At one of the very first writers conferences I ever attended – back when I walked the nonfiction side of the writing road – the speaker said, “Every writer wants a mentor.”
No one argued with him. As a matter of fact, I remember a lot of people nodding their heads in agreement – me, included.
But for all the “wanting” of mentors, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone talk about the characteristics of a good mentor.
That’s about to change. (Keep reading.)
What would you say if I asked you “What are the qualities of a good mentor?” Maybe you’d insist that your mentor be a published author. Makes sense. You’re a writer and you want a mentor to help you become a better writer – and to even get published. You might say a mentor needs to have time for you. After all, what good is a mentor if she’s always too busy to meet with you?
Here are five key characteristics of a good mentor. (Think competencies.) A good mentor:
- Assumes you’re great. Just because you’re asking for help doesn’t mean you’re flunking out of the writing world. Connect with someone who recognizes your talent (wherever you are along the writing road) and sees your potential.
- Has a positive attitude. Think about it: Do you want to learn from someone who grumbles and complains about the writing life – and who is negative about you too?
- Provides guidance and constructive feedback. I know, this seems like I’m stating the obvious. But meeting with a mentor is not the same as having coffee with a friend. When you finish meeting with your mentor, you want to have learned something new. You also want to have specific goals to shoot for so your writing improves.
- Is authentic. Is your mentor practicing what she preaches or is she merely spouting of the right thing, expecting you to do the hard work of learning the craft, while she twiddles her thumbs?
- Celebrates your success. A mentor-mentee relationship is all about forward motion, so there should be successes along the way. You want someone who pats you on the back when you master a new skill and who does the writer’s happy dance when you achieve a major goal like hitting SEND on a proposal or landing an agent.
There are other characteristics of a good mentor, but I hope I’ve started you thinking. What qualities would you add to the list?
Beth K. Vogt’s debut novel, Wish You Were Here, is slated to be published by Howard Books in May 2012. Her writing buddies, who lured her from nonfiction to the “Dark Side,” affectionately call Beth “The Evil Editor” or TEE. To learn more about Beth, visit her at bethvogt.com.