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Mar 12, 2014

What You've GoT To Know About Having A Writing Mentor by @MarySmithWriter: #GUESTPOST

Posted by Wendy Ewurum  |  at  5:21 AM

In my past life as a training and education professional I loved facilitating programs on coaching and mentoring. As I work on my online career, especialy the promotional component which I started out having no clue about, I looked up to certain people who have been doing this for a long time and expertly so as my mentors, to help groom me and spark my own creativity. I still do.

I suggested this topic to Mary because I recognise that even if we want to carve our own path, it always helps to get a little glimpse and guidance into what is it is you need to become in order to achieve what you want to be.

I imagine that writers have similar needs because no matter what sphere you operate in,  some of us come along with nothing but a sprinkle of talent and a prayer and could do with a helping had.

NOTE! Mary's book, NO MORE MULBERIES will be priced at a very low 99cents during the 4 day HOP, so please prepare to download. HOP BOOK CATALOGUE.


Image of Mary Smith
“What is it about Miriam that made her want to turn her back on the nice life she had in Scotland? To be cut off from friends and family?” Jane, the woman asking the question was my mentor and she had just read the first 20,000 words of my novel, No More Mulberries – and aspects of it puzzled her.

I explained how Miriam had fallen in love with an Afghan student in Scotland and followed him to Afghanistan, where they worked together on health and education projects. After her husband’s death she stayed on because she wanted their son to grow up in his own culture.
“Yes, I get the falling in love,” she said, “but Miriam seems not to miss her old life – that’s not usual.”

It made me think long and hard. I knew the answer to Jane’s question.  Miriam always felt a bit of a misfit in her own culture. She was searching for something to make her feel her life was worthwhile. Then it dawned on me: I knew Miriam inside out but I hadn’t shared that knowledge about her back story with readers who would, like my mentor, probably be puzzled.
I went off to re-work that first chunk of manuscript.  At our next meeting, Jane was pleased with the changes and I felt I was at last on the right lines.

I had been awarded a place on a mentoring scheme run by the Scottish Book Trust. Writers must live and work in Scotland but I am sure similar schemes are run in other countries. The scheme is open to writers who have had work commercially published and who are working on something in a different genre. For example a published children’s author might want to develop a poetry collection or a playwright who has had work professionally performed may want to write short stories. In my case, I had a narrative non-fiction book under my belt and wanted to work on a novel.
One of the reasons I was drawn to apply was the fact they said they would match the successful applicants with another writer or industry professional with appropriate experience. I did not want another writer as mentor and said I’d like an editor or a publisher. In fact, my mentor was neither of those but she had worked for many years in the book industry in sales and marketing and knew what kind of books sold.

At its best, mentoring creates an intimate, sharing environment, which allows the writer’s confidence to increase and unlocks their potential. Having a mentor look at my work and take time to discuss it with me was a tremendous help. What was really great was that she didn’t tell me something wasn’t working, nor did she ever suggest ways to fix a problem. Instead she asked questions, often pretty tough searching questions which led to my understanding there was some work to be done! I remember her once asking what my character Iqbal looked like – and I realised I hadn’t described him anywhere.

It was a real privilege to have someone so totally engaged with my work, to spend time reading drafts, to talk through my ideas for further development. Having a mentor is a totally different experience from having writer friends read your manuscript, or sending it to a critique agency or to beta readers. The relationship, and a high level of trust, develops over time – we had almost a year in which to work together. We had email exchanges every couple of weeks and half a dozen meetings. These were scheduled to last two hours but were always much longer.

In a mentor/mentee relationship ground rules must be set out from the beginning. One very important thing to remember is that mentor and mentee are NOT friends. It is a professional working relationship and must remain so. The other potentially sticky area is that of ownership of the work. I have heard of someone who felt her mentor thought it was her novel they were working on and wouldn’t let the author allow her central character to fall in love with her hero because the mentor wanted someone else!
I would certainly recommend having a mentor. I think for a new writer or an established writer wanting to develop work in other ways a mentor can be hugely beneficial – having someone completely absorbed in your work, being constructively critical and letting confidence develop.

