Should You Hire a Writing Coach? 7 Questions About Writing Coaches Answered

Writing Coach

Writing Coach

My short answer is yes.

When I wanted to get serious about writing I had a few marks against me: little formal training, dated experience, and few connections.

The advice online and in magazines was abundant and murky: join a writing group; just write and submit; find a mentor. Last I’d checked, our local Target did not have a large selection of critique circles or free mentors on the shelves.

Searching, I registered for a one-night class where our teacher’s credentials included published author and certified life coach.

Two weeks later, I still hadn’t written much and wondered if I’d ever feel like a “real” writer when I glanced over and saw the author’s card on a corner of my desk. I called and after a free consultation, signed up for my first session.

I’ve been attending weekly or bi-weekly sessions with my coach for the last year and the results are remarkable. But we’ll come back to that.

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Why Should You Consider Hiring a Coach?

Tiger Woods, NFL Quarterbacks, even Picasso all had personal teachers dedicated to their success.

“But writing is different. It’s art. It can’t be taught, you just have to do it.”

Writing is both art and craft. It’s also a goal, a pursuit, a vocation, a dream.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write or how to get started. I had no writing community and felt I didn’t have years to establish one. My goals have shifted many times throughout the past twelve months but I continue to see progress.

You sign your kids up for guitar lessons, hire batting coaches for your little leaguer, and may even treat yourself to a personal trainer. Why should your calling to write be any different? You deserve help in reaching your dreams if you feel you need it.

What Does a Coach Do and What Can You Expect?

Coaches are as varied as writers. There are book coaches who help you conceive of and shepherd a book to publication. There are writing coaches that act as tutors providing craft instruction and critiques of your work. Then there are more general coaches offering instruction, critiques, and a variety of goal setting and visioning tools to help guide your career.

I chose a Certified Life Coach who was a writing teacher and had extensive experience with the publishing world.

What Does a Typical Session Consist of?

First off, you should know that I almost always cry. I’m not sure if it’s with relief that I’m taking my own dreams seriously or gratitude that someone other than my supportive family believes in me. Thankfully, she does not charge extra for tissue.

Although writing is therapeutic, our sessions are not therapy. My coach, however, is a trained counselor which doesn’t hurt when dealing with the emotional task of writing from the heart.

Our weekly session starts with a centering and breathing exercise of which I was initially suspicious. This costs me money and I want to get better at writing, not hippie, woo woo stuff. I now look forward to this positive blessing of my writing life. I feel hope, determination and resolve settle over me.

Once centered, we discuss my results from last week, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and we set concrete goals for the upcoming week.  These may include word counts, submittals, time management, brainstorming, or big picture ideas.

We talk about managing the inner critic, coming up with new ideas, handling rejection, writing routines, family support, publications to query, dealing with negativity, etc.

I leave with a to-do list for the week and the wonderful feeling of investing in my dream. My coach believes in my ability and provides support and feedback via text, email, etc., outside of our regularly scheduled sessions.

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How Do You Tell if it’s Working?

We’ve all had the experience of a good fit; a teacher that seems to “get” your child’s personality; a hair dresser that knows one inch means just one inch; or a tax guy that helps you think out-of-the box with deductions.

Coaching is no different. Personality matters. Energy matters. Availability and pricing and credentials all matter.

But results are where it’s at. Here’s a few of the things I’ve achieved or experienced in one year that I’m convinced would have taken me longer on my own, or might not have happened at all:

  • Accepted as regular guest blogger at two websites including monthly posts, several published book reviews and author interviews including award winning novelists and NY Times Bestselling authors, published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, acceptance into Novel in a Year program at local studio, hired as correspondent for local newspaper, published flash fiction and personal essays, performed written piece for Live Lit event, selected to audition for Listen to Your Mother event
  • Encouraged establishment of a professional online presence including tips on: website, business cards, treating myself to headshots, social media accounts, blogging, etc.
  • Formulated a plan for conference/retreat/class attendance to improve my craft.
  • Instrumental in creating a working cover for my first novel (and convincing me it was a novel)
  • Established and tracked word count goals for WIP
  • Introductions to other writing professionals in our area including award winning authors, playwrights, screenwriters, etc.
  • Explanation of types of editing and assistance with recommendations and selection of editor for WIP
  • Access to well-established platform for advertising my proofreading and editing services resulting in paid assignments
  • Insight into what’s accepted/expected when pitching local editors resulting in several paid assignments and published clips
  • Assisted in arranging book signing for Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology
  • Invitation to participate in local author events as a speaker/presenter
  • Established a revision group, provides recommendations and insight on local classes
  • Sounding board for craft elements of projects in progress

Coaching has helped me keep my writing front and center all while traveling with a college athlete, working a full time job, and planning my daughter’s wedding.

