Musings As a “Baby Writer”

I was thinking about writing a thread about mentoring programs and the babying of writers without agents on twitter. But I decided it is too much to thread. I wanted to give my thoughts time to simmer and give them a more cohesive platform. I’ve taken that time, but my thoughts are still a bit scattered, but it’s time to share.

I’m coming at this as someone who actively participated in #pitchwars last year and the last two rounds of #authormentormatch as a potential mentee. To be open and honest, I never got a request for a full in any of the contests, but I don’t think this is coming from a place of bitterness. I fully realize that these contests are more about matching up two people with similar interests and goals and complimentary skill sets rather than validating or invalidating someone’s writing skills. But I noticed something that happened in both of these contests.

Sometime after the submissions were collected, while the mentors were narrowing down their choices, the mentors would start tweeting about how excited they were to reveal their mentee pick. They would say things like they couldn’t wait for the reveal, that they were nervous, that they wanted the reveal day to come faster. The mentees, taking a cue from the mentors (in all three contests it was the mentors who posted these types of posts first) would echo back similar statements. They would say the honest truth: waiting is hard! Can’t wait to see if I’m picked! I’m so nervous.

Wham! The mentor hammer would come down, and there would be a cascade of tweets chastising the mentees, saying that waiting a month for contest results is nothing compared to waiting for query and full replies from agents, and that if we couldn’t handle the contest, then we were in for a rude awakening when it comes to querying or publishing.

All three times, this happened in that order. Now, I’m not sure if it was the same mentors who originally posted about their excitement who felt the need to crush the excitement of mentees as “unprofessional,” and it definitely was not all of the mentors. But it points to a bigger problem in these kinds of contests: the infantilization of potential mentees and unagented writers in general.

This left a bad taste in my mouth over these contests. After all, I know that querying is much different than contests. For one, querying does not involve a hard response date and it doesn’t have a group of excited people waiting for the results while the agent teases about it. (Well, except possibly #tenqueries but even that is quite different in my opinion). It was like the first half of the submission period involved the mentors explaining that they wanted to share our journey with us, that they were open and cool and we could talk to them about our concerns. Then, when we did, we were shut down as people who didn’t understand the industry, weren’t ready for the industry, and were clueless newbs. Every time it was a gut punch, until I just decided to stay off the hashtags and eventually step away from contest-land.

Because no one else was talking about it, I thought maybe I was just overreacting. Imagining things. I do that sometimes. So when someone else finally brought it up as an issue, I was relieved to see it wasn’t all in my head. 

But Mentors Know More!

Mentoring is one of my passions. As a sociologist, I have studied patterns and trends in mentoring. I explore the ways it helps communities, the way it helps mentees, and the way it helps mentors. I have set up successful mentoring programs, and I have been both a mentor and a mentee in many different circles. 

Mentoring, the intimate, supportive relationship it builds, is great for everyone involved. However, there is a common pitfall in mentoring: Mentors, especially new mentors, fall into the ego trap, thinking they have to be better than their mentees at everything. They want to prove themselves as mentors and, unfortunately, they often resort to belittling their mentees.

Mentors, especially new mentors, fall into the ego trap, thinking they have to be better than their mentees at everything.

Some mentors, usually the more experienced but sometimes new ones, tend to realize that their mentees often know more than them in several areas. They approach their mentees with respect and are open to not only sharing their experiences and expertise, but to also learning from their mentees.

Of course the mentors in these programs have more experience than the people applying to be mentees. I’m pretty sure the mentees recognize this, which is why they apply to these types of programs. But too often the mentees fall into a prostration role, belittling themselves, worshiping the mentors, psyching themselves out until they believe that they know nothing about writing or publishing. 

At the same time, the mentors feed off of this ego boost and feed into it. Not all of them, of course. But there are definite posts that feel like high school, like people pushing other people down just to build up their own sense of expertise. 

What Should Be Done About This? 

In general, I would ask if you are mentoring anyone… whether in writing or another industry, to be careful and critical of how you approach mentoring. Make sure you recognize the skills and talents in the people asking you for help. 

This hashtag #authorstilllearning seems like a great place to remind yourself of the constant metamorphosis involved in learning. That it is a journey and there is no beginning or end, only a vast wilderness of possibility. 

Also, I want to give a shout out to the awesome agented and published authors who lift up authors who are not agented or published yet. It is important to remind people that a single day, a single decision, does not define us and our abilities. 

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