Why You Should Consider Getting a Writing Mentor

{guest post written by: Mahesh Raj Mohan}

I’ve always liked the concept of a mentor: a sagacious master of an art, craft, or trade who passes knowledge to seekers, students, and adventurers. Bonus points if s/he is a kind person who patiently corrects rookie mistakes and helps an apprentice grow. Teachers usually fill that role for us, as well as parents and siblings, if we’re fortunate.

I’ve been taught by many wise mentors throughout my life. But more importantly, I’ve learned to face several challenges on my own. Getting to a place of self-reliance can be difficult. But I believe that stretching beyond a mentor’s teachings is just as important as finding a mentor.

Writers just starting out (or still in school) can benefit from a mentor. For instance, writers often learn about form, composition, style, and how to tell a story.

Then there comes a time when you have to move beyond a mentor’s advice. For example, it used to be comfortable for me to perform writing and research tasks exactly as I was taught.

After awhile, I wrote faster and more efficiently using some techniques I’d learned on my own. It was also a huge confidence boost.

Trusting our instincts or critical reasoning can be very uncomfortable. We’re usually scared of making mistakes. But even the wisest among us became wise because they made lots of mistakes!

Mentors also have their own biases, so a mentor’s choices or solutions are not always right (or right for you). This also goes for me. I’ve been a mentor to several writers or editors, and I certainly have my own preferences and biases. (Yay, Oxford comma!) But watching former mentees flourish professionally has been tremendously rewarding. And I’ve learned a few things
from them.

As writers or freelance professionals, the most important thing we can do is to think for ourselves. Mentors can guide us on our journeys, but it’s up to us to plot the course.

What about you? Have you had many mentors in your life? Or are you self-taught?

Mahesh Raj Mohan is a freelance writer/editor based near Portland, Oregon. His reviews have been published by Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper The Oregonian and Hugo-nominated website Strange Horizons. His screenplay, “Indian Errand Day” is a 2011 Kay Snow Award Winner.

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    I think we’re all a combination of self-taught AND mentored. My freelance mentor, Jessica McCann (author of ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF FREE), has helped me tremendously; without her, I’m not sure I’d have ventured into freelance work. As you say, we also pick up our own tricks, which we can combine with our mentor’s words of wisdom to become that much more efficient. Taking that insight and mentoring others – “paying it forward” – is just part of the writer’s life, I think.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s awesome that you have Jessica as your mentor! And though I can’t speak for Mahesh, I agree that paying it forward is just as important. Your comment and Mahesh’s post is really making me consider getting my own mentor. Thanks Melissa!

  • Mahesh Raj Mohan

    Hi Melissa! Totally agreed about writers and paying it forward. I have a tendency to put my mentors on pedestals, so it’s been important for me, lately, to follow my own path. A little scarier, but more rewarding than sitting in the same mental box, :-)

  • Julia Munroe Martin

    I had journalism mentors but really haven’t many opportunities to find fiction mentors. I think that’s one of the reasons I really enjoy social networking — as a way to meet writers I can learn from and look up to. I think I sometimes really question my ability to write good fiction because of that lack of mentoring.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Julia,

    I find that so interesting. And wonder why there are not as many fiction mentors as there are journalism mentors. I completely agree with you about social networking. That’s probably the reason blogs are so popular. I actually had the opportunity to meet a fiction author in-person who was like my mentor for a day @JordenRosenfeld. It’s so important to find other people in your life to support you to keep going. And she really encouraged me to do so. It’s amazing to me that one person can have such an impact on your life. Footprints I say.

  • Mahesh Raj Mohan

    It sounds to me like you’re doing just fine on the fiction writing front, Julia, :-) You probably don’t need one!

  • Anonymous

    Perfect comment Mahesh! Wish I had said that.

  • Mahesh Raj Mohan

    Nah, I like what you said; I’d be lost if I didn’t have a good support network for all my writing!