How Much Does All This Cost?

If you search the internet you will find fees ranging from $100 to $150 per hour and an endless choice of “packages.” What’s important is your budget, comfort level, and your results. Trust your gut.

At a minimum, you should receive a free, no-pressure consultation and the flexibility to hold sessions in person, via skype, or by phone. Life gets hectic and flexibility is key. I prefer to pay as I go with no long-term commitment.

Don’t forget to check for certifications and references. The internet can tell you what certifying agencies are acceptable in your area.

What Do You Have to Lose?

If you’re stuck on a particular project or unsure how to get going at all, a free consultation could be the catalyst you need.

In my writing coach I have an advocate, a sympathetic ear, a well-established connection to the writing community, and an experienced publishing professional willing to provide guidance and critical feedback.

A reputable coach can be an invaluable resource. Mine asks tough questions and has challenged me to think bigger than I had the courage to do on my own.

Coaching might not be for everybody but I consider it time and money well-spent.

 Share Your Experience or Questions

Have you ever used a coach or considered it? Why or why not? Have you had a good or bad experience you can share?

 

 

 

3 Thoughts on “Should You Hire a Writing Coach? 7 Questions About Writing Coaches Answered

  1. Hi there! Any chance you could share with me who your writing coach is? She/he sounds like just what I’m looking for! angela@angelawatsonrobertson.com. Thanks! 🙂

After the First Draft or I Wrote a Book, Now What? The Editor’s Assessment

edit all the words

So did the editor like my novel? I promised to give you an update and share some information on selecting an editor. What follows is a breakdown of the assessment I received along with my Top 10 Tips for a Manuscript Assessment.
Book Cover

There are plenty of websites out there telling you how to select an editor and that will describe the different types of editing. If you’re a beginning writer, know that you can you can Google this just as easily as you can Google the most popular Christmas song of all time. Silent Night, by the way, is more than twice as popular as the #2 song.

I selected Warner Coaching, Inc. and Editor Brooke Warner to review my manuscript based on a referral from a published author I met in a writing class. During our email exchange, I got a feel for how prompt she was; how open to questions (I’m new, remember?!); what the report would look like; and how payment would be handled.  I paid about 40 percent when I sent the manuscript and the balance after I received the evaluation. The process took about three weeks from the time I emailed my manuscript.

What follows is a little bit like showing you my underwear

Brooke’s assessment started with an overview and then flowed into specifics. She was direct but encouraging and most of all, she was professional. Sections in italics are excerpted directly from the assessment.

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Overview

Tell Me What You Want is a solid effort at crafting a broadly appealing, suspenseful page-turner. At this stage, additional developmental editing will help you to ensure that the book is more streamlined and nuanced and that the characters who shepherd your readers through these pages are as distinctive as possible.

Key Themes/Reader Takeaways

Some of the valuable lessons that you share in the manuscript include the following-

I won’t give away all my secrets here. This section was 7 bullet points detailing what the editor thought my story was about. Good news – she got my messages.

Structure/Plot Flow

The book is structured ambitiously, as it alternates between different points of view, but very consistently. It is easy to follow and proceeds chronologically.

Details in this section included some recommendations regarding a main character and eliminating one POV for streamlining.

Pacing

The pacing of the book is fluid overall, but it suffers at times from unnecessary repetition of details and ideas that bog down the plot.

(p. 71): “Jenny had told her a couple of times that she’d done some amazing things in her life but Shelly never seemed satisfied.” We already know that Jenny feels this way, because Shelly has already shared this information with the reader.

The paragraph above is one of seven Brooke wrote citing specific page numbers and quotes directly from the manuscript along with her recommendations for improvement.

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” 
― Dr. Seuss

Dr.-Seuss

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Character Development

Shelