A Guide to Mentoring for Writers

Monika Sapielak



‘No man is an island’… Too often though, when pursuing a creative career as a writer or artist of other disciplines, we feel like an island that is completely secluded. Standing in front of a sky-high mental wall or at a crossroads in our career happens to all of us and can be completely overwhelming. At times like this, how would it feel to have somebody who is wise, encouraging, further down the line, and who not only understands and supports your dreams but also knows how to help you to make them come true? This person could be your mentor…

Since its emergence in the mid-1990s, mentoring has become mainstream and the de facto tool used by business professionals to further their personal and professional development.

Mentoring programmes are also slowly arriving in the creative world and are used by arts organisations to support their creatives.

As the concept of mentoring is rarely formalised and rather poorly conceptualised, I am truly pleased and challenged by this invitation from Words Ireland to put together this paper to give writers an introduction to mentoring. I am delighted to share some concepts and tools I have come across and have been using in my practice as a mentor over the last five years. I hope they will help you to better plan and understand whether mentoring would work for you.

I have arranged this paper into ten short paragraphs describing some ideas behind mentoring, practicalities of a mentor-mentee relationship and some compelling tools that can be used in mentoring.

  1. The Origins of Mentoring
  2. What is and what isn’t mentoring?
  3. Why mentoring?
  4. Benefits for mentees
  5. Benefits for mentors
  6. What makes mentoring effective
  7. The spectrum of mentoring skills.
  8. The Performance Formula P = (P-I) and the notion of interference.
  9. GROW model: overcoming interference.
  10. Practical tips for successful mentoring relationships and programmes


1. The Origins of Mentoring

Homer’s Odyssey is regularly named as the origin for the concept of mentoring. Before setting out to fight in the Trojan War Ulysses trusted Telemachus, his son, to the care and direction of his long-standing friend, Mentor. Despite the fact that some researchers, mainly feminist critiques, strongly question whether Mentor in Odyssey was any good at his job and what would have happened without the omniscient and omnipotent deity Athene’s intervention, the idea of a mentor as an experienced guide and adviser refers back to Homer and is 3,000 years old.

In the contemporary literature on mentoring that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, a mentor was described “as a wise and kindly elder, a surrogate parent, a trusted adviser, an educator and guide. His role is described variously as nurturing, supporting, protecting, role modelling, and possessing a visionary perception of his ward’s true potential. This is seen as demanding integrity, personal investment, and the development of a relationship (…) based on deep mutual affection and respect.”[1]


2. What is and what isn’t mentoring?

Mentoring is a partnership between the mentor, a more experienced person and the mentee, someone less experienced, where the mentee takes an active role in furthering their learning and development; and the mentor serves as a facilitator of growth.

Mentoring relationships can be both informal and unstructured, while others are more formally structured and time-bound, sometimes supported by an organisation. The two different types of mentoring are often described as ‘natural mentoring’ and ‘planned mentoring’.

Many arts practitioners see mentoring as both career “orientated industry induction (the ‘how to’ and ‘where to’ of surviving in the arts industry) and an opportunity to experience personal growth through being accepted and validated as a serious arts professional.”[2]

What is assumed to be essential to mentoring in both the Homeric and the current models is “the dyadic nature of the relationship, and the identity of purpose shared by mentor and mentee.”[3]

Mentoring for writers is mainly “a professional relationship with another sympathetic writer, for a timetabled duration, whose focus is your work and how you can raise it to a new level.”[4]

I can only quote recommendations from experienced writers’ mentors who believe that “the mentoring relationship works best for writers if the mentor is reading new work, and you use the feedback from one session with the mentor to prepare new work for the next one. You need to get something down on paper to show a potential mentor. Raw enthusiasm is probably not quite enough. It is also usually expected that writers have already reached some level of ‘achievement’ before mentoring can start.”[5]


What isn’t mentoring?

