May 8th, 2015

The Benefits of Mentorship in Writing

by Susan Spann

Telemachus and Mentor (public domain)“Mentor” was the tutor Odysseus placed in charge of his son, Telemachus, before departing on his now-famous odyssey across a mythological version of ancient Greece. Since Homer’s day, the word has come to mean an advisor who comes alongside a less-experienced person to offer help, education, and guidance.

Mentorships exist in almost every conceivable endeavor, including writing. Many writers work with a mentor, and many writers are quick to describe the benefits they receive from the mentorship of a more experienced author.

Today, I want to flip that around and share some surprising benefits the mentor receives from the experience.

1. Teaching a skill can help you learn it better, yourself, as well.

For the past few months, I’ve been tutoring a high school student who has a deep desire to become a writer. We meet on a weekly basis, and I’m walking her through the steps of writing her first full-length manuscript. As expected, we started by looking at the elements of plot and character creation.

While reviewing these basic concepts with her, I recognized some things I could strengthen in my current work-in-progress (the first book in a new series, and also a genre new to me). Teaching the concepts brought them home to me in a way that I hadn’t considered—or realized—before.

2. Inspiration flows in both directions.

A writer’s life has challenges, and sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day that we forget the passion and inspiration of our early writing days. Kaitlyn—the writer I’m working with—is a constant reminder that writing itself is joy. Her love for the written word, and her excitement at each new step in the process, inspires me to find renewed joy in the process.

Her excitement also inspires me to return to my own work in progress with new energy and appreciation. Some people think that mentorship will “tire you out” or drain you of creative energy—in my experience, it’s exactly the opposite.

3. You’ll learn what you don’t know, and reinforce what you do.

Sometimes, the person you mentor will ask a question you cannot answer. Not a problem! Finding the answer together not only helps the “mentee” learn the proper method (whether it’s research, writing-related or something else entirely) but also reinforces that mentors aren’t perfect—and don’t need to be. The best mentorships are the ones where both parties can share their struggles, as well as their strengths.

4. Friends for (the writing) life.

Writing has never been, and will never be, an easy career. Good mentorships often result in real friendships that last beyond the end of the formal mentoring arrangement—friendships that strengthen us as people as well as improving our writing skills.

5. Paying it forward.

Few writers achieve success without assistance from authors farther along on the writing path. Mentorship offers each of us a chance to “pay it forward” and extend a helping hand to people walking a part of the path we’ve already crossed over. By sharing the knowledge granted to us, we create another link in the chain, which hopefully our mentees will continue, in time, as they become mentors to those who follow in their footsteps.

It doesn’t take a lot of time to make a difference in someone else’s life. You don’t have to sacrifice your own career to help someone else’s. As writers, we spend the bulk of our time alone, in solitary endeavors—but mentorship offers a chance to open our minds (and hearts) to someone else who shares our love of the written word.

Take a chance and become a mentor. The benefits you receive might just surprise you.

Have you been, or are you now, involved in a mentorship—either as a mentor or a mentee? What’s the biggest benefit you’ve experienced from the process?

About Susan

SusanSpann_WITSSusan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, released on July 15, 2014, and her third novel, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, releases in July 2015. Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website,, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).


20 comments to The Benefits of Mentorship in Writing

  • Susan, this is so true. Have you ever taken a kid to Disneyland? You have been a zillion times – but you get to see it/experience it again, for the first time, through their eyes. That is wonderful.

    I’d add one more thing to your list. Their successes become your successes. You’re so proud, and so happy for them, that you actually experience the success as well.

    I’ve never given, that I didn’t get back even more.

    And I need to do more of that. Thanks for the reminder! I hope you inspire lots of people with this post!

    • I loved taking my son to Disneyland, and other fun places, for the very reasons you mentioned. You’re so right about their successes being as wonderful as our own, too. When a person I’ve mentored succeeds, it’s one of the most wonderful feelings ever.

  • Holly Robinson

    I love this post, Susan–we have to keep teaching and giving of ourselves to keep learning from others. That’s true in everything we do in life.

