How To Recognize Bad Creative Mentors

Having people who can offer you critical advice and help you improve your skills can be immensely helpful, but bad mentors can be worse than useless - so here are some signs that your creative mentors or potential creative mentors might not be good ones.

They act as if you know nothing already. If you ask them for help, do they dump basic/101-type information on you without first trying to determine what you already know, or without asking you if there's a specific aspect/area you need help with? Are they always explaining everything to you like you're five, even when you've told them you already know the basics? Good mentors will try to assess and bear in mind what you already know so that they can tailor their help for your particular needs and not waste your time by telling you things you already know.

They fail to respect what you want to create. Do you find that their "helpful" suggestions would turn your creations into something entirely different from what you intended them to be? Are they constantly insisting that you add stuff that they like, even though they don't mesh with what you're trying to go for? Do they insist that you remove stuff they don't like, even though you chose these things deliberately and purposefully? Good mentors will try to help you make the best possible version of what you're trying to create, not try to turn it into something they want.

They mock or insult you if you don't already know something. Do they act like being ignorant is something to be ashamed of? Do they make disparaging remarks upon finding out that you don't know something, or upon finding a mistake you made? Good mentors will remember that nobody started out knowing everything and that it's counterproductive to treat people cruelly or spitefully for simply not yet knowing something.

Their advice is superficial. Those who give superficial advice will often hold up popular works or characters as examples of how to create something successful, but will do little to nothing to explain or analyze how and why their constituent elements made them successful. Conversely, they might hold up an example of something unpopular and declare it bad without any critical analysis or explanation to help you understand why it was bad. As well-intentioned as this advice might be, it will likely lead you astray as you'll end up with no real understanding of the core virtues or problems with something.

They're really fond of absolutes. While there are some pieces of advice that always apply absolutely (EG, "always proofread!"), the vast majority of things you should or shouldn't do depend heavily on circumstance. If the vast majority of the advice you're getting seems to be prefaced by "always" or "never" with no room for exception or regard for intention or context, something's probably amiss. (It might not necessarily be bad advice per se, but it might be bad advice for you.)

They discourage you from innovating or experimenting. For example, do they often tell you that you shouldn't do something new or different with little to no reasoning beyond "it's just not how it's done," "it's just stupid", or "it's just a bad idea"? Good mentors will be able to elaborate on how and why a particular idea might not work, and will respect that you ultimately have the right to try things your way, even if it's not to their personal tastes.

They're constantly negative. Are they able to go on at length over how various works did things wrong, but never seem to be able to bring up any examples of where anything was done right? Do they spend a lot of time telling you what you shouldn't do, but never suggest anything that you might do instead? Good mentors won't just tell you what not to do - they'll try to point you in the direction of what you might do instead.

They idolize someone or something. Are they of the mind that only a few works or creators ever did anything right, and seem to be incapable of finding anything nice to say about anything or anyone else? Do they insist that the stuff from some bygone era was great, but that just about everything today is garbage? Are they convinced that their own favorites and preferences are utterly and objectively flawless and that anyone who says otherwise is wrong? Good mentors will understand that just because they like something doesn't make it objectively better than everything else, and will understand that much of makes something "good" is a matter of personal taste.

They constantly seem to get hung up on petty or trivial "problems." For example, they act like it's an unforgivable transgression if the costumes in a film adaptation of a book aren't precisely identical to the outfits described in the book. Or they complain that a story's word count is too short, even when the text is adequately descriptive and makes it clear enough what's going on in the story. Or they complain about stories targeted to demographics they don't belong to not containing elements that they like (EG, an adult complaining that a story aimed at pre-teens doesn't contain enough violence and blood). Good mentors don't get hung up on issues like these; they prioritize the ones that actually matter.

They're too positive. Do they readily lavish you with praise and compliments over everything you pitch to them? Do they never seem to have anything critical to say and never question anything you do? If so, then either you're really just that awesome and don't need their help anymore, or they're really bad at spotting flaws and problems, or they're too worried about upsetting you to say anything that might suond bad, or they're just trying to butter you up for something. In any case, good mentors will have critical things to say at least some of the time, and they will at least occasionally question what you're doing.

They're self-absorbed. Do they always seem to be talking about their own creations or accomplishments, even when nobody has asked about them? When you ask for advice on your projects, do they start rambling on and on about what they did for their own creations instead of simply offering you some suggestions? Good mentors will focus on building you up, not on telling you how great they are.

Their style of "help" ultimately keeps you dependent on them. Do they essentially rework your creations for you, instead of teaching you guidelines and principles that can help you figure how and where to rework your creations by yourself? Do they fail to teach you any critical thinking skills that you could use to determine for yourself whether an idea is good or not? Do they never point you to resources that you could use for your own research? Good mentors will try to help you ultimately become as independent and self-sufficient as possible, and will try to help you think for yourself rather than doing the thinking for you.

They try to use you. Do they dump their personal problems on you, even though you didn't give them the go-ahead to share? Do they act as if the help they've given you means that you owe them pretty much anything they ask for? It's always good to try to do something nice for your mentors in return for their help, but good mentors won't act like their help means that you owe them just anything they want or that they can do whatever they want with you.

They behave inappropriately in other ways. Do they suddenly start acting like they're trying to get intimate with you, or act as if they're trying to woo you? Do they willfully violate your boundaries? Do they try to guilt or shame you if you don't want to do something that makes you uncomfortable? Do they try to get you to do things generally considered inappropriate for your age? Do they insist on private/one-on-one discourse even when you don't want it? Do they demand your personal information, or demand getting information beyond what they actually need to stay in touch with you? Do they try to guilt you into giving them personal information (EG, such as by saying "I thought we were friends!")? Good mentors will have a good sense of propriety, and will respect your boundaries and privacy.

They get upset when you question or disagree with them. Do they insult or shame you if you try to point out a reason you think their advice might not be right? Do they belittle you or call you an ingrate if you tell them that you have a different opinion on something? Do they stonewall or ignore you if you tell them that you're going to go with own judgment on something? Do they try to tell you that you don't have any room to argue or talk back because you're not a published author or haven't been doing this as long as they have? Good mentors will understand that that you have the right to your own opinions, no matter what your experience level.

Also, you might be interested in:

Dealing With Criticism & Negative Reviews
Basic Advice For Giving Useful Feedback To Creators
Tips To Help People Improve Their Creative Work
A Few Things You Really Need To Know As An Anxious Writer And/Or Artist
Tips For Describing & Summarizing Your Story & Pitching Your Plot Ideas
"Is This A Good Idea For My Story/Setting/Character?" - How To Answer This For Yourself!
Universal Creative Tips For Everyone & Everything
How To Recognize A Moral Abuser
How To Recognize Gaslighting

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