It is also good to realise what mentoring is not to be able to set realistic expectations for your mentoring relationships either as a mentor or as a mentee. Following Australia’s Council for the Arts Guide to Mentoring, the following needs to be stressed:

  • Mentoring is not technical training, coaching or teaching
  • Mentoring is not offered for a personal agenda
  • Mentoring is not outsourcing specialist expertise or advice
  • Mentoring is not performance management
  • Mentoring is not rescuing
  • Mentoring is not counselling[6]

Translating this into the writers’ profession: “Mentoring isn’t editing. It isn’t manuscript appraisal. It isn’t one writer passing judgment on another. It isn’t networking. It isn’t a ticket to commercial success. It isn’t trying to write like someone else. It isn’t befriending.”[7]

The mentor should not be expected or aim to solve all the mentee’s problems or give them all the answers, and the mentee should not just sit there and passively receive instruction. Mentoring is also not an opportunity to mould a mentee into a clone of the mentor. Mentoring should also never be mandatory, meaning that the partnership can end at any time should the individuals seem incompatible with one another. [8]

Mentors might listen to your personal history, and refer you elsewhere if necessary, but their primary task will be to help you work out any problems you might have with your writing by focusing on your writing. They are not therapists.


3. Why mentoring?

There are a plethora of reasons why it is useful and helpful to have somebody who can support us in our personal and professional development. The main reasons why creatives are looking for mentors are to:

  • Adopt a new style
  • Learn a new skill
  • Change some behaviours
  • Analyse and solve a problem
  • Make an important decision
  • Advance your creative career
  • Get more recognition for your creative work
  • Grow your creative business
  • Define/Understand your purpose, values and mission
  • Grow deeper self-belief and confidence
  • Become more strategic
  • Improve your network or influencing skills

Writers who recognise that they are at a point of transition in their work; who are shifting from poetry to prose fiction, for example, often look for a mentor to help them through this challenging phase.

Some other reasons why writers seek mentoring are: “readiness to open your work up to others, making fresh attempts to find your voice, or the voice of a new piece and you need to talk to somebody who is experienced and objective, and does not have an agenda like agents, editors will have.”[9]

Non-native English writers often ask the question whether mentoring with a writer who does not speak their language would be still valuable. The answer is definitely – yes! Writers can be mentored in English while writing their work in another language.


4. Benefits for Mentees

A mentor can help you save time, by helping you look at the big picture and avoid so many trials and errors.

(Mentee, independent Sound artist)[10]

Mentees describe the main benefits of mentoring for them as:

  • an opportunity to develop new skills and expertise
  • access to, and contact with, an established practitioners
  • gaining confidence in the creative ability and in dealing with challenges and issues
  • a ‘personalised’ development opportunity to address individual learning needs
  • access to independent and objective perspectives
  • support during times of change and transition
  • public recognition
  • networking opportunities
  • knowledge of the business/industry


5. Benefits for mentors

I find myself saying things to people that I also need to say to myself. It is so helpful to work with others for this reason. (Mentor)

Many mentors also indicate that their professional practice has improved as a result of mentoring others. Although the focus of mentoring is on the mentee and their development, mentors can also gain a lot from this partnership.

Mentors often say that:

  • They feel satisfaction, in the sense of being needed
  • They feel that they are serving the industry and contributing to other artists’ development
  • They gain more professional recognition
  • They experience an increase in self-esteem.


6. What Makes Mentoring Effective

The following ‘Big 3’ conditions for a successful mentoring relationship are regularly named by practitioners:

  • clear parameters and expectations set from the beginning
  • a ‘safe space’ for communication
  • recognition that both mentor and mentee are learning from each other

Mentors are mainly chosen on the basis of their experience and expertise, yet they need to be able to offer conceptual and practical support and criticism, and they also need to know how to be encouraging.

A good mentor never cuts down their mentee, but challenges them in a supportive and encouraging way.

The mentor’s task is multi-faceted, regardless of the type of mentoring.

Mentors blend criticism and encouragement. Essentially they help you to write to your strengths, perhaps by bringing them to your notice for the first time.

Mentors are there to suggest, to point you to boundaries that you might choose to break through, to strengthen your craft, to increase your range of skills, to broaden your horizons and sharpen your ambitions.

