Wednesday, June 22, 2011

4 Tips to Getting a Writing Mentor

I recently read Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen. In Ms. Pekkanen's acknowledgements page, she said that she'd received wonderful mentoring from Jennifer Weiner, and that in return for the mentoring, Jennifer had told her to mentor another writer. To pay it forward. It really got me thinking about my own writerly mentors.

You see, I've been on the receiving end of incredible generosity from other writers, all of whom are published and/or agented. The mentoring I've received from these writers since I started writing novels and blogging and studying the craft and living and breathing stories has made me a very, very lucky girl. The luckiest. What? What's that, you say? I've been lucky, yet I'm not yet published or agented -- the two things that are shangri-las for us writers? Yes, indeed. Here are some of the delicious snacks you get from (more) established writers:

  • They can critique your query or first pages -- or whole manuscript-- with a much more practiced eye than you can bring
  • They can encourage you because they've been where you are, and lived to tell you that not only does it get better, but it gets successful
  • They might refer you to their agents, which is a huge leg up in the slushpile experience
One of the things I am most pleased about with each of my writing mentors is that I've never met any of them. Face to face, that is. All of them I've met as a result of social media-- which is yet again a reminder of how enriching the online writing and publishing community can be. I consider this community essential in the development of a savvy writer's career.

So, let's get to the good stuff - how do you get a writing mentor?
Good thing you asked. It really all comes down to relationship-building. Here's how I did it:

1. Blog.
I got to be friendly with certain bloggers early on-- I supported their blogs, and they supported mine. A foundation was established. With those I really clicked with, I have developed a deeper connection -- through off-line dialogue like email. Roni Loren is a great example of this, and she and I click on a lot of levels, from blogging to writing to mothering. Roni has been a big supporter of mine, and I know I am thrilled for all her success. And she's really given me both great help and opportunities.

2. Tweet.
Some people I met through Twitter, and some I knew through blogging and tweeting, and both played into the building of the relationship. Quick little dashed bits of conversation are fun, helpful, and sometimes leads to questions or answers from people--and sometimes more, like offers to read your dreck. Two authors who really get tweeting--as in, they engage with their followers and have real conversations--helped me out hugely. All because that personal connection was made through Twitter.

3. Ask for interviews.
I no longer remember what led me to ask Janice Hardy if I could interview her for her debut book release, The Shifter, in 2009. Probably I saw that her book was being released, and I thought, hey, I'd like to interview her about it. Janice kindly consented even though my blog at the time was only read by my mom and people googling silverfish. But then a year later when Janice's second book, Blue Fire, came out, she asked me if we could do another one. Of course I was delighted because I had all kinds of new questions about the second book experience. And our offline email exchanges were richer. I asked questions. Ultimately, Janice offered me some critiques and help. And since then, she's given me two very awesome guests posts-- one on inciting incidents, a very popular post, and her latest on middles. Janice has been such a great guest to the blog that she has her own tag here on the blog. Kind of like her own toothbrush at my house. And I consider her one of my writing mentors because of the help and opportunities she gave me off line...all as a result of our first interview.

4. Appreciate the help you get.
Sometimes it seems like saying thank you is a dying art these days. I know I've offered help to writers before and gotten no thanks. That's okay--I don't offer help just to get thanks. But I didn't offer again. The people who took time out of their busy schedules--their busy actually-writing-a-book-that-will-be-published schedules -- these people deserved my heartfelt thanks at the very least. You need to really, really thank those people--and then support them hugely when their books are published. I'll never forget the psychological support Kristen Lippert-Martin gave me when I had some down days in the querying process. A few days after her baby was born (and mine was yet to be), she took the time to give me one of the best pep talks ever-- and then I had my baby and couldn't believe she'd taken the time to write what she did--because then I understand just how very much of a sacrifice it was to take the time and write me when she could be sleeping or eating or taking a shower--all things that you can no longer do at all when you have a newborn. Kristen has been a great mentor to me in many ways, and I hope I always make it clear to her how much I appreciate it. (In case I haven't, she'll know now.) And the aforementioned Janice Hardy-- I once delayed thanking her for something and she e-mailed me asking if what she'd given me was okay, and the shame I felt could have been bottled and sold. Eu de Shame.

Finally, the important thing to remember is...

If writers have been generous to you, you should pay it forward and be generous to other writers, whether you're published or not. When you're agented or published I think this matters most, because even though you put on your pants the same way unpublished or unagented writers do, you get more respect for having won an agent or book deal. It's just the way of the world.

Have you been mentored by anyone? Has it helped?
As for me, I'm off to go e-mail or tweet to Sarah Pekkanen and see if I can add her to my mentor menagerie.

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