Are you asking the right questions? How to work more effectively with mentors etc.

Do you know how to ask the right questions when working with a mentor, editor, critique partner etc.? It seems like a simple enough question. Well at least I thought so until the last few weeks.

I have been working with a writing mentor for the last month or so and as a consequence of this I have been on a steep –sometimes painful- learning curve. However, it got off to a rocky start. Why? Because I didn’t know what questions to ask.

I have only had experience with a few editors, critique partners and mentors but what has enhanced all of these interactions has been my self-directed learning. It has been through buckling down and really sinking into some books on craft that I have been able to get the most out of my sessions.

Don’t get me wrong, all of the feedback I have had has been helpful but it wasn’t until I really started to read extensively on things like story structure, scene mapping and tension, point of view, archetypes etc., that I was able to get the most out of my sessions. This is because most writers, editors and mentors are not working in this field full time; they don’t have time to spoon-feed you. Also, being spoon-fed is not a good recipe for learning anything.

So, in order for me to prepare for my sessions now, I make sure I not only write, and write hard but I also do a lot of research and plan out all the questions I want to ask. That way when I am asked “Have you considered the purpose of this scene and how it adds to character or plot development, tension and/or conflict?” I can ask clarifying questions and dig deeper into my mentor’s/editor’s/critique partner’s meaning and thus draw more knowledge out and take my learning to a deeper level.

This may sound like a simple tip but it can be hard to find time to read craft books amidst the hectic schedule of out lives. So, even if it is just a chapter a week it can make a huge difference to your journey as a writer. Sometimes a chapter a week is perfect because you allow that snippet of information to really sink in and give yourself space to ponder it and decide if and how you want to take it on.

Part of the reason I wrote this post is also because I often hear the mantra “The best way to teach yourself to write… is to write.” Which I think is largely true but in the face of my journey it isn’t the entire truth. Everyone’s journey is unique and I respect that but I sure know that sharing this journey with other writer’s has taught me a lot about the craft and myself.


  1. Elsa Holland says:

    Great Post Catherine and and advise.


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