4 hints for mentoring young writers

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 11.56.24 AMBy: Beth Stefanick (Kalmbach Publishing Co.), 00439517, Mar2012, Vol. 125, Issue 3

Many writers who have achieved a level of success want to help aspiring scribes in their communities, and mentoring them is one way to do that. Girls Write Now (GWN) has been matching professional women writers with female students in New York City’s public schools in a program that combines mentoring and writing instruction. With more than a decade of volunteering under their collective belts, GWN mentors suggest the following to would-be mentors:

  • Learn to trust yourself. “I think a common concern is to worry if you’ll be a good mentor,” Kirthana Ramisetti says. “The word ‘mentor’ can seem so weighty and authoritative…. On top of that, mentoring is a relationship that defies easy categorization, since you’re not merely a teacher or friend but a fine balance of both…. lust know you’ll be fine as long as you let your relationship with your mentee develop organically. She will let you know what she needs from you.”
  • Build trust with your mentee. “After my mentee went through a bumpy period that was hard for her to talk about, I set aside the first 10 minutes of our meetings for freewriting,” Julie Polk recalls. “She knew that anything she wrote in that time was private. I told her I’d never ask to see it, and suggested that she not show it to anyone. I wanted her to experience writing as a safe space, where she could be free to say anything without worrying about how anyone else might react. It wound up creating a lot of trust between us.”
  • Be a good listener. “You don’t need to have all the answers. When my mentee first came to me with an issue she was having in her writing or personal life, I felt like I was let ting her down if I didn’t come up with the perfect solution,” Tasha Gordon – Solmon says. “But all she really needed was the space to express her own ideas and work things through on her own. Although it might not seem like a lot, really listening can be incredibly helpful.”
  • Focus on the individual’s needs. “My mentee loved to talk and tell stories, so I would ask her to write them down and email them to me when she got home,” Erica Silberman says. “Sometimes, if my mentee was stalled, I would start the writing project, and she would write in response.”

Writers interested in mentoring others can also look into WriteGirl (Los Angeles), 826 Valencia (San Francisco and other cities), Capitol City Young Writers (El Dorado Hills, Calif.) and Write Boston. Boys & Girls Clubs of America, local chapters of the United Way, YMCA branches, and public schools and library systems may also offer organized mentoring programs with writing components.