4 Helpful Tips For Finding A Really Great Mentor

For those of you who don’t already know, I was under the mentorship of Cherrie Moraga for four years.

For those who are not familiar with Cherrie, you should know that she’s a well-known and highly respected essayist, playwright, and thought leader. She is also, in my opinion, a living legend. Her writing is only surpassed by the once-in-a-lifetime instruction and guidance that she gives to her students.

Cherrie is by far the most influential mentor in my life—and is probably the best writing teacher I have ever encountered.

Cherrie taught me pretty much everything I know about how to tell a good story. She was also the first person to really teach me how to be my authentic self in my writing and how to live a more authentic, grounded life.

Without her, I would neither be the writer (nor the person) I am today.

One of the more valuable lessons I learned from my experience with Cherrie was that you can’t possibly grow as a person without the loving guidance of someone who has walked a similar path as you–and has succeeded.

4 Helpful Tips For Finding A Really Great Mentor

Here are 4 tips to helping you find a similar “loving guide” in your life:

1. Don’t Feel “Intrusive” For Asking Someone To Be Your Mentor

If you feel as if you’re being intrusive by asking a complete stranger to help you succeed, then simply consider that at, one point, your prospective mentor was once a mentee herself. At one time, she relied on the presence of another mentor to help guide her to success.

So, don’t think of it as being intrusive. Think of it as you giving your mentor a chance to generously give back to others the way a pervious mentor generously gave to her.

2. Find A Really Great Mentor

Find a really great mentor by engaging in the following activities:

  • Search University and college faculty. Start your mentor search by browsing the list of faculty members at various universities, colleges, and community colleges in your area. Then, find a mentor that would fit with what you want to write: children’s fantasy, African-American literature, political non-fiction, mystery, horror, literary work, romance novels, etc. If you find a great mentor that matches your writing aspirations, try to see if you can’t apply to undergraduate or graduate school at their institution so that you can have one-on-one access to them.
  • Ask friends and family. Ask your friends and family if they know of a great mentor, or if they know of someone who might know of a great mentor.
  • Ask fellow writers.  If you’re part of an online community, ask that community who they recommend as a good mentor. Make a list of the names you receive from the community, and then do some research on those mentors. Finally, see if any of them fit what you are looking for. (If you haven’t found a writing community yet, or if you don’t fit into any of the communities available, then why not start one yourself, today?)
  • Check out the author’s website. If you’ve found a great book on writing, then make sure to check out the author’s website. (It’s usually printed on the “About the author” page.) There’s a likely chance that the author of the book offers courses or workshops on writing which you can attend. Attending the author’s workshops is a great way to meet the author in person, familiarize yourself with her, and then, later, ask her to be your mentor.
  • Make sure they’re an authority. Please read my interview with former editor of Writer’s Digest, Jane Friedman, Who Has Authority Online?, to find out how you can make sure your prospective mentor is really the authority they say they are.

3. Let The Prospective Mentor Get To Know You First Before You Ask Them To Be Your Mentor

Once you’ve found your mentor, make sure to take their classes, buy their books, take their e-courses, watch their webinars, and go to their workshops before you ask them to be your mentor.

When in their workshops, make sure to ask the prospective mentor engaging questions and share with them any interesting observations you’ve made. Make sure to approach your prospective mentor after class with all you queries—really show your prospective mentor that you’re passionate about the work they do.

Before Cherrie became my mentor, for example, I basically took every single class she offered in the course book. By the time I finally asked her to be my mentor, it was a lot easier for her to say “yes” to me because she was already deeply familiar with who I was and had seen, first-hand, my passion for her work.

4. Finally: Ask Them To Be Your Mentor

When you finally ask someone to be your mentor, re-introduce yourself (if necessary), make sure to tell them why you think they are awesome and why they are the perfect mentor for you. Finally, tell them why you’re the perfect mentee for them.

If your mentor replies with a “no, thank you,” then start at #1 on this list and work your way back to #4.

If your mentor says “yes,” then, congratulations!

You’ve just landed yourself a brand-spanking new mentor.

Scheduling Meetings With Your Mentor

Since your mentor is doing you a big favor by lending her precious time to you, make sure to arrange meetings that fit into her busy schedule.

However, if after three months or so, you don’t hear a word from your mentor and she doesn’t at least give you a “cholo head nod” when you pass by her in the hallway, then it’s time for you to find a new mentor.

(Note: an absent mentor is no mentor at all.)

