by Kelsie Engen
When we authors first sit down to write, we are often young, always inexperienced writers, and we have a great deal of enthusiasm for the magic and myth of the writing life. But all too quickly, writing gets hard and enjoying writing can be difficult at best.
The longer I’ve been writing, the easier it is to forget those early days when just the idea of calling yourself an author feels arrogant beyond belief. You constantly feel like an imposter to say that you enjoy writing, want to be a published author, and are writing a short story or novel or even flash fiction piece. Even now, with two published novels and several published short stories, I feel like I’m a bit of the imposter. I can come up with a million reasons you shouldn’t give me the time of day (just like any writer can destroy their own work in a self-deprecating fashion; we know our flaws all too well).
Today I want to argue that we writers should not focus on why we’re unqualified, but instead why we should seek out other writers and invite them to share in and learn from our journey. Not only is it rewarding and encouraging to the “new” writer, it’s rewarding and encouraging to the “established” writer.
The solitary writing life
Writing a book or short story often happens in a vacuum away from others, even apart those writers who write in similar genres. After all, it only takes one person to type or write the words, and the sentence can only appear in one person’s head at a time.
Sure, there are ways to collaborate (co-writing, editing, etc.), but the ultimate act of writing down a sentence comes from one person’s fingers at a time.
Because of this, it’s often difficult to connect with other writers. It takes work and time to connect with them—time which we writers often feel we should be spending writing instead of “socializing.” Yet I’ve found that the connections I forge between myself and other writers are well worth the effort of pursuit.
While I find writing most enjoyable when done alone, once that writing has been written, it’s time to find someone you trust to share it with. And in a small way, by sharing your writing with someone else, you’re sharing a part of yourself with that person.
Luckily, over the years I’ve found that several ways to encourage mentoring relationships.
Seek out newer writers to encourage
Most simply, we need to approach the writing community with the question of “what can I give to them?” I do this through sites like Scribophile or Instagram, where I find writers that I can connect with on a personal level but also a writing level. I scroll through the sites and look for something to catch my eye, whether a work-in-progress that I enjoy reading, or a picture and caption that I have something to say about or a pretty picture to comment on (something more than just “nice picture!”).
It’s important to pick a writer whose work you already enjoy or find interesting and someone whose work you think you can help improve or give constructive criticism on, not just say “nice work” to. Pick someone who writes in a genre you enjoy and whose writing piques your interest, but don’t choose someone who already writes as well as you do or who had been writing for ten years longer than you unless they’re struggling with something you find easy and vice versa, then perhaps you can complement the other’s skills.
When you find a writer who seems young or inexperienced, or maybe just seems to be struggling, simply encourage them. Tell them something you love about their writing (be honest!) and tell them how you want to come back for more.
It will most likely take some time to find a good fit and find someone you can help to this degree. Remember that first off, you should be seeking friendships, not someone to look down on or to treat as a charity case. This is about building up other writers and encouraging them as maybe you weren’t when you were a new writer.
With the days of the internet, meeting other writers isn’t hard to do. You don’t even have to do it in person. Often all it takes is a few comments on an Instagram post to begin a conversation.
Consider what skills you have to offer
Though it’s best if you seek out other writers who are weak where you are strong, sometimes you can connect with another writer who struggles with a similar thing you do. Those relationships will be different than others, but perhaps can lead to fulfilling beta reads down the road, or an opportunity where you both can help each other learn about a certain writing area (learning is more fun when you’re learning together, right?).
Most importantly, remember that you do not have to be the best writer out there in order to help another writer on their path—or even better than the writer you’re helping. If you are an expert marketer or if you’ve published two dozen books and there’s a talented author looking to publish their first, you can help them figure out marketing or publishing. But if you’re a writer who struggles with characterization and find another writer is struggling with characterization as well, that could be a great way for you to explore how to truly build characters that you want to read about. Deconstructing what doesn’t work in a story, published or unpublished, is often more valuable than reading a story where everything seems effortless.
Different forms of mentoring
Encouraging other writers doesn’t have to be in the form of reading and critiquing. It can simply be listening and offering a sympathetic response to someone’s complaint. Say someone complains on Instagram that they don’t know how to choose character names. You can lament with them that you struggle with naming your characters too. Then you can offer the tips that you have found that sometimes work for you. Remember, it’s not about being a know-it-all but about offering help and listening and encouraging others.
Many of the authors I connect with these days are beginning writers who haven’t published anything yet and are looking for encouragement on the process. And I love being able to encourage them. Especially the stay-at-home moms who both love their kids and love to write. I can really connect with them over that struggle because I live it every day.
But I’ve also met a lot of writers who are in the trenches where I am. They might be published, but they’re struggling with getting noticed. We can help each other out in that regard by sharing each others’ works and spreading the news of another great writer publishing something worth reading.
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Benefits of mentoring other writers
Surprisingly, while the mentee may feel like it’s awesome you’ve noticed them, you’re actually reaping a lot of benefit. You’re thinking analytically about writing and how to make things work better for them (and subconsciously applying those tips and techniques to your own writing), and you’re building relationships with other writers in your genre who are also readers who also might be able to cross-promote books or swap newsletters with you later. They also might be willing to read and review your work later, becoming a fan that you can go to for advance reviews or even beta reads (pre-publication reads for how to improve the novel before publishing).
It can even open up other opportunities to help edit another writer’s work, co-write with them, or design a cover, format a book, etc. Whatever skills you might have, you never know if one day a writer friend might have use of them, or vice versa.
Every writer is vulnerable at some points in their career, whether mentor or mentee. Sometimes we want to quit because we think no one is listening. As a mentor to another writer, you should be the one that encourages that writer. As a mentee, you should seek out another writer’s opinion before calling it quits. No one needs to go through this journey alone.
Sometimes you have to respect that a writer needs a break from writing, while other times it means pushing that person to write a few hundred words a day because you know they’re being lazy. Other times it’s simply reading what your friend has written and finding the good things to point out in them. Don’t ignore the things that need improvement, but try to find at least as many things to point out as good.
Remember that sharing our work with another person is hardest when we’re young, inexperienced writers. Those first feedbacks and critiques from someone else are nerve wracking. Even as a more established author, I still find them nerve wracking. You’re writing something that betrays some parts of you as a person, even if it’s fiction of the utmost, and you’ve put hours of work into the writing only to sometimes get a negative response. It can be discouraging. We writers need to build one another up. So I challenge you to go out and find someone that you can build up and encourage to tell their story.
Guest post contributed by Kelsie Engen. Kelsie loves to read and started her blog to share that passion with others of like mind. Check out her website for more of her work.