FINDING A WRITING MENTOR AND WORKING TOGETHER
I never actually looked for a writing mentor (who wants to stay anonymous, because, as he explained to me, he doesn't like to be bothered by people and prefers to live a quiet life—so I shall call him Basil Bee, or Vasya Pchelkin in Russian). We somehow found each other (on Twitter, of all places) and over time fell into the roles of a student (me) and a teacher (Pchelkin), and then it kind of went developing from there (we meet once a month or so, occasionally text and exchange emails).
I think when you're ready for a mentor, you'll find one.
I definitely wasn't ready to be mentored when we met. I was too stubborn and too attached to my ego, and too scared. All this combined made me not exactly pliant material. For years we kept in touch, and slowly I learned that everything Pchelkin predicted would happen, happened. "It's because I've been in this business for over 50 years," he told me later. He did tell me this at the very beginning, mind you, I just didn't hear him. I didn't have enough experience to appreciate his advice and to recognize it as truth. I had to break my own forehead on the hardships of writing without direction, you see? Only when I got to the bottom of feeling miserable and wanting to quit writing altogether—only then did I understand that he was right. That was the moment I was ready to become a student.
How do we work? There is no magic. Nothing special. He gives me assignments, and I write them.
For example, for The Dacha Murders he asked me to write a plot summary. I wrote it, then I sent it to him, waited for him to read it (he's busy with his own books, so it takes time) while working on something else. Then he got back to me. Then we met over coffee and discussed what I did right and what I did wrong. Then I got new homework ("Rewrite it so it's readable!") and went back to my cave to do it. And that's pretty much it. Every time it's the same process. Assignment—meeting to critique—new assignment.
This is how the Vox article was born. It was Pchelkin who told me to gather information for it while in Russia and to write it. And it was Pchelkin who read the first draft of it and told me it was good, and then told me to submit it everywhere. If not for him, I would've chickened out.