If you want to become a successful writer, writing is not enough — you need many more skills to achieve success. But gaining expertise in a market like this is complicated. You need to learn how to write, how to keep your reader’s attention, how to catch the editor’s attention, proofread, pitch ideas, make SEO, and so on. So if you want to learn to write faster, you need to find the perfect mentor to guide you and help improve your writing skills.
Why do you need a mentor?
Depending on your starting level and your learning path, mentors can bring you different benefits.
If you are just getting started, a mentor can help you find the pitch of your writing voice, recognize your flaws, your strong points, and provide you with your first clients.
Mentors can become teachers, allies, or even clients if you show your worth. And by standing by their side, you can have a clue of how their job works and what you should do to become as successful as them. They can share their experiences, values, life lessons, and the tricks that kept them on the top of their game.
But finding a mentor is not that easy these days. Successful people don’t always recognize the benefits of having a pupil, so they don’t actively search for pupils to mentor. For this reason, finding a mentor is quite a challenge. Still, by following these three easy steps, I was able to find the perfect mentor to help me improve my writing skills.
First step — The research
The first step of finding a mentor starts with searching for one.
Depending on the platform you choose or the job you want to learn, you can find mentors in different places. So make sure to explore those places, find out which are the people that align with your needs and wishes, and make a list of those that have the potential to become your mentors.
The typical mentor should have:
- more success than you
- an attitude to collaboration and answering people
- expertise on the specific skill you are trying to master
- an affine personality
Also, before choosing who to contact, make sure to get interested in their professional achievements.
For each mentor, take notes on what they write about and in what form, how often they write, and how long and insightful their writings are. If possible, gather information on their current projects, follow them on social media, and get a complete view of their work.
If they write a newsletter, for example, subscribe to it and read a couple of emails. This way, you can have a clearer image of the professional you are choosing as a mentor.
The better you know them, the easier your first approach will be.
You can download the printable template here.
Second step — The contract
A mentorship relation is made by a mentor and a pupil, but nobody works for free. If you are committed to finding a mentor to improve your writing skills, you need to give something in exchange.
Usually, pupils help their mentors with easy and repetitive tasks to show their value and commitment to the learning experience. So don’t expect mentors to give you everything right away — you need to earn their trust first.
But before thinking about working together, you still need to make them accept you as their pupils, so take a paper and divide it into two parts. This will be your contract proposal.
On the right, write everything you can do for your mentor. Some examples could be data entry, proofreading, agenda management, publication schedule, deadlines reminder, topic research, etc. If you read their work with enough attention, you should know what they need.
On the left, instead, write one key thing you want to learn from your mentor.
Why only one? Firstly because you need to offer your mentor a good contract if you want them to accept. And second, you probably aren’t aware of the amount of work it takes to do a job at peak level.
For example, you may want to learn how to start a successful blog, but that implies many skills. You need to study how to buy a domain, a hosting plan, write posts, make pages, SEO, attract readers, promote your work, etc. So keep your first request simple. Eventually, you can ask for more later.
Third step — The first contact
Now you are ready to make the first contact. You researched a couple of mentors, and you have different contracts for each of them. So rank them from the most compelling one, and write them an email, or talk to them in person if possible.
Let’s suppose you write them an email. Even here, you need to choose the right approach first, which can be direct or indirect, and it depends on your mentor’s personality.
1 — The indirect approach
If the mentor is introverted and shy, the best approach is the indirect one, when you taste the water before jumping in.
The indirect approach is also the safest one because it makes you create a precedent with your mentor that you can use to your advantage.
Creating a precedent is not that hard. You can write a kind comment or email, talking about a work that meant something to you or helped you in your personal life.
If they answer, make sure to keep the conversation as light as possible without implying any ulterior motives. You can talk about mentorship only if they are actively interested in finding someone to help them out.
If they don’t answer after a couple of days, write them another comment or email, but I don’t suggest insisting too much. If they are still not interested, pass to the following mentor.
Once you made the first successful contact, wait a little more time. Your mentor cannot suspect your compliments were not genuine. Then, write an email that links to that previous conversation and offer them your contract. Focus on the things you can do to ease up their life and your expectations.
Then, cross your fingers and wait for a response.
2 — The direct approach
If the mentor is more extroverted and shameless, you can use the direct approach to demonstrate commitment and no fear.
This type of approach is less effective in general, but it can be the winning move for those mentors that like to wear a borderline character.
In this case, you will almost always have a clear answer, and it will be either a clear no or a definitive yes, so make sure to put your heart and soul in your first approach.
If you talk to them in person, it’s better. Otherwise, write a brief and concise email that focuses on how you can help them and how much you can improve their efficiency if they leave the painful part of the job to you.
Also, be clear on the specific skill you want to learn. In these cases, you don’t want to improve your writing but to learn how to maintain the reader’s attention. You don’t want to start a blog, but attract people to yours.
If the mentor shows character and power, you need to do the same. You need to make them understand that it is worth wasting time with you.
And then, as always, cross your fingers and wait for an answer. If you don’t hear from them in a couple of days, go to the next one.
Refusals, money, and other Problems
How to manage refusals
Since you don’t know what is happening in your potential mentor’s life, you can’t blame their refusals on yourself. There are many reasons why they refused you or didn’t even answer, and none of them are because you are not worth it.
As far as you know, the mail might have never arrived at them. Also, mentorship involves a lot of work and stress. If the person you wanted to be your mentor isn’t ready, you can’t blame them, nor yourself.
Mentors and retribution
If someone accepts to be your mentor, don’t ask them for money.
Mind that you are trading your work for their knowledge, so your payment is the tricks and tips you learn from them, not the money they could give you.
If they offer you something, which might happen after a while, accept it thankfully. But don’t ask for it before starting the work. Later, if your tasks become more complicated and time-consuming, you can mention retribution. You don’t want to be exploited either.
The portfolio dilemma
A mentor could ask you for a portfolio, or a piece of writing of some kind, so make sure to have some published work before writing them.
You don’t have to attach it to the mentorship proposal but make sure to offer them your best work if they ask for it. Choose one of your best articles, something that makes you feel proud, or just something that had success. This will help your mentors understand your current level and also if you need their help.
A couple of hundreds of years ago, mentorship relations were common. Artists were working in their mentor’s office and learning their technique without asking anything in exchange.
The schools that could teach young talents how to write, picture, or sculpt were not that common. So there was a free flow of experience between well-known mentors and their pupils.
Then, with time, schools became more popular and affordable, and we lost the concept of mentorship. But good professors aren’t always great specialists. Your writing teacher isn’t a successful writer most of the time. So mentorship still matters in these types of jobs.
Writing is easy, but if you want to improve your skills, you need to find the perfect mentor to help you with that.
If you want to learn the craft of great writers, you need to spend time with them and let them teach you. There’s no other way of learning to write like them or understand their experienced tips and tricks. So if you ever have the opportunity to live beside those grandmasters, don’t miss it, because it could be one chance in a lifetime.
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Article first published in The Startup, a Medium publication.