Finally, mentoring partnerships also need to be allowed both to succeed and to fail. There also needs to be the opportunity to change or alter the mentorship if it is not going appropriately. Mentoring programs need to be flexible and realistic.

The two most essential skills for a mentor are the ability to ask right questions and the ability to listen effectively.

A good writing mentor is “Someone who engages with your writing. Someone who has solid experience in the writing process and has thought about this self-consciously and is articulate about it. Someone you like enough but not too much. Someone widely read in your chosen genre or form. Someone whose own writing you admire, but do not wish to copy. Someone who enjoys the process. To be able to be all those things, a good mentor will nearly always be someone who has been published themselves and is likely to be someone with some experience of teaching creative writing – whether within an educational institution or through delivering workshops.”[11]


7. The spectrum of mentoring skills

Mentoring approaches range across a spectrum of activity, from directive through to non-directive, and can span from stretching through to nurturing, as illustrated in the diagram below.[12]

Developmental mentoring sits most appropriately within the non-directive area of the mentoring spectrum. However, mentors will need to be able to use both approaches as appropriate from stretching to nurturing. An effective mentor will be able to adjust their approach to meet the needs of the mentee. The diagram below provides an overview of the different styles that may be utilised during developmental mentoring.

However, the notion of empowerment through non-directive styles of mentoring based on reciprocity, empowerment and solidarity should be emphasised. [13]


8. The Performance Formula – Self 1 & Self 2

Most of us get “Aha!” moments when we look at the Performance Formula equation quoted from The Inner Game of Tennis by top tennis coach, Tim Gallwey. Based on the development techniques designed by Gallwey, the solution to most problems lies in either modifying potential or eliminating interference.

“If you know how to do it, but you are somehow blocked, your solution will be in managing obstacles … either tearing them down, going around, cutting through, etc. If there are no apparent obstacles, you’ll know that you need to improve skills… So your solution will be found in learning.” [14]

Before you start looking for a mentor, it might be useful to look at the interferences a bit closer.

Gallwey realised that traditional coaching (mentoring) is based upon a judgmental dialogue about the right and wrong way to do something.

The mentee internalises this dialogue. Self 1 – derived from external authority figures – criticizes and seeks to control Self 2 – the innate, natural self. This judgmental dialogue interferes with our natural capacity to learn from experience.

That is the time when mentoring can be very effective in helping you to identify your interference and to develop and implement strategies to reduce them.  Some interference reducing techniques might include:

  • Creating a safe, reflective space
  • Raising awareness of your thoughts and feelings
  • Considering Evidence – Self 1 operates on limited or no evidence
  • Paraphrasing and summarising to help exploration & awareness
  • Using silence
  • Using active listening – notice other’s facial expression, the tone of voice, body language
  • Empathising, Trusting
  • Positive Regard – letting go of judgement


 9. GROW model: overcoming interference

The GROW Model is a simple yet powerful framework that helps to overcome interference and to highlight, elicit and maximise inner potential. The GROW Model is often used to structure mentoring sessions.

GROW stands for:

  • Goal
  • Current Reality
  • Options (or Obstacles)
  • Will (or Way Forward)

This model was originally developed in the 1980s by three coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine, and Sir John Whitmore. The GROW Model is internationally renowned for its success in both problem solving and goal setting, helping to maximise and maintain personal achievement and productivity. Its flexibility and efficacy transcends boundaries of culture, discipline and personality, making it a very powerful tool.

To get a better idea how the GROW model works you can watch this short demo video. It is set in the corporate environment, but the model works very well also for creatives.


Although mostly mentors use the GROW model, I would recommend that mentees get familiar with it to make it more useful.

Coaches and mentors recommend that: to think about the GROW Model like about how you’d plan a journey: “First, you decide where you are going (the goal), and establish where you currently are (your current reality). You then explore various routes (the options) to your destination. In the final step, determining the will, you ensure that you’re committed to making the journey, and are prepared for the obstacles that you could meet on the way.”[15]

Should you consider becoming a mentor, practising, the GROW model on yourself might be very useful.

