You start to think, This mentorship stuff might be helpful. But while you’d love a senior writer to coach you, you’re unsure who to ask and how much to expect from them.
Perhaps the only mentor-mentee relationships you’ve read about are from popular adventure series like John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice. And that’s about archers and warriors like Will and Halt, which have nothing to do with writers.
Or do they?
This post outlines what kind of writer you should choose for your mentor, what types of help they give you, and how to respond to their advice.
And if you’ve read the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan, you’re in luck—because, as it turns out, there’s a lot to pull from Halt and Will when considering a writer’s apprenticeship.
Will, the protagonist, finds himself apprenticed to Halt, who offers to train him as a king’s ranger—elite archers trusted highly by the king of Araluen. Halt was fundamental to Will’s growth and success–one of few people in Araluen who could train Will to become the expert ranger he became.
Similarly, if you connect with the right writing mentor, they’ll help you become the expert you can be. This post will show you how to find a writing mentor, become the best mentee and more.
What Kind Of Writing Mentor Should You Look For?
Ah, yes. Perhaps most of you are stuck here. Who should you ask to mentor you?
After all, your mentor will be like your coach, so you want to make sure you’re learning from the right kind of writer.
Consider several things before asking someone to be your writing mentor:
Do You Share Similar Interests?
Rangers train with other rangers, not with cooks or soldiers. Why? Because while a cook or soldier might teach an apprentice ranger some essential skills, that apprentice wouldn’t learn the specifics of how to be a ranger.
Halt could tell you that there’s much more to it than just cooking and fighting. There’s stealth and archery and wits, too. And the close bond between rider and horse. Will wouldn’t have learned those niche ranger skills if he hadn’t been apprenticed to one.
But it’s probably pretty clear that you’d apprentice yourself to another writer. But that’s not the only common interest you should share with your mentor.
Consider their genre. Do they write fiction, nonfiction, or poetry?
You should seriously contemplate those boundaries, but go a little deeper. Historical or fantasy? Biographies or how-tos? Songs or sonnets? Even within the three big genre categories, there’s a lot of wiggle room.
And don’t forget their publishing style. Especially if you are nearing publishing or have already published, your mentor can help you navigate the business side of writing. But traditional publishing has different potholes than indie, which has different ones than self-publishing.
If you know which publishing road you plan to travel down, it’s a good idea to look for a mentor on the same.
Keep in mind, however, that someone who doesn’t write in the same genre or publish the same way as you do can still help you out a lot. If you find yourself suited to it, consider training under multiple mentors. They can each help you in different ways and cover the areas that the others aren’t as proficient at.
Remember: a mentor with whom you share common interests will benefit you the most.
Is This Writer Experienced?
Rangers don’t take apprentices when they’re apprentices themselves. Imagine young Will, still learning how to shoot and ride, taking on an apprentice for himself. That apprentice wouldn’t get very far.
Say it was a more experienced apprentice Will–when he’s a competent shooter and already talking to his horse. But he’s still learning discernment. While he might be able to impart wisdom to a beginning ranger, Will would still be on the steeper side of the learning curve.
But that isn’t to say that your mentor must be a bestselling, world-famous, all-knowing writer. Because all writers–like rangers–are still learning. But pick someone with the knowledge you want to learn from a mentor.
For instance, pick a published author if you’re looking for a mentor to give you wisdom as you navigate the publishing industry.
Or, if you want to receive feedback on your theme, pick a writer skilled at crafting resonant themes.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t exclude peer feedback, either. Critique groups are an excellent way to grow with writers at your level. Or, if you’d prefer, you can find a critique partner to exchange your work with.
But this is a mentor we’re talking about. Someone you’ll possibly need to pay for their time with you. So pick someone who has adequate expertise.
Do You Admire This Writer?
Maybe this is obvious. Maybe not. But the student is like the teacher.
Just look at how Will turned out. Not only did he become a skilled ranger (and attracted to a diplomat), he ended up *cough* slightly grim and jaded, like a certain mentor of his.
Writers, take heed!
If you spend substantial time as a mentee, your mentor is bound to rub off some things on you. That might be humor, prose, or maybe even chapter titles. Anyhow, you’ll be influenced.
But this is practical, too. You want advice from writers you admire. It’s just logical. You want to know the secret of their greatness. This is why over fifty young writers show up whenever YWW hosts a live office hours call with S. D. Smith. They admire his stories, so they want to write like him and listen to his advice.
So maybe one author is amazingly famous–but you don’t enjoy her work. Or perhaps another author is relatively unknown, but you’re raving about his books.
Choose the second one.
After all, that’s what Will did. While the apprentice soldiers in battleschool were famous and expected to become great knights, the rangers in Araluen were viewed with suspicion. But Will wanted to become a ranger, so he chose an apprenticeship under one of the same.
When you’re looking for a mentor, choose one whom you admire.
Is This Writer Available?
Writers are busy. After all, they have to write. But besides that, many authors run a podcast, a blog, or a social media page. Or all three.
They also have to respond to publishers, editors, fans … Oh, and don’t forget, authors have lives too.
All that to say–when you ask someone to mentor you, make sure they’re available. And no, you don’t need to move in with them as Will did with Halt, but make sure they are free to mentor you.
If you’re unsure how available they need to be, a good rule of thumb is once a month.
Remember that you don’t have to meet in person. You can call them too. Also, make sure that you’re available to meet them once a month. Taking the time to ensure availability and adequate scheduling is vital in a mentor-mentee relationship.
What Does A Writing Mentor Give You?
Halt trained Will in archery, riding, dealing with criminals, and a taste for coffee. But while knowing how to shoot an arrow might help with your work-in-progress, that’s not exactly something you should expect to learn from a mentor.
So what should you expect from a mentor?
A Writing Mentor Inspires You
Halt blended in with forest and castle, kept calm in battle, and shot unrealistically. Understandably, Will was awed.
But ranger training was tough, and Will probably wanted to give up several times. He probably thought it was impossible to be a ranger. But Halt was living proof, right in front of him, that it was, in fact, possible.
Your mentor will probably be published, have a mailing list, and write admirably. Understandably, you might be awed.
But writer training is tough, and you’ll probably want to give up several times. Maybe you’ll tell yourself, It’s impossible to be a writer. But your mentor will be living proof right in front of you: actually, it is possible.
Your mentor will inspire you because they will have gone before you and done what you want to do. It’s that simple.
And with that “starving artist” myth hounding you from all sides, you might find that inspiration quite handy.
A Writing Mentor Gives You Feedback
Ah, yes. Wouldn’t it be nice to receive feedback on your work from someone experienced?
Will got lots of that. Halt corrected his archery technique, showed him how to stalk, and trained him on throwing knives.
So now and then, ask your mentor if they would be willing to give you feedback on your work. But unlike rangers, your mentor won’t be able to provide you with a ton of feedback. Start with around a thousand words at a time and adjust as needed.
After all, critique partners can help you a lot with feedback.
So what makes writing mentors any different? Well, they’re experts. Used to editing their own work, they’ll probably be able to pinpoint your mistakes better. In addition, they can give you some handy advice from their own experience on how to fix those mistakes.
A Writing Mentor Supports You
Rangers are generally solitary creatures.
Of course, once a year, they attend a ranger gathering. And as apprentices, they’re almost always with their mentors (and vice versa). And who would mind a little support here and there?
People generally think writers are solitary creatures. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. Probably a mix. But who’d mind a little support here and there?
Especially when you’re trying to get through the middle of your novel. Or when you’re making those edits. Or launching. Or, you know, trying to be a writer.
Halt made Will coffee. He complimented him when Will was discouraged. And when Will was uncertain that he was right to become a ranger, Halt said, “I chose you because you showed you had the abilities and skills that were needed.”
Basically, I know you can do this.
Your writing mentor may or may not make you coffee … but they can help you work on your writing habit (which may happen to include coffee). They can compliment you when you’re discouraged. They’ll reassure you when that sneaky doubt that I’m not good enough to be a writer creeps in.
Basically, I know you can do this.
Every writer needs support, and your mentor is specially equipped to support you by helping you improve as a writer.
A Writing Mentor Guides You
Will was pretty clueless when he first became an apprentice ranger. He half-believed the common superstitions that rangers used black magic. He mounted his new horse without the all-important passcode needed for the horse’s permission to ride. And he didn’t realize the handiness of an arm cuff when shooting with a bow.
But, well … who would have expected him to know? Thankfully, Halt showed him the effects of the ranger cloak, explained about the passcode, and gave him an arm cuff.
Of course, Will could have discovered those things for himself, but it would have taken longer and even then, he might have never figured out the specific passcode needed for his horse, Tug.
Beginning writers are pretty clueless. They half-believe the solitary writer myth, the starving artist myth, and the wait-’til-you’re-older myth. They stumble over outlines, prose, and maybe forget character development.
Now, this is where writers and rangers differ a bit. With all the handy blogs (like this one), books, videos, and templates, you can get pretty far. You might overcome the common myths and even learn the formula for character development.
But you might have a harder time dealing with a more specific or advanced problem.
For instance, say you wrote a sassy young hero following that formula for character development, but he just didn’t seem to be authentic. Or maybe he was realistic but not an empathetic protagonist. Your mentor might be able to pinpoint the reason and give you a practical fix.
If you’re wondering about the best way to present yourself to fans or how to find your voice, a mentor could give you tips and point out the unique way you describe the scenery.
Your writing mentor can offer you guidance beyond what you can google.
A Writing Mentor Provides You With Expectations
How much time do authors spend writing per day? Do successful authors have to release a book a year, run a blog, increase their mailing list, and go to writing retreats regularly?
What are you supposed to expect as a writer? Your mentor can show you what their writing life looks like. It varies, of course, because writers vary–but you can gain some valuable insight.
Before Will was apprenticed to Halt, he only knew that rangers wore cloaks and blended in well with the scenery. But his mentor showed him the behind-the-scenes lifestyle and culture of the Araluen Ranger Corps. Practice, knowledge, and dry wit were all essential.
With an insider’s glimpse into an author’s habits, you can learn what to expect as a writer.
In conclusion, your mentor can inspire you and spur you on. Their superior knowledge can provide you with applicable advice and realistic expectations. But once they do, you must react well.
How Should You Respond to a Writing Mentor?
So now you know what to look forward to from a writing mentor, how should you react to their assistance? Well, admittedly, this will vary between mentors and apprentices, but there are two main things you’ll want to hit:
Everybody likes being appreciated. For rangers, this looks like making your mentor a cup of coffee or giving them a hug. After all, rangers can’t survive without coffee, and–you know–hugs are nice, too.
If your mentor-mentee relationship happens to be in person, your gratitude may be expressed similarly. Treat your mentor. And depending on your familiarity, hugs are nice, too.
But don’t stress if your relationship consists of video calls and emails. Hey, you’re a writer! Send them a friendly card every once in a while–maybe for Christmas.
Some mentors require payment for their expert advice. If you decide to learn from someone like that, your gratitude involves money. So pay them . . . but don’t let that be an excuse for slacking on the gratitude. A little appreciation goes a long way.
Most of all, say thanks. Even for that sharp critique. Especially for that sharp critique.
Show your mentor you value them and their advice. Show that you realize the effort they put into you. Be kind. Be gracious. That will encourage them to encourage you back again.
Implement Your Mentor’s Instruction
A ranger’s apprentice doesn’t have much choice on this one. Their mentor serves as a very committed accountability partner. So they can’t help but follow their mentor’s instructions.
Writers, however, can. So choose implementation. Yes, even young writers. Follow your mentor’s advice!
Think about it this way. If your mentor encourages you, critiques your work, and suggests a next step, but you reject the critiques and decide that that next step is unhelpful, you’ve wasted their time, your time, and possibly your money.
And when your next monthly meeting comes around, and your mentor asks what you’ve done with their tips, how will they feel when you tell the truth? You’ll be sending the message that you don’t respect them enough, don’t value their advice enough, and don’t care about your own writing life enough to implement their advice.
This isn’t to say that you must carry out every instruction to the T. Sometimes life gets busy, or you realize that another route of improvement suits you better. After all, you are the one in charge of your writing.
But be careful. Seriously consider whether your mentor’s advice pushes you to be the writer you want to be. And if it is, then implement it.
Some Differences Between Writers and Rangers
Of course, writers and rangers aren’t the same things. We’ve already discussed that writing apprenticeships often occur once a month online rather than in person 24/7. But what about other things?
For instance, you could pray for each other’s writing. This is a great way to show your support for them. Remember that God reigns over their writing life too.
Many writing mentors make a business out of it. Just be aware. Pay them graciously and remember that the king of Araluen doesn’t employ writers like he does rangers.
Don’t be afraid to adjust when necessary. Life changes, and you might find yourself changing writing mentors, whether because of schedules, interests, significant life events, or something else. Maybe you’ll go a while without a mentor–maybe you’ll pick up several.
This stuff isn’t as structured as ranger apprenticeships are. Be flexible. Be creative.
Your Next Step To Become a Writer’s Apprentice
If you are ready for a writing mentor, you now know how to choose one. Be patient in looking for the right one, but remember that no mentor will be perfect.
Keep in mind that while you now know the potential ways a mentor can help you, they might still be exploring how to guide a younger writer. Be gracious and flexible. Depending on the kind of relationship you two share, your mentor might let you suggest ways to improve your writing apprenticeship.
Finally, don’t forget to pray. For a good mentor and a good relationship. For improvement in both you and in your mentor. Your mentor is a writer, too, you know.
To aid you in your journey, we’ve compiled a worksheet you can fill out for each potential mentor you meet to help you find the best one. You can click the button below to download your free guide.
Best wishes, apprentice writer!