What should you look for in a mentor?

What should you look for in a mentor, a person to accompany you on your creative journey? Here are some ideas, but this is certainly not an exhaustive list.

  • Someone you get along with generally. You need to feel comfortable with this person.
  • Someone who is not a major authority figure for you. The relationship will require honesty and vulnerability, and authority usually brings along a sense of judgement. So even if the person does not consider herself an authority over you, if you perceive her as such, that will stunt your ability to converse freely.
  • Someone who is truly interested in your work and development. Feel free to pay good money to someone else for a professional review of your work. But your mentor should be engaging with you out of genuine care and interest.
  • Someone who is a step or two ahead of you. You need a person who has journeyed a bit beyond you. If you seek guidance from a person who ends up getting advice from you more than the other way around, you will become frustrated and feel cheated.
  • Someone who will not be threatened by your success. This is another reason to choose as a mentor someone who is already beyond you. A true mentor is rooting for you to do well and is the first person to jump up and down when you get published or win an award.
  • Someone who has room for a little craziness. Creative life involves some craziness. Sometimes you need to go off on a tangent. Your mentor should understand that need and not get tied up in knots when your creative work doesn’t follow a straight line. A good mentor will know when your craziness is necessary and when you’ve begun to use it as an excuse not to focus on the work.
  • Someone who is a good listener and observer. The best guide is a person who becomes very good at reading you. This person can reflect your soul back to you. In this sense your mentor becomes a sort of therapist. Avoid as a mentor someone who merely brings you books on writing or throws exercises at you and is constantly giving advice. You can find your own books. There are numerous books of writing exercises. In fact, books and exercises are what you take writing classes for. And advice is helpful only if it’s what you need at the time. A good mentor will listen more than speak.

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press