Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What kind of mentor?

[If you're here for Pitch Wars, my mentor bio is here!]

I never had a mentor.

When people ask me who inspires me in my writing, I of course can name my heroes--other writers whose work I admire or whose work I grew up on--but I honestly never had anyone in my life take me under their wing and walk me through anything in the writing/publishing world. I've been doing it alone.

I've enjoyed a few craft books but never felt that any particular one gave me the blueprint to do what I do. I've had plenty of fantastic beta readers who gave me suggestions and helped me cut words and furnished me with their emotional and critical reactions--people I respected and considered equals, and for whom I performed some of the same functions. But I never had an older or more experienced author whose gentle but authoritative advice functioned as the guiding force in my writing and career. I've never had a writing teacher. I don't have a mentor.

And it took me a very long time to get where I got. I wonder if I might have grown into my shoes faster or sooner if I'd had a hand to hold.

Partly because of that, I don't quite know what developing writers and authors on the cusp of publishing want in a mentor. I've filled this role a ton of times now--not just in several contests, but for individual writers--some of whom are just budding authors asking me questions on Facebook, and some of whom are lifelong friends or fans of one of my websites who also write and are trying to take their stuff to the next level.

I have one friend I didn't meet through a writing community who got signed to an agent (though never published)--my dear Ms. Ronni--but everybody else in my personal life who writes is sort of looking to me to guide them through the process, from draft to approaching agents. I lean on my existing relationship with them to help me decide what kind of guidance to offer, but with writers I'm just meeting, I'm not so sure how to do it.

So, if any potential mentees for Pitch Wars are out there reading this and are considering me for a mentor . . . I'd love to know what YOU want from the mentoring experience. How would your dream mentor guide you? How involved do you want them to be? Are you looking for . . .
  • The Stoic Teacher--Available to answer questions and give you authoritative answers, but doesn't try to cross that line into being your friend?
  • The Bad News Bear--The one who's ultra critical of your manuscript and rips it apart, tells you truthfully when it's not ready, doesn't sweet talk you, and understands you need this because your friends won't do it?
  • The Confidante--The one you tell your insecurities to so they can help you firm them up, the one you share secrets with, the one you trust with your ideas so they can make them better?
  • The Writing Buddy--The one who may know a little more than you, but becomes a critique partner and shares their work too?
  • The Cheerleader--The one who understands you lack confidence and can remind you of all the reasons you're great, with examples, and cheers you on as you approach drafting, contests, submissions . . . ?
  • The Minimally Involved--Friendly, cordial, but gives you one swipe through your book and then backs away, more performing a service than cultivating a relationship?
  • The Hand-Holder--The one who doesn't mind if you want to check with them on everything, from minor choices in your draft to what agents you want to submit to--the one who nurtures you and doesn't make you feel clingy if you need lots of attention?
  • The Lifelong Adviser--The one who's always wiser, more experienced, comforting to have as an answer machine because they've done it all before you--happy to dole out advice but isn't someone you contact for personal issues?
  • The Flailtastic--That quirky person who gets just as excited about your book as you are, isn't shy about it and doesn't even pretend to be dignified, knows what they're talking about generally but definitely wouldn't claim to project a "professional" public presence?
  • The Long Haul--The one who will read your book multiple times, continue to nurture it over time, provide developmental editing, and stay with you throughout submissions to help you revise queries, choose agents, and draft your next one?
  • The Nit-Picker--The language geek who tears all your sentences apart, stomps on your dashes, and polishes your form (not so much your content)?
The weird things is, I've been all of these things to people, and sometimes I'm multiple types at once. Because of my busy life, I do prefer to not go through books multiple times, but I do it and have done it for close friends. I definitely tend to nitpick on grammar/punctuation and am less useful in developmental editing, but that's primarily because I feel authors know their story better than I do and it's not up to me to choose how they should present it; all I can do is tell them what I'm missing and let them do what they will with that. I prefer more independent writers who don't need to check with me constantly or be supported emotionally all the time, but at the same time I would rather a writing pal check with me about something they're unsure on than stampede off into the wilderness feeling like it might be the wrong decision, and I'm certainly happy to be there with cupcakes and a shoulder to cry on when my friends experience rejection or frustration.

I can squee with the best of them, but I also sometimes maintain professional distance (especially with some of the younger/less experienced writers who write to me and are very far from ready, but think they are). I've even been the borderline cruel voice of reason--both with people I know and people I don't--when I think they're making a mistake or going in the wrong direction. (The reality-check throat punch is especially likely if I'm approached by someone who wears their ego on their face--like a teen writer I had once tell me their gloriously overdecorated purple prose was perfect as it was because they were very very deep and I must just not understand it. Yep, they used the word "deep." Repeatedly.)

So if you're entering Pitch Wars--or are planning to work with me on a manuscript through some other vehicle--think about your preferred mentoring style. I have certain tendencies and certain talents, but I can also modify my interaction style to be what you want/need (and it would be nice to not annoy you in the process or spend my time on something you won't appreciate or won't use). I'm honestly not sure what I would have wanted my mentor to be like if I'd ever had one, though I'm sure I can name a few things I definitely wouldn't want.

What about you? What have the mentors you've already had been like? What would you like your future mentors to be like? What advice do YOU have for ME on how you'd want me to mentor you? Now's your chance to tell me. . . .

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