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Mentoring writers as an editor and writer Notes from my panel session on mentoring at #IPED2017

This blog post is intended to be a summary and cheat sheet on my part of the mentoring panel on 15 Sept 2017 at the IPEd 2017 Conference in Brisbane.

Proceedings will be published online by the conference organisers so you can always check those out for more information but here are my tips, tricks and my experiences of mentoring writers as opposed to mentoring editors.


First, a definition of mentoring and what I mean by it: I don’t mean actively editing a writer’s work but more reading it and discussing how they go about developing the story, how they go through the process and if it’s a business/practice related mentorship, how they can achieve goals they set for themselves. To edit work, you would have to hire me as an editor not a mentor. As a mentor, I provide a person to chat to and someone to guide you.


  1. Writer mentees are usually (for me, so far) in one of two general camps: “How do I run my business/practice better?” and “How do I tell a story about ___/ in this form/way?”

  2. When it’s the former category, they usually want to know more about freelancing, finances, marketing, opportunities, grants and so on. When it’s the latter category, they want to know more about the process of writing, the practice of it and have a lot of questions and ideas about all of it.

  3. I try to ensure that there is a goal for each mentee to meet. If they have a long term goal, I try to make sure that the process is broken up into steps or phases and that the first goal of the first round of mentorship is getting to the end of phase one. A short term goal that perhaps they can meet within two or three months.Goals have to work with the mentee’s individual personality in terms of schedule and energy and time and pace. That has to be taken into consideration. Goals also make sure that when other things come up in the process, I can ask the mentee if they feel said other things will detract or help them achieve the goal, if they can be postponed till the goal is achieved or if the goal needs to be altered.

  4. Writers seem to come to me because they see me as someone approachable, successful (thanks, I think), because I run it all as a business or attempt to and because they know I also work as an editor and can use that insight as well. This is just something I have noticed. Editor mentees will come to me for something very specific that they think I am good at – usually something to do with technology or social media.

  5. My writer mentees tend to turn up right at the start of or partway through writing the first draft of a specific work. This is useful to me and probably the best timing. If you turn up with a first draft done, then you need me as an editor not a mentor per se for the writing or storytelling process unless you really have mucked it up. Most complete first drafts I have seen generally have some sort of intended story structure that you can see though.

  6. I often have to dismantle misconceptions about how easy it is to make money as a writer or be a bestseller or whether one should have a drug or drink of choice while writing or whether one should wait for the muse or whether having put words down on paper is enough and one is immediately a literary genius. And then there is the “if I can’t get it out perfectly the first time then I am not a good writer and shouldn’t write at all.” concern.The best way to deal with these is to be honest and to have some humour thrown in. I try to size up each person and judge how they will take feedback but in the end if they can’t handle a misconception being corrected, it will be hard for them to pursue writing.

    It’s my job to be honest and critique politely and with care – it’s the writer’s job to take criticism and feedback gracefully. But there are few people who expect you to manage their emotions and emotional reactions for them by being nice to them to the point of dishonesty and I cannot do that.


  7. I read work and ask a lot of questions. A lot of questions. I find this is one of the best ways to get the writer to think about their work or story and also one of the best ways for them to figure out where the story will go and what will happen next and what they want or need to change and what they want or need to keep. Ditto for anything to do with business related goals.

  8. Sometimes the mentorship requires that I am there to hold the mentee accountable for a schedule they want to keep to or just to be the person who understands the field and practice and can discuss any issues the mentee has, bring up possible potential consequences for them to think about and just listen.

  9. All decisions about work and writing are left up to the mentee to make. It is my mentee’s business and my mentee’s writing, not mine. I want my mentees to have the courage to try and to fail and to try again. So while I can discuss issues with them and point out potential options, the ball is entirely in their court and they are always free to try something out and come back to chat to me afterwards.

Do any of you have any insights into the mentoring process either as a mentee or mentor yourself? Let me know in the comments below. And if you liked the panel session, tell me all about it.


And if after all that, you want me to mentor you as a writer: $50 per hour or $1000 for a block of 20 hours to be used within a three month period.  If you are looking for mentoring as an editor, I am happy to help but it is useful to go through the IPEd Mentoring Scheme.

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is currently based in Melbourne.

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