Guest post by Dr. Dennis E. Hensley

I can personally attest to the value of a mentor. My high school English teacher gave me lists of books to read, edited my manuscripts, and encouraged me to write for the school literary magazine.

My college adviser and teacher pushed me to become a reporter for the college newspaper, helped me select courses that would best prepare me for a career as a freelance writer, and worked elbow to elbow with me to improve my writing by editing my papers line by line.

Today, I have close friends in the field of writing I turn to for advice, encouragement, teaching, and perspective.

Choosing a Mentor

Begin by listing of what you need both in your personal life and your career.

For life skills, you may need help in time management, finances, or health issues. For your career, you may need help in mastering writing skills, improving your public speaking, or marketing yourself and your work.

Sometimes one person can mentor you in all these areas, but, more likely, you will need two or even three mentors. I engage a personal trainer to help me maintain a proper diet, guide my workouts, and advise me on getting proper rest. However, I turn to a different person to copyedit and proofread my manuscripts, maintain my website, and help me secure speaking engagements.

And the Nominees Are…

Because the best advisers are successful themselves, you may have to pay or barter for their guidance.

Approach the person you feel will be of greatest help and be transparent. Tell them you want to develop the skills you see they have mastered. “If you could work with me in whatever time you can spare, I promise not to disappoint you.”

Whether or not they agree take you on, ask for direction in that initial meeting. Are there people you should meet, books you should read, workshops you should attend, connections you should make?

Amaze your potential mentor by following through on every bit of advice. Come back later with written summaries of the recommended books, quotes from a workshop you attended, reports on your meetings with the people they suggested.

Be Reasonable

If you meet resistance in an initial meeting, seek a referral. And don’t ask for too much. I am put off when people invite me for coffee and then try to hand off a 500-page manuscript for a free edit.

I also am put off by people who either brag endlessly or do the opposite: put themselves down and play the part of the victim who has never been given a fair chance.

Foodstuffs Gratefully Accepted

I am eager to hear what you have accomplished, where you’re headed, and why you feel I might be of help. Also, like most mentors, I’m open to bribes.☺As my friend, author and editor Lin Johnson, tells students at my college, “It’s always nice to send a nice thank you letter to editors—and chocolate.”

A mentor can reveal shortcuts, open doors, protect your blind side, keep you focused, hold you accountable, push you to new levels, and channel your energies and talents toward success.

One stick can easily be broken over the knee. Two sticks are sturdier, stronger, and more durable. Don’t go it alone.

Dr. Dennis E. Hensley, a friend and frequent guest of The Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild, is director of the professional writing program at Taylor University. He has written more than 60 books, including his latest, Finding Success with Your Dream Writing Projects (Bold Vision Books). 

In what area of your life do you need a mentor? If you can’t afford to pay one, what service could you trade for someone’s counsel? Tell me in the comments.

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