  • I agree wholeheartedly about needing mentors. The big question becomes though–how do new-ish writers find mentors? I suspect most established writers wouldn’t respond to a blind email. Do you have any recommendations for those of us who know we need a mentor, want a mentor, but have no clue where to begin? 🙂

    • Most of the writers I mentor are people I met either at writers’ conferences or through online critique contests like pitch wars. Generally, those meetings have sparked friendships, and then grown into mentorships when we both realized the situation would work for us both. I think the best advice I can give is to start getting to know more experienced writers, as friends, and then see whether the relationship develops into one of mentorship. It’s tricky, because not everyone is equally open to it, and you have to be careful about when and how you ask, but in my experience once you have a genuine friendship with someone, you tend to want to help – and be helped – by them.

      Also, professional organizations like mystery writers of America often have mentorship programs, so that may also be a good place to start.

      I hope you’re able to find the help and mentor that fits your needs.

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    I’ve had the pleasure of being on both sides and loved both. Such a great experience!
    Thanks for a great post, Susan!

    I’d love to get a program started through WFWA. 🙂

    • Starting a program through WFWA is a great idea Orly! Quite a few of the MWA chapters have mentorship programs, too – I’d love to see one at the national level as well – and they’re fantastic places for writers to find the support they need at all levels.

  • Yes, Orly, PLEASE try to get a program started through WFWA 🙂

  • Fae Rowen

    When I first joined OCC/RWA they had a mentor program, which got cancelled the month after I joined. As a teacher, I do know how much you learn when you teach someone. And, like Laura mentioned, their successes are your own, as a mentor. Great reminder–and call for writers to step up as mentors. Thanks!

    • Thanks Fae! I hope OCC/RWA decides to re-up the mentor program. Sometimes they disappear for a lack of mentors, which was part of the theory behind my post – pointing out that the mentor actually benefits a lot from the process too! (A good deed IS its own reward, but in this case there are additional rewards beyond that as well.)

  • I’ve had so many wonderful mentors through the years, and I appreciate every one of them. Volunteering is fun because you get to pay that back, and I always learn A LOT.

    Thanks for the great post!!

    • I’ve had wonderful mentors too, Jenny, and it’s a wonderful thing to finally be at the place where hopefully I can help someone else as well. I still have people who act as mentors to me, too, so it’s neat to see the situation from both ends!

  • Dear Susan, I was so impressed with your insights, and fascinated by your books, that I raced to Amazon to get at least one copy…only to find they were far out of my price range. I realize this is your publisher’s doing, and you have no control, but I am so disappointed, and apologize for taking mentor discussion space for this comment, but I want you to know I was ready to get all three of your books, but couldn’t.

    Cheers and best of success to you. I think you have a winning protagonist and theme, here.



    • I’m so sorry, Faith. I’ve asked my publisher about publishing the books in paperback, or putting them on sale, and have been told that will happen when they’re ready – trust me when I tell you I’m working on that from this end. I’ve had the same experience at times in my life, where I wanted to read something but couldn’t get hold of it because of the price points, and it’s definitely frustrating. I don’t know if you have a local library, but I know my books are in a lot of libraries (most of them, from what I can tell) – so maybe it’s possible to find one there, or at a used bookstore, at least for now.

      • I will definitely check my library, Susan, and thanks for the reminder. I’m so possessive about my books that I usually forget that option. LOL I’m grinding my teeth on your behalf, because that…well, it sucks. And fingers crossed that it improves…soon!

  • My mentor was/is fabulous. I met her through her blog DeeScribwriting Blog ( Her advice, feedback and support was invaluable and gave me the confidence to start submitting my manuscript. I can only encourage new writers to seek out experienced authors to act as their mentor.

  • How fantastic to have a mentor. I have had the benefit of working in very supportive critique groups, and I think at least some of the principles apply. Receiving encouragement and open and constructive criticism is essential for any writer. Good post. Thankyou:-)

  • Lyn Farrell

    I love this article! I wrote an article on the benefits of mentorship from the mentee’s point of view –

    This article gives the other perspective to mentorship that I’d not really considered so it was fascinating to read. Will be posting links to my various writing groups online!

  • […] Many of us have been mentored in our careers—the benefits of that are obvious. Susan Spann examines the benefits of mentorship for the mentor. […]