The best way to practice using the model is to address your challenges and issues. By practising on your own and getting yourself “unstuck,” you’ll learn how to ask the most helpful questions.


10. Practical tips for successful mentoring relationships and programmes 

Guidelines for the mentoring relationship

  • Mentoring should be voluntary, and neither mentor nor mentee should be forced into the relationship.
  • Both mentor and mentee should share information in confidence.
  • The mentor is at no stage legally responsible for the actions of the mentee.
  • Both mentor and mentee must respect professional, artistic and commercial ethics and not take advantage of the relationship.


A practical checklist for mentees

Ask yourself: What do I want from a mentoring partnership or programme?

What do I need a mentor primarily for:

  • Be my guide through my creative process?
  • Be a ‘sounding board’ for my ideas?
  • To offer me support through to the end of my project?
  • To help me learn more about the ‘ins and outs’ of the industry?


Who would be the right mentor for me?

  • Are there organisations which could help me to find the right mentor?
  • Do I need funding (to cover professional fees, the costs of travel, accommodation, telephone and email) to support a mentoring relationship?
  • If I am unable to secure, or don’t need funding, would I have the courage to knock on doors and structure my relationship with a mentor.


What agreement will I make with my mentor? Have I thought about:

  • How often would I like to meet?
  • How can we keep in contact?
  • What should we try to do together?
  • What are my mentor’s responsibilities and time commitments?
  • What should we do if something goes wrong or if one of us is unhappy in the partnership?


A practical checklist for mentors:

  • Pay attention, invest some if your time and effort in setting the climate for learning and determine the mentee’s needs and learning style.
  • Don’t forget to be sensitive to the day-to-day needs of your mentee and spend time connecting with them.
  • Identify and use multiple venues for communication and explore all available options.
  • Agree on a regular, mutually convenient contact schedule, but be flexible.
  • Check on the effectiveness of communication. Ask questions like ‘Are the meetings working for us?’
  • Make sure that connection results in meaningful learning. Set indicators for your mentee’s
  • Share information and resources – however, never use them as a substitute for personal interaction.[16]


Stages of the mentoring relationship:

  • PREPARING: ensure there is clarity about expectation and role.
  • NEGOTIATING: create a shared understanding of assumptions, expectations, goals and needs – more than a formal agreement in writing (this stage includes talking about confidentiality, boundaries and limits to the relationship).
  • ENABLING: the stage of most contact and most complexity (this is the process of path building for the mentee).
  • COMING TO CLOSURE: ensure there has been positive learning, no matter what the circumstances or other outcomes



I am well aware that mentoring is still finding its feet within writing and other creative communities. I hope that this short guide will help to promote this very effective tool in supporting the professional development of writers and creatives of any other disciplines.  I hope that this will help them to establish or re-evaluate their existing mentoring relationships and programmes so that they provide a genuine win-win exchange.


Monika Sapielak is an award-winning Artistic Director, Curator, Arts Manager, Producer, Educator, Mentor and Innovator with 25 years of work experience in the Arts. She is the recipient of the Merit to Polish Culture awarded by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland as well as Main Awardee of the Arthur Guinness Fund. Monika’s mentoring and coaching expertise includes working with individual artists as well as with organisations and artists’ collectives, and focuses on Personal and Career Development, Curatorial Mentoring but also Creative Business Development. Monika has mentored artists and creatives for the South-Eastern Creative Corridor in the six counties in Ireland’s South-East; Creative Frame in Co Leitrim, Mid-Summer Festival in Cork; University College Dublin; International Theatre Festival; Wertep, Poland; Creative Business Cup, Denmark; Social Entrepreneurs Ireland to name a few. As an Artistic Director, Monika is strongly dedicated to developing and delivering ambitious artistic programmes that are inclusive, socially engaged and supporting the integration of migrant, experimental and emerging artists as well as increasing participation of disadvantaged members of society. Co-founder and CEO of the Centre for Creative Practices (www.cfcp.ie), Creative Entrepreneurs Academy (www.creativeentrepreneurs.ie) and ArtConnected (www.artconnectedopportunities.ie)  that promote and support migrant, experimental and emerging artists, provide Business Development Training Programmes for individual artists and organisations and offer access to professional opportunities for creatives of all disciplines.


