How to choose a writing mentor

13 September 2023

As well as being an actual writer, I’m a writing mentor.  I chose to mentor others because writing is hard.  Yes, it’s amazing and soul-absorbing, but it can also be agonising.  There’s a reason why George Orwell compared writing a book with “…a long bout of some painful illness”.

So if you’re trying to write something that’s important to you (if it isn’t, why are you writing it?), some help might be nice.  All you have to do now is find the right mentor to offer it.

But how?

You might not know what kind of help you need just yet.  You might not even know what kind of book, story, or article you’re writing.  There’s just a strong, gnawing feeling that you must write it. 

It’s OK to feel uncertain about structure.  It’s OK if your story isn’t fully-formed.  If you listen to it, that “I must write this” feeling will guide you steadily through the process, like a torch on a dark night.  You may not be able to see the end of the route just yet, but you can see the next step forwards.

As well as sharing their own expertise, a good mentor will help you listen to that feeling and use it to shape your writing.

Does your mentor ‘get’ what you’re trying to write?

It may not matter if your chosen writing mentor doesn’t write in the same genre as you, or even have the same experiences as a writer.

Sometimes, it does matter.  For example, genres like fantasy follow specific rules that your mentor should be familiar with.  I’m not, so I always refer fantasy-writers to other mentors.

But sometimes, a mentor who has a different viewpoint, or who writes in a different genre from yours, can be insanely helpful.  When I started writing my current novel, which is literary fiction, I chose to work with a thriller-writer so I could tighten the plot and set a faster story pace.  The combination worked amazingly well.

Ultimately, what matters is that your mentor understands the mechanics of storytelling and ‘gets’ the story you want to tell.   You should get a good idea of both by speaking with them directly and reading their own work.

(Don’t work with a writing mentor who has never written anything themselves.  They will not understand the weird mental and emotional struggle that writing anything important is).

Your mentor won’t always be right

A good writing mentor will encourage you to find your own voice, so you can write in a way that becomes as natural as breathing.  They will also recognise that nobody knows your story quite as well as you do.

So if your mentor suggests something that doesn’t feel right to you, you should feel comfortable about telling them.  They shouldn’t be upset or offended, but work with you to understand why, and/or find a better way forwards.

Is there a story you’re burning to tell?

If so, I’d love the opportunity to find out more and see if I could help.

You can book a free, no-obligation chat here.

Rather get right into it? I also offer a 1.5-hour Plan Your Masterpiece session that’s specifically designed to get you off the starting block.