No More Mulberries is a story of commitment and divided loyalties, of love and loss, set against a country struggling through transition.

British-born Miriam’s marriage to her Afghan doctor husband is heading towards crisis. Despite his opposition, she goes to work as a translator at a medical teaching camp in a remote area of rural Afghanistan hoping time apart will help are see where their problems lie. She comes to realise how unresolved issues from when her first husband was killed by a mujahideen group are damaging her relationship with her husband and her son – but is it already too late to save her marriage? 

“Written with empathy and humour, No More Mulberries provides a fascinating insight into life in rural Afghanistan.” 

“This book might be about Miriam, but it's Afghanistan which will grab you and hold you.”

Mary SmithMary Smith was born on the island of Islay, Scotland and grew up in Dumfries & Galloway in south west Scotland. She worked for Oxfam in Lancashire for ten years. She later spent ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan, firstly for the Pakistan Leprosy Control Programme based in Karachi followed by establishing a mother and child health care project in the Hazara Jat region of Afghanistan and the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
After returning to Scotland she worked as a freelance journalist while writing her first book, Before The Taliban: Living with War, Hoping for Peace. This narrative non-fiction account of her time in Afghnaistan lets the reader meet some of the ordinary Afghan women and their families with whom Mary worked.
Her second book, No More Mulberries, also set in Afghanistan is her first novel.
Mary's years in Afghanistan - often working in remote rural areas - allows her to bring a high degree of authenticity to her work.
Mary Smith is now a freelance journalist while working on her second novel and first poetry collection.
For more information on Mary's journalism, poetry and other projects visit her website at

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About the Author

Most know me as the author to Fabulosity Reads and in actual fact, that is the previous name of this blog. I have since then moved my books to a Wordpress self-hosted blog so that I can have a place to show a different side of me which I am equally passionate about and that is marketing and personal development. I hope you will love being here, watching me grow as I share and learn. My highest hope is that we will grown and learn together in all disciplines affecting our lives. I'd LUUURRRVE to hear from you, so don't be shy...


  1. I love the idea of a mentor asking you questions, and not telling you what they think should be there! The difference between a mentor and a critique partner perhaps. Great post (and I'm a little bit jealous!)

  2. Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Joanne. More than one of my writer friends have confessed to being a litle bit jealous!

  3. Mary,many thanks! This is one of the most interesting blogs I've read! As valuable as mentoring is, we don't see it discussed very often. I imagine that's because of its one-on-one nature, but you've brought up so many of its benefits. (And things to be careful of – equally important.) I think the technique of asking questions is excellent. When I first started writing, I didn't care very much about writing descriptions; I loved action and dialog. When I was asked, "What does this setting look like, sound like, feel like?" I realized I hadn't transferred the images in my head to the page. Learning to do that took time and effort, and I still have to remind myself to go back and make sure I've brought the reader along with me. Not too long ago, I nearly sent a bride and groom naked to the altar, then gave them a puny reception. Fortunately, I remembered the question. Clothe the characters! Fill the punch bowls! Listen to the chatter and strike up the band! :D

  4. Thank you, Lorrie. I'm so pleased you enjoyed my post. You are so right about the need for the details we see in our head but forget the readers can't see what's there unless we write it down. I'm still not keen on writing passages of description (maybe because I'm not good at it?) but I do try to remember to ask myself the questions my mentor threw at me.

  5. Mary, thank you for sharing your experience with a mentor. I had not considered the idea before this but can now see how valuable one would be.

  6. Hi Dianne, thanks for commenting. I would really recommend it as long as the ground rules are established first - and your mentor is someone you feel some rapport with.

  7. I've never officially had a mentor who specifically filled that role but I've been fortunate to have many people who have guide me through life and gave me good advice.

    I wish you success with your book.

    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog


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