[1] Exploring Myths of Mentor: A Rough Guide to the History of Mentoring from a Marxist feminist perspective, Helen Colley, Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Cardiff University, 2000

[2] Getting connected, making your mentorship work: Mary Ann Hunter, Australia Council for the Arts, 2002, p. 13, http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/workspace/uploads/files/research/getting_conn…

[3] Exploring Myths of Mentor: A Rough Guide to the History of Mentoring from a Marxist feminist perspective, Helen Colley, Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Cardiff University, 2000

[4] Mentoring, a guide for creative writers: Sara Maitland and Martin Goodman,  literaturetraining, 2007, www.literaturetraining.com

[5] Ibid.

[6] Getting connected, making your mentorship work: Mary Ann Hunter, Australia Council for the Arts, 2002, p. 13, http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/workspace/uploads/files/research/getting_conn…

[7] Ibid.

[8] @ http://info.wartburg.edu/Pathways/Mentoring/What-is-Mentoring.aspx

[9] Mentoring, a guide for creative writers: Sara Maitland and Martin Goodman,  literaturetraining, 2007, www.literaturetraining.com

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] What is Mentoring?, Keele University, p. 5., JK LPDC March 2014 https://www.keele.ac.uk/lpdc/resources/mentoring/What%20is%20Mentoring.docx

[13] Ford, G. (1999) Youthstart Mentoring Action Project: Project Evaluation and Report Part II, Stourbridge: Institute of Careers Guidance.

Freedman, M. (1993) The Kindness of Strangers: Adult Mentors, Urban Youth and the New Voluntarism, San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Grossman, J.B. and Tierney, J.P. (1998) Does mentoring work? An impact study of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program, Evaluation Review 22 (3) 403-426.

[14] Web source:  http://idea-sandbox.com/destination/performance-potential-interference-pp-i/

[15] “The Grow Model” – Coaching Training From Mindtools.com @: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_89.htm

[16] Communication tips from mentoring consultant, Lois Zachary, web source: https://mentoringexpert.wordpress.com/



Should you be looking for more information about mentoring, there are some resources worth checking:

  • Mary Ann Hunter, GETTING CONNECTED – MAKING YOUR MENTORSHIP WORK, Australia Council for the Arts, 2002.
  • Sara Maitland and Martin Goodman, MENTORING, A GUIDE FOR CREATIVE WRITERS, literaturetraining, 2007, www.literaturetraining.com
  • Conway, Christopher. STRATEGIES FOR MENTORING. John Wiley, Chichester, 1998.
  • Murrell, Audrey J., Crosby, Faye J. and Ely, Robin J. (eds). MENTORING DILEMMAS: DEVELOPMENTAL RELATIONSHIPS WITHIN MULTICULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS. Lawrence Erlbaum, Mahwah, New Jersey, 1999.
  • Parsloe, Eric and Wray, Monika. COACHING AND MENTORING: PRACTICAL METHODS TO IMPROVE LEARNING. Kogan Page, London, 2000.
  • Shea, Gordon F. Crisp Learning, Menlo Park, California, 1997.
  • David Clutterbuck, THE FUTURE OF MENTORING, Clutterbuck Associates, 2003, www.clutterbuckassociates.com
  • “DESIGN FOR LEARNING, Third UK Conference on Training in the Arts, 1997
  • Taylor Clarke Partnership Ltd., WHAT IS MENTORING? taylorclarke.co.uk
  • WHAT IS MENTORING?, Keele University, p. 5., JK LPDC March 2014
  • WHAT IS MENTORING, http://info.wartburg.edu/Pathways/Mentoring/What-is-Mentoring.aspx
  • Lois Zachary – COMMUNICATION TIPS FROM MENTORING CONSULTANT, web source: https://mentoringexpert.wordpress.com/
  • “The Grow Model – Coaching Training, com @: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_89.htm