You Have a Writing Mentor. Now Get an Advocate

When I was a teenager still at home, I wanted to do only two things — study music and write. But when you grow up in a small town of less than 1,000 people, resources are scarce. There were no groups or events for writers. One or two English teachers scribbled some incredibly kind feedback on an essay or two. But I had to get approval from the superintendent to take an advanced independent study. Now add the fact I wanted to write Victorian novels in an area where the most exciting activity for teens was trespassing for cow-tipping. You can see how I might have been a little lost.

advocate statue of justice

So, for a long time, I clung to my mother as an outlet. I would sometimes let her read what I wrote. Alternatively, I occasionally would read to her from one of my library books as she cooked or did dishes. If I hadn’t had her for breathing room, I might not have plodded away at her old typewriter (yes, typewriter, the ancient thing with a black-ink ribbon).

But now, as a “real” writer who has made money from my words, I can look back and say in complete honesty that, at some point, what I needed most wasn’t an ear or feedback. It was an advocate. Someone who could front costs, book conferences or engagements, check contracts, make introductions, and so on. Someone to fight for me and my work.

Mentor vs. advocate

How is this different than a writing mentor, you ask?

A writing mentor focuses more on guiding you through the development of your voice and confidence. They usually know the ins and outs of writing because they are writers themselves, although other types of mentorship can contribute greatly to growth in the craft. They might advocate in some instances, but they are there for support and teaching above all.

By contrast, an advocate’s goal is to help you obtain and protect what is just and fair for you as a writer, given your effort and skill. Even your dad who’s never read a book in his life can be an advocate, even if they wouldn’t be the greatest mentor.

A rare but necessary find

I’ve worked in the writing industry now for nearly two decades. So, I can say with confidence that there are good mentors. But finding advocates is another tale altogether. Most writers are good-hearted and want to see others succeed in the craft. But it’s hard enough to pay their own bills, let alone front another writer’s expenses. Similarly, it’s hard to promote someone else if they have to focus on marketing for themselves. People who are not in the industry often do not advocate for writers. That’s not because they don’t believe a given writer has talent. It’s more often because they don’t believe advocacy is worthwhile for a profession overrun by red tape and AI tools. Like any investor, they don’t want to take a gamble where the odds of success are low. And cancel culture doesn’t exactly encourage people to risk their reputation for anybody else.

My guess is that you’ll eventually need advocates more than mentors, too, just as I did. When that moment comes, do everything in your power to find people who can do more than just teach and cheerlead you. I can tell you from experience that you need people who are willing to take action on your behalf. Without them, trying to reach your writing goals will bring you to the point of burnout. Take the time to build relationships, because more than anything, in an industry as competitive and opaque as writing, it’s relationships where others are willing to serve that give you any footing at all.

Image credit:
Kaspars Grinvalds