The Difference Between A Great Mentor and A Bad Mentor

Now that you’re in a mentor-mentee relationship, there is something that you should know:

A great mentor does not need to belittle you or make you feel terrible about yourself in order to get you to grow. However, a great mentor may need to challenge you or “get real” with you in order to help you to grow.

A really bad mentor, on the other hand, makes criticism personal. They say stuff like:

“You’re a stupid, lazy, ugly, never-gonna-make-it-no-matter-how-hard-you-try, cotton-headed, nini-muggins!”

If your new mentor sounds just like that obnoxious British guy from Hell’s Kitchen then I recommend ditching that mentor as soon as possible.

Show Your Appreciation

At the end of the mentorship, it is customary to show a sign of appreciation for all the time your mentor has dedicated to you.

So, after the mentorship is over, take your mentor out to dinner, give her flowers, give her a gift, support a cause she is championing, dedicate your time to a project of hers that she needs help in, sing her praises to others, recommend her to friends, and, of course, keep referring to her as “a living legend” on your blog.

Wherever she is, I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.

much “wax on, wax off, Daniel son,”


Have you had a fruitful mentor-mentee relationship in the past? If so, please share how the experience was for you in the comments below!

If you’ve never had a mentor, and are looking for one, feel free to ask for recommendations in the comments below. Who knows, maybe a fellow reader can point you in the right direction?

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15 comments on “4 Helpful Tips For Finding A Really Great Mentor

  1. Katie says:

    This is going to sound crazy, but I’ve never considered having a mentor in writing until reading this. Just the idea of it gets me excited, it’s like one of those “Ah-ha!” moments… Duh, I should have a mentor. Obviously it would help dramatically. Why have I never thought of this before?

    Great post. Also, thank you for using the term ‘cotton-headed-nini-muggins’. So great.

    • Ollin says:

      Dooo it! Probably one of the best things you can do for your writing career. What type of writing are you into? If you know, why not ask my fellow readers what mentors they might recommend? Maybe they can get you started, who knows? Good luck!

  2. Yay for mentors! I’ve been thinking on this exact thing over the months and I’d say I’m still in the process of seeking one of the long term mentors, but I’m blessed to have found several resources who I can ask questions to or meet with on one-off occasions–which is good for the time being.

    A mentor experience of mine: I met a talented screenwriter who spoke at a writer’s conference I attended. I emailed him afterward to thank him for what he said and how it impacted me, and he was kind enough to begin a teacher-student conversation with me over email where he would send me movies to watch and analyze and I would send him my thoughts and analysis. He introduced me to the publisher of my first novel, because he was confident in who I was, after a year of this interaction with me. I didn’t see it coming, I was just trying to learn. 🙂 His name is Brian McDonald and he’s meant so much to me in this launch of my literary career.

  3. I am so excited about this! I have desperately wanted this! (Thank you for writing this as a reply to my tweet question!) I have got to find a mentor. I want someone to critique my work and push me to do better. I work better when pushed by accountability.

  4. RD Meyer says:

    I think the movie “The Mask of Zorro” put it best when it said, “When the pupil is ready, the master will appear.”

    I have a number of people who I consider mentors, but I’ve never looked for any of them. They’ve simply come along as I began a journey. To me, a good mentor looks for proteges. You just have to ready ready to follow, and have enough humility to accept their teaching.

  5. Daniela says:

    Hi Ollin,

    I enjoyed reading this post. Many years ago when I was dewy, wide-eyed girl of 15, and still living in my country of origin, I had misfortune (or upon a reflection perhaps a fortune …) of being ridiculed for my writing by my writing class teacher at the time. It left me unable to write for years. I recalled that experience in one of my posts (dated 3 June 2012). Many years later, in different country and language, I met another writing teacher, incidentally an American woman, who helped me come out of my hiding place and start writing, in English this time. In memory of that class I wrote a post on 25 May 2012. Mentor, teacher, or in actual fact any ‘third reader’ will always add pebbles to the path a writer walks on … sometimes those pebbles are slippery, sometimes they are rock solid. And we continue to walk the road.

  6. Divya says:

    Great idea. I treat some of my closest writing-buddies as my mentors. They somehow make really great mentors!

  7. ansuyo says:

    Great idea. I always wish I had someone to help me, but, bashfully, never ask. Maybe this will give me the courage I need to take that step. I seldom make it here in time to comment before comments are closed, but I love your blog and follow in my google reader. I really loved the blessings week 🙂 Angie

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