Mentor Wanted: Apply Within

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where I am heading professionally.

As you may recall, I was a high school history teacher for nearly a decade before I took some time off to have my kids.  I had planned to go back into teaching all along, but I’ve hit a few roadblocks since September 2007, when Big Brother was born:

  1. I never got certified to teach.  When I taught public school in New York City back in the days before No Child Left Behind, I worked in a low-income neighborhood where, it seemed, the fact that I was conscious and literate “qualified” me to teach third grade.  After that, I taught at prep schools where certification wasn’t required. So now I find myself with nine years of teaching experience and undergraduate and graduate degrees in history living over an hour away from the nearest private school – and, according to my current state, I am totally unqualified to teach history at a public school without many hours and thousands of dollars of additional coursework.  (Not that there are any jobs to be had even if I were certified.)
  2. I don’t really want to teach anyway.  Now that I am a mother, I can’t imagine teaching as I did it before: staying up till all hours planning and grading, getting to work early to meet with students, staying late to coach.  And now that my heart belongs to three very small creatures, I worry that there wouldn’t be enough of it left to share with dozens of bigger ones.
  3. I think I want to be a writer when I grow up.  Aside from not being able to teach and not really wanting to anyway, I realized that there might be another profession I want to try out.  So, it seems, it’s back to the drawing board (and not to the chalkboard).

And that all brings me to the point of today’s post: I know what I want to do and I know some of the first steps to take to do it, but what I really want is a mentor.  A tour guide.  Someone who has tread this path before and can help me figure out which step to take next.

As a teacher, I always had a mentor.  A department head or a wise and wizened pal to tell me what to wear to Parents’ Night, how to log on to the online grading system, and how to help my kids understand the significance of the European revolutions of 1848.

As a mom, I have mentors.  My own mom.  My mom friends.  All of you.

But as a would-be freelance essayist and writer of creative nonfiction (just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?), I feel like I’m a babe in the woods without a breadcrumb trail to follow.  Don’t get me wrong: I know there are plenty of people out there who have charted the same course.  And even some who have done it while their kids are little and at home all day.

But what I don’t know is someone who has done it and might be able to help me do the same, all the while meeting me for the occasional coffee date, sharing with me anecdotes about editors, shoring me up when those inevitable rejection letters come in, and teaching me about monetization and SEO.

Kind of a tall order, huh?

Do you have a mentor?  Wanna be mine?  Know where I can find one?  And what’s a life coach anyway?

Image: Student and Teacher by Wonderlane via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

48 responses to “Mentor Wanted: Apply Within

  1. I’m lost in the very same woods … wish I could be helpful, but all I can offer is companionship on the journey and an eager reader as you figure it out!!

  2. Wish I could help. Wish I just lived closer so we could grab coffee and commiserate together, at the very least. And I don’t suppose Anne Lamott’s looking for mentees??

    • Good question. If only I had her number, I’d give her a call and ask if she could squeeze us in for some mentoring. (I’m rereading Operating Instructions right now and am once again reminded of her genius.)

  3. I, as well, crave a mentor for the exact same reasons as you! Perhaps if we all get a search party together, we’ll be able to find one!

  4. I’ve gone from teaching to writing to mothering to writing to teaching/writing/mothering, so yeah…I know what you are going through. And if you find a mentor, wanna share? 🙂

    Oh, and I think it’s a joke that you’re considered unqualified. In my state, I’m too educated to be hire-able in some departments (people with ‘only’ a BA and teaching certification are apparently cheaper). Now I work as a reading specialist to several schools because I have the degrees to be qualified but like you, don’t want to go to the effort and expense for a teaching certification when there are so few jobs to snag anyway. Such a messed up system!

  5. ME TOO. Lindsey and I just had this conversation recently. Other than asking someone to be my mentor (and I haven’t quite found the right words to ask yet), I don’t know how to progress. But I think that it’s phenomenal that you’re at the point where you know what you want and the next steps you want to take. With a new baby. Absolutely inspiring. xoxo

    (PS–You’re a phenomenal writer. Good choice.)

  6. I’m looking for the very same thing, someone to just sit with and talk it all out whenever I need to. Someone who has patience and wisdom to share. But I’m also looking for a spiritual mentor, someone who understands me, and can help guide me there. I haven’t ever had someone in my life like that, who has really taken the time to get to know me.

