Thursday, April 04, 2013

On Writing: Having a Mentor

When I first decided I was going to be a writer, there was a whole new uncharted territory ahead of me. I’d gone through school, university and the early part of my working life doing subjects in Accounting, Economics, Business and Finance. I knew very little about creative writing as a job so I really had a lot to learn. I’ll always be grateful to the people who encouraged me along by patiently teaching me things I needed to know. They are my writing mentors. 

Image credit: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk
In any new venture or endeavour we want to take, it’s always helpful when we have someone who has been there, to teach us. This is very true in the writing business as well. It can be a lonely job, sitting at your desk for hours working on something, but you don’t know if it’s any good. It can be frustrating trying to learn about a new industry but you just can’t seem to get the hang of it. Or you get bombarded with so much information that it’s simply easier to get discouraged and give up. Here’s where a mentor can step in to keep you on the right track, and help you feel like you’re not alone. 

Benefits of having a writing mentor 

1) Getting impartial feedback on your work - A writing mentor is someone who can read your work and tell you what they really think about it. They can help you by giving constructive criticism. It’s easy for anybody to say your work is nice, but it’s not really helpful feedback. A writing mentor would be able to tell you what’s good about your work and what needs improving. This type of good feedback is exactly what you need to grow as a writer. 

2) Inspiration - A writing mentor should be someone who has achieved some goals that you’re aiming for. That way, they can encourage and inspire you to do the same. They can help you clarify your dreams, give you realistic ways of doing things and motivate you to keep going when you feel it’s too difficult. 

3) Avoid mistakes they’ve made - We all make mistakes when we’re learning something new, that’s very normal. But you can learn from the mistakes that someone else has made so you don’t have to repeat them. A writing mentor can show you what pitfalls to avoid, so you don’t waste time and effort (or even money) doing things that will not benefit you. 

4) Increase your confidence - A mentor would give your confidence a boost when you need it. It’s very encouraging when you get great feedback from somebody you admire and trust. 

5) Connections and Opening doors - A mentor could be someone who has built good relationships with other people in the writing and publishing industry. That could be useful if you need an introduction to certain people. 

6) Help you achieve your dreams - If you’re attempting something new, there will be lots of people who won’t understand it and would criticise or even tell you that it’s impossible. However, a mentor will be someone who will tell you that it is possible to achieve your dreams. He or she would be proof that you can follow your dreams and make them come true. 

7) A mentor may open your eyes to possibilities -  A mentor could show you ideas and opportunities that you may not have been aware of. They might be able to push you beyond your own knowledge, give you ideas to boost your skills and help you match your strengths to new tasks. 

So how do you choose a mentor? 
For me, I started by reading the blogs of writers I admired, and I set up a Facebook group to meet writers like me. Soon, I developed friendships with some of the people I followed and it grew from there. You can of course, have more than one mentor if you want. 

If you need help with writing and crafting stories, find someone that you admire their style of writing. If you need help with getting connections in the industry, look for someone who is well established and popular. Bear in mind though, that a mentor like that would be quite busy so they might have limited interaction with you. 

You can start online. Look for writers on Facebook or Twitter. Check their bio and read their blogs. There is no harm in asking – the worst they can do is say no. Don’t be a stalker, if they don’t respond to you, move on and find someone else. 

Every mentoring relationship is different. Try to have something useful to offer your mentor too, so that it is mutually beneficial relationship. You may decide to meet in person, or not. Nowadays you can interact with people in many different ways, so while it is great, you may not need to meet your mentor in person. I've made friends with so many people who have been helpful to me in my work, even though we've never met in person.

And of course, being friendly and polite goes a long way!

(c) Tolulope Popoola

12 comments:

  1. I loved this post. It is so very true.

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  2. This is no doubt a good tutorial for any one who wants to be an appreciated writer. You'll sure have an inspiring experience and free flow when you have a substance to look up to. Good piece Tope.

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  3. You are so right. And this good piece of advise is so timely for me. Thumbs up, Tolu.

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    1. Anonymous10:50 p.m.

      Pls , how do I sign up ? Am an aspiring author , will like to be part of a community

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  4. This is a great post with lots of great advice. I hope to find a writing mentor(s) one day - I find it difficult to get proper feedback from people I already know. Like you said, it's easier for them to say it's nice, but it doesn't help me in becoming a better writer.

    Again, great post!

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    1. Thanks Kim! You can start with a critique group, if you're looking for unbiased responses to your writing.

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  5. i have a few ideas for a book.I wrote one and a company in America wants to publish it.Does that mean that i should be a full time writer?{shudders}.
    You are the only Nigerian writer i have even heard of. Will you at least read my script?pleasssse?
    Henri Yire
    deblaqsheep@gmail.com

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  6. I just got a publishing deal.what next?

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  7. Hey Tolu….At what stage in the writing process should one get a mentor? At the very conception of the desire to be a writer or a couple of thousand words into a book?

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I welcome your comments! Thank you.