! O_O

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