Jessica Conoley shared last week about why it’s so important for writers to have a critique group or partner. She’s back today in this three-part series to talk about the next vital support element that every author needs.
Last week, we talked about the critique leg of your writing support triangle. Critique support is great for those words-on-the-page writer problems. But we all know success in this industry isn’t just about words; it’s also about inspiration, motivation, and believing that your writing dreams really are achievable.
If you’re lacking motivation and inspiration, it’s time to find some Writing Mentors. The great part is you don’t even have to be able to access that person in real life.
I have mentors on three levels.
The Rockstar Titans
Mentors-from-afar, like Neil Gaiman, V.E. Schwab, and Stephen King are the authors with million-dollar book deals and fans who tattoo quotes from the their books onto their flesh forever.
Luckily these seemingly inaccessible mentors have:
- Books you can read and study. How they execute their craft teaches me how to refine mine.
- Videos. With a quick google search of YouTube, speeches, lectures, interviews, and book launches are available. Snippets of relevant wisdom find their way to me with each viewing.
- Social media you can engage with. How they interact with their readers and promote their work can serve as a blueprint for my own online presence. Sometimes they do something I don’t like, which teaches me as well.
Rockstar Titans have done the impossible—which means it’s possible for us, too.
Writing Genius Authors
These writers are five to ten years ahead of me in their careers. And yes, they’ve amassed awards and published multiple books, but they still walk the same streets as mere mortal me. If I encounter a Writing Genius in real life I could probably muster the courage to talk to them.
Writing Geniuses are still building their platforms, which means they actively engage with their audiences. Luckily, I am their audience.
- Retweets, shares, and comments on a Writing Genius’s social media gets your name (and avatar) in front of their eyeballs. After years of my retweeting and positively commenting on a Writing Genius’s posts, she followed me back! More importantly, when I had a technical question on a project I tweeted her for advice and she responded.
- Subscribing to a Writing Genius’s email newsletter puts you in direct contact with the author. Unlike social media, where algorithms can filter or bury the authors insights, a newsletter is delivered to your inbox. This direct connection ensures you don’t miss out on the important wisdom the Writing Genius is willing to share. Reading the emails keeps you up to date on what the author is doing. Replies to their newsletter with a short thank you and information about what you found helpful in the article lets the Writing Genius know their work is appreciated. Remember, you’re not entitled to a response to an email. Mentors are busy and guarding their time by not responding to every email is a great lesson in how you may need to employ boundaries with your time. Regardless, if they write back or not, it’s good literary citizenship to tell other authors when their work has positively impacted you.
- Membership to a Writing Genius’s Patreon shows them you are long-term invested in their success, and therefore they are more likely to engage with you. One of the authors I support on Patreon offers monthly virtual classes and work sessions to her patrons. Initially I was too shy to ever speak up in the Q&A sessions, but over time I got more comfortable and learned to ask her for advice.
Writing Geniuses have shown me how to navigate the tricky higher levels of this industry, and I owe them a thank you —so when I meet them in the flesh I will muster the courage to let them know how grateful I’ve been for their guidance.
Working Role Models
These are the authors I have face-to-face access to. Often these mentors took it upon themselves to encourage my growth out of sheer generosity and good literary citizenship. They have read my work. They have seen my potential and encouraged me to try new things. They send opportunities my way because they believe in me.
It takes courage to approach someone and ask if they would be willing to help with a few questions regarding our career. You should applaud yourself for reaching out. But if they say no or don’t respond to your e-mail, remember: they just mentored you. They showed you the most important writer lesson of all: our time is precious, and we cannot say yes to every request and/or opportunity that comes our way.
If they say yes, be respectful of the irreplaceable time they are investing in you. Be prepared. Have questions laid out that you think they can help with. Show them the work you have done to get where you are and let them know where you want to head next. Then, sit back and listen. Listen with your whole body, down to the marrow of your bones. Hear what they’re saying and what they aren’t saying. Ask clarifying questions and delve deep whenever you can.
