The first rule about finding a mentor is it’s all about them. At first. You want to build a relationship that works for both of you, not a one way street. If they’re not getting anything out of the relationship, it’s not going to work.
It will help if you two hit it off over something other than writing. You can find out if your mentor gives to certain charities, or if he’s interested in race cars, or guns, or announcing baseball games like Ken Levine ( M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frasier).
The more it feels like a friendship, and less like “what can you do for me,” the better.
Find somebody who writes the kind of scripts, books or plays you’d like to start writing. Contacting a writer can be awkward, but you have to take risks to succeed, especially in Hollywood.
Because they’re not so busy, it might be easier to find a mentor who’s more or less retired. They may actually miss the excitement of being back in the game. Writing is so essential to their identities, it will be hard for them to just walk away from writing. Talking to them may be a pleasant reminder of their good old days.
If you have a connection, somebody who can contact this writer, use it. You might be able to find a connection on LinkedIn, or a Facebook writers group. Get to know the person who can connect you with your mentor a while before asking for the “big favor.”
If you don’t have a connection that can put you in touch with a mentor, you may have to do some detective work. Find out if your writing mentor has an office on a studio lot. If he does, he’ll have a phone number.
Sometimes an agent, publisher or manager can help with an email address or phone number. Be resourceful. Subscribe to Internet Movie Data Base Pro (IMDB Pro). Its’s not expensive and it can get you lots of contact information.
It might help if you went to the same college, or grew up in the same town as your mentor. I’ve heard of writers making friends with mentors who are the same ethnicity or minority. Your mentor will understand what you’re up against in Hollywood as a Muslim. Everybody knows this town favors thirty year old white males.
However, be careful you don’t turn into a full-blown stalker. Don’t creep him out. Dress nicely if and when you get to meet him (or her). You don’t want to show up at their house unannounced. Take it slow.
At first, try to contact your mentor with a letter or an email and ask for a few minutes of his time on the phone. Schedule a phone call at a convenient time for him, if necessary. Explain to him that you’re going to start writing the kind of fiction he writes, and you’re looking for some brief pointers.
Remember to praise his work, and be able to talk about it intelligently. You’re trying to impress him. Try to keep your conversation light. Ben funny. Be charming. Be interested.
If the first contact goes well, send him a thank you email. If you get the sense that he’s not freaked out by you, you might ask to meet him for coffee at a Starbucks (near him, not you).
If your mentorship doesn’t go beyond emailing, don’t worry, it can still be a valuable asset. You can accomplish a lot via email.
If he does agree to meet you, come prepared with five specific questions. You can ask about him; “how did you start?” “How did you break in?” “What writers inspired you?” “How did you find your agent?” Keep it short. Remember he’s doing you a favor.
At some point you want to give your mentor a writing sample. If he agrees, be prepared for the feedback, and know that it’ll probably be critical. That’s fine. You’re going to need to know your weaknesses as well as your strengths.
My writing partner and I had several mentors. We took writing classes from successful writers. One was Lorenzo Music, creator of the half hour show Rhoda. He liked our spec scripts, and took an interest in us.
Down the line he asked us to create a series with him for his friend Dom De Louise. It didn’t go, but we didn’t look bad hanging around with this guy –who’d won a ton of Emmy’s.
Always remember to thank your mentor for his time. If you get the sense that you can your mentor is open to it — you might ask if you can assist him by helping him maintain a Facebook fan page for him, or offer to do some research for his next screenplay.
Your assistance may be appreciated, and your mentor will be more inclined to help you.