    Like Lindsey, I have no answers, only kinship along the way!

  7. I think that the first step to finding a mentor is figuring out what youre looking for: someone who’s written a book? Someone gets paid to write? Someone who’s an editor? A blogger? Local? How far along the path ahead of where you’re at today? Then you ask from the pool of suspects. The worst that happens is that they/she/he says no after being so flattered that you asked!

    • Oh, Alex, you’re so practical. And you’re right: a mentor isn’t exactly going to fall into my lap, especially when I’m not even that sure of what I’m looking for. Really, the main criteria is someone who wants to drink iced coffee with me and talk about books. (Can you tell I’m lacking direction?)

  8. If you find one, please send her/him my way too. I’m in the midst of charting my next course and right now, I’m a little lost, not quite sure where I’d like to go with my career. I know what I love, but that doesn’t necessarily generate the income we need to survive as a family. Therein lies my dilemma.

    Wish us both luck?

  9. My advisor in college was a great mentor – unfortunately, she had to retire due to ill health and I’ve lost touch with her. I so often feel like I’m just floundering around in this writing business (and mothering, and wife-ing, and being-an-adult-ing, but that’s all beside the point). The writing itself? That’s glorious. The figuring out what to do with it? Not so much.

    • “The writing itself? That’s glorious. The figuring out what to do with it? Not so much.”

      That’s exactly how I feel. Some days, I think that throwing out my random thoughts to the universe via blogging is enough, especially right now with three little kids at home. But then others, I wonder what I’d be missing if I didn’t at least try to publish something in the more traditional sense.


      But it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my floundering!

  10. Pick me! PIck me! 🙂

    A life coach looks a lot like me. I think the name “life coach” is kinda kooky, but they failed to consult me when naming the industry.

    A good life coach helps me to identify what I REALLY want from what I sorta want, and then helps me move toward that by disolving the painful thoughts that hold me back. Pretty much it’s my thinking that gets in my way. When I’ve cleaned that up, magic happens, one small step at a time.

    I’m glad you’re thinking about taking your writing to the next level. The world is glad to have your words. Your kids will be glad to have money when it’s time to go to the grocery store. You’ve got a few mouths to feed there. And, eventually college (guess you can tell what bills are landing in my mailbox!).

    • Oh, I don’t see how a life coach could possibly help me. I don’t spend any time lost in thought or obsessing over painful ideas. Nope. Never. 🙂

      (Will be emailing you shortly…)

  11. I was just thinking about this over the weekend. Of course, I’m nowhere near deciding what I want to do. As a mentorless, almost-writer with no direction, I would love to have someone helping to guide me along the way. Wouldn’t it be great if there was some kind of test we could take that would tell us exactly what we are cut out to do? I would take it in a heartbeat.

  12. Well, knowing what you want is pretty amazing! And it sounds like even if a mentor doesn’t pop up for you immediately, there are plenty of others here on the same journey. It’s always nice to have someone to look up to, but it’s great to have companions in arms (or pens) too.

    Go for it!

  13. I would love to meet you for coffee (well…hot chocolate for me and coffee for you) if only to talk with someone else about anything other than, you know, mother stuff. But, alas, I have no skills in the writing and publishing world.

  14. I can’t help you as I never think my writing will ever be good enough for real world success. So I’ll just say I admire you and I know you’ll be great!

  15. I’ll be your mentor. But only if you’ll be mine.

    As to life coach, these are pretty good: Therapy Drawings

  16. As someone who has done a fair amount of creative nonfiction writing alongside parenting and creating, well, I’d be happy to do what I can as a cheerleader, quasi-mentor and online compatriot. I taught for a while, though I did it in Vietnam, only to come back and find that I couldn’t do it here. So now, I write my stories of life, I make baby quilts and I mother.

    I wish you all the very best and totally believe in you. 🙂

  17. It looks like a lot of your readers are looking for similar mentors. Perhaps there is a untapped niche for mentoring aspiring writers…

    I am excited for you to forge ahead on this path. It is something I am also interested in. Good luck! You will be/already are great!

  18. Hi Kristen,

    One thing I have observed in working with many highly successful people in many different industries (albeit also struggling with something, usually family or love) is that the people who get mentored are precisely those who do not need it. Mentors, consciously or otherwise, pick winners, people who would probably make it without mentoring.