Working Role Models are two steps ahead of me in their career, but if I work hard we might become colleagues. Maybe one day I will be able to send opportunities to them the way they have so generously sent them to me.
If it’s time for you to find a mentor, who do you admire? What avenues to you have to connect with them? If you’re unable to connect with them, what are three ways you can learn from them right now without one-on-one access?
Next week, we’ll close out the series by digging into the oddest bit of your support trinity: Accountability. This support leg helps you actually get the words onto the page, and the fun part is that you can tap into resources other than people to hold yourself accountable.
Jessica Conoley connects story tellers and tells stories. She writes essays, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and fantasy. Her coaching services demystify the business aspect of writing by drawing on her past experiences as president of a non-profit and managing editor of a literary magazine. In addition to developmental editorial services, she offers virtual workspaces and critique groups as a way to foster creative community for writers. Learn more at my website or on Twitter.
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Maria Tatham says
A thank you from another senior writer for your expertise in this are. I’m intimidated but still working and growing.
Jessica A Conoley says
You’re welcome, Maria. I love that you acknowledge you’re intimidated. I often feel the same way. I also often know that if something scares me I’m on the right track to learn something. I admire your commitment to growth.
Have a great day.
Maria Tatham says
Thank you for the encouragement, Jessica!
Joyce Van Horn says
I’m a huge fan of Stephen King. Not necessarily for the content (although I do enjoy his work, even when it scares the sh** out of me), but his incredible character development and attention to detail. I can read his books (I like his short stories and novelettes, but his longer works totally engage me) over and over and continue to learn from him. I also loved the book that he wrote about writing. What an honest, complex man and one of the most brilliant writers ever.
Jessica A Conoley says
Stephen Kings is definitely a rockstar titan type mentor. I have to confess I can’t read his horror because I’m too certain the creepy crawlies are under my bed when I sleep, but I do love his Dark Tower series. I’ve read it a couple of times, and always learn something from him.
Thanks for taking time to post, and have a great day.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
I think mentorship is something we can always be looking for at every step and stage. I have learned so much by paying attention to what others do, and making connections with other authors. For me, it’s all about relationships. Many people have become influencers, opening doors for me, and I’ve been able to do the same. I love it!
Jessica A Conoley says
I completely agree, Angela. I also realized how important it is to actively seek mentors when we enter a new stage of our career or want to niche down and specialize in something. Seeing that someone else has had success in that area always reminds me it’s not impossible. I also love when I have the chance to provide an opportunity or lend my experience to a younger writer, and then watching them take that information & run with it. It makes me so happy to see them succeed, and it’s fun to see where they end up.
BECCA PUGLISI says
Mentorship is such an important part of growth no matter what industry you’re in. But most people aren’t comfortable seeking these figures out, waiting instead for an opportunity with a mentor to just happen. I love that you’ve advised writers to actively seek out these important relationships. Thanks for the guidance in this area :).
Jessica Conoley says
You’re welcome! It’s amazing how much a mentor can help you grow and accelerate your career trajectory. I feel very fortunate to have fallen into a supportive group of writers early on, and many of the opportunities I have been offered were because of generous mentors.
Marcia Dahlinghaus says
Thank you for your comments regarding the importance of having a critique group and mentor. I’m a late bloomer having written my first novel at age 75 although I’ve done some writing my entire life. After reading your pieces, I decided that I’m worth the extra effort it’ll take to continue developing myself as a writer. Now I have the time to do it when I couldn’t before so, by golly, I’m going to! Thank you.
Jessica Conoley says
You’re welcome, Marcia. Congratulations on finishing your first novel! It’s a huge accomplishment that deserves celebration. And yes, you are 100% worthy of investing in–be that with time, money, education, or mentorship. With this type of determination coupled with the support you’re about to find are great components of a healthy writing career. Best of luck to you!