June 06, 2012
Mentoring Other Writers: What's In It For You? By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Mentoring another writer may sound like giving away your industry knowledge for nothing or boosting a competitor. But really, mentoring is good for your protege's writing career and yours. Mentoring can benefit you beyond feeling good about helping another person who is new to the business.
Mentoring can help keep your skills current as your protege asks you questions. It's funny how points of grammar, punctuation or style that you've known for years can suddenly baffle you when you're put on the spot by a newbie. You also need to stay on top of your skills when your protege submits to you queries and rough drafts to proof. Especially if you don't perform much editing work, these mentoring tasks can keep your proofing pencil sharp.
You and your protege can also bounce ideas off each other for writing projects you tackle separately. The longer you write, the easier it to become cynical that all your ideas have been done to death already. A new writer doesn't know any better and can help you shape ideas in fresh ways.
As you learn about each other's areas of expertise and interest, you can refer work to each other. If you never write about sports but your protege does, pass on the tip about the sports blog seeking content. Or if he lacks the experience to handle a top assignment on a subject familiar to you, he can give you the heads-up on it so you can pursue it.
If you directly refer your protege to an editor that you know, perhaps someone for whom you wrote when you were new to the business, you can stay connected to that editor. This kind of networking can benefit you later. Let's say that you started out with a newspaper writing an events calendar. Tipping the editor that you know someone well-suited to this task may put you in a favorable light should the editor develop a good relationship with your protege. Perhaps the editor will give you serious consideration when you suggest a weekly column within your expertise.
As you help your protege find markets, you can snap up assignments that are better suited to you. It is easy for experienced freelancers to get too cozy receiving regular assignments from a few editors. They can miss terrific opportunities that could boost their income and influence because they are not looking for new work.
Educating your protege on identifying reputable markets for his work will help improve the writing industry overall. Shysters who pay mere pennies for hundreds of words or who have no intention of paying anything love to prey upon new writers because they assume that their lack of industry knowledge makes them an easy mark. The promises of "exposure" and bylines often lure new writers to committing to projects that rob them of their skill. Since you have taught your protege to avoid these time-wasting traps, you have helped decrease the number of writers available for scam artists.
If you become overwhelmed with a huge writing project, you may outsource some of the work to a trusted protege. Many new writers could handle taking photos, performing research or verifying facts. You likely cannot offer a byline since the contract names you as the person hired to complete this project, but the experience and pay will help your protege. Before he begins working on the project with you, agree upon how much you will pay and sign a contract that spells out the stipulations of ownership and pay.
The camaraderie you share with your protege can help you de-stress. As he gains more experience, he will totally understand the frustrations and rewards of the writing life more than the non-writers you know.
Deborah Jeanne Sergeant writes from her home in Clyde, N.Y. for a variety of trade and consumer publications. She also writes marketing materials, web copy, and resumes. Visit her at www.skilledquill.net.
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