    Thus the best way to attract a powerful mentor is to do everything you imagine you would do if you had one already (i.e. pick a project, write a proposal, shop it to agents). Books are sold on proposal, so reading “How to write a book proposal” is a good step that a mentor would likely insist upon.

    Researching the sorts of creative non-fiction books that are making the most money would be part of step two. Then honing your pitch to be a sort of X meets Y (it’s Eat Pray Love meets Goodbye Mrs. Chips); very Hollywood, this publishing biz has become.

    The fact that you have an excellent blog is part of your “profile,” this is important in getting a publisher to say yes. Your willingness to build your audience, particularly getting out and speaking (think about your favorites and how often they are giving talks somewhere) helps publishers believe that they might (will) make money with you—and this is the golden rule of getting published.

    Finally, putting it out there, as you have today, shows pluck and this sort of moxie will help, particularly in combination with the fact that you’r a terrific writer.

    Perseverance is also critical—both in becoming a better and better writer, and in thickening the hide to be able to cope with rejection.

    Statistically, past success (at anything) is a good indicator of future success, thus your having been mentored in the past bodes well for future mentoring once you realize that you’ve thrown the gauntlet down today, challenging yourself to step up and own that identity as a writer.

    My analysis: Yes you can.

    • “It’s Eat Pray Love meets Goodbye Mrs. Chips.”

      I did a literal spit take with my coffee when I read that line just now. I love it!

      Thank you for this combination of practical wisdom and moral support. I am grateful for each in equal measure. Please don’t be alarmed if I come begging for both in the future.

  19. I can relate to all the feelings you express, Kristen. My first Creative Non-Fiction teacher told everyone in the class to immediately get a notebook and start writing everyday. She didn’t think I was nuts because I was sure I needed to write a book – and that was ten years ago this fall! Having a burning desire to do something IS evidence of being meant to do it, I’m sure.

  20. Ha! If you find one, Kristen, let us know! (I could do with one myself – especially one who would show me how to pay a few bills by doing it.)

    But this you should keep in mind – you have the talent, and the voice. I believe that’s more than half the battle. As for the rest?

    A lot of stubbornness and a bit of luck?


  21. Great questions, and so wonderful that you’ve acknowledged and articulated your true dream! I recently learned about Ariel Gore’s workshops, some of which are online, and I think she’d be a fabulous teacher from what I know. It is hard to think of finding someone to mentor in the craft and business of writing, because there are so many skills required, and finding a good fit might be challenging. But the writing part you’ve already got down, so maybe it’s just more about the marketing and PR bit. Sending you lots of good thoughts!

  22. Ariel’s awesome. Her books are awesome. So are her workshops. Duh.

    I got to interview her once for an article and she was so shy and quiet, which gave me hope. 🙂

    You’re gonna love her.

  23. I’ve often looked for mentorship and asked a published author (after she indicated I should email her) whether she would serve as a mentor. I never heard back. That was disappointing because she seemed so interested in wanting me to contact her.
    Anyway, that being said, my writing group is a great source of support, but I’m still looking for that mentor. If you find one, please let me know. I’d like to apply. Thanks for this post. It helped me realize that I am not alone in this quest.

    • And thank you for reminding me that I need to look into finding a local writing group. Just putting these ideas out into the universe has helped me realize how valuable it is to voice concerns and questions and to discuss them with like-minded people.

  24. I have found multiple freelance writing jobs through blogging. Some of them have been things that were offered to me and some were things that I stumbled upon and or found online.

    I am sure that you can do the same. Some of it I think comes from just being open to it. I know that sounds goofy, but when you are focused primarily on one area it is sometimes hard to see others.

  25. I’m in the same boat, although I’ve got more writing experience so far, but as a direct hire and on the business end. I now freelance and want to write different things, articles, children’s books, etc, so these are new waters for me.

    I suggest you check into LinkedIn if you’re serious about finding a mentor and just advice from your peers. Create a profile and sign up for groups. I’m part of groups such as authors, writers, etc and people are always very willing to share their experiences and advice. You may be able to find a good mentor there. People are writers of all genres, so don’t think it’s just for business people. It’s a great place to meet people just like you, who may be a little further down the road.

    • That’s great advice about LinkedIn. I definitely have the stereotype about LinkedIn being for business people – which might suggest the ways in which I need to realign my thinking to define my freelance work as a type of business.


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