Monday, October 14, 2013

What is a Good Mentor and How to Find Them

By Karen Albright Lin

In my last post I discussed what you should be aware of and ready for when you seek a mentor. I also addressed the etiquette involved in receiving such a valuable gift from someone more seasoned. Now we’ll look at what can be expected of a good mentor and how to find one that meets your needs.
A Good Mentor
  • Doesn’t help for personal gain
  • Admires something in your existing skills, perhaps your voice, storytelling skills, or dialogue, yet sees room for improvement
  • Enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge
  • Sets high expectations
  • Understands your genre
  • Is there when you need her, within reason
  • Gets along with you
  • Encourages professional behavior
  • Offers challenging ideas
  • Teaches by example
  • Stands by you
  • Helps you build self-confidence
  • Gets satisfaction from helping
  • Has a high level of commitment and confidence in his own abilities
  • Doesn’t allow you to become dependent on her
  • Validates through feedback
  • Cushions you when your work is rejected
  • Supports you through writer’s block
  • Helps you do it on your own
  • Ends the relationship as a friend and colleague
I’ve had mentors who’ve approached me after reading my work submitted to anthologies (thank you Maggie Osborne) and contests (thank you Jan C.J. Jones), also mentors I met in critique groups whose skills far surpassed mine (thank you Marvin Straus, Julie Paschen, Joan Prebilich, Stacey Campbell, Janet Fogg, Shannon Baker, and Julie Kaewert). 

In turn, I’ve given back to young writers by mentoring “newbies” within critique groups and nascent writers I’ve met as a result of reaching out at conferences and through contests.  I’ve done high school outreach, jumpstarting middle school and high school literary magazines and leading workshops in English classes. I’ve mentored writers who’ve approached me after my workshops, and young writers I never met who simply happened upon my website. 

When you are ready, reach out. You’d be surprised at how flattered a more seasoned writer might feel being approached for help. Choosing a mentor isn’t something to take lightly; here are some thoughts on finding one that will work well with you.
How to Choose a Mentor
  • Approach a teacher or coach or editor
  • Accept an offer from someone who admires your work
  • Go to an expert in your genre, search the library, read her books, tell her you like them
  • Look within a writing organization; some have mentoring programs or encourage mentoring (as does Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Published Authors Liaison)
  • Check out websites such as Writers Guild of America that have mentoring programs
  • Find someone whose work you admire
  • If she doesn’t have time for you, ask if she knows another writer who might have the time
  • Let him know what you hope to learn
  • Find someone perceptive who teaches by example
  • Assess the chemistry to see if the relationship is truly helpful
  • Find someone who listens to your ideas and concerns
  • If someone speaks in absolutes (such as “never use adjectives”), beware
  • Seek a writer who willingly introduces you to new people in the industry
  • Bypass anybody who wishes to take credit or responsibility for your work
  • Choose a warm mentor with high standards for herself and you
  • Be sure he has the same goal and definition of mentoring
Having a supportive mentor can speed you along in your progress toward being published.  I hope you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy such a gift from a generous author.

Once you have the knowledge and success others can benefit from, give back.  An amazing thing happens when you mentor; you continue to learn along the way.   

About the Writer:  Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at


  1. Really great tips on how to find a mentor and so kind that you give back to others.

    1. Stacy, this may sound cliché, but I typically learn a lot even as a mentor. Everyone has strengths. Even the newbies...who often have the most natural of voices if they haven't allowed a critique group to comb the voice right out of their work. You may notice that often an author's first book is flawed in the dogmatic sense but there is a spark in it that the next books don't have. I've also been very very lucky in having generous writers help me along the way. Very grateful. Karen

    2. I've been lucky to have had generous writers help me along the way and giving back teaches me a lot too. Young voices are fresh and exciting. See the first books of successful authors and see that they are actually the ones that may be slightly flawed technically but they have a spark later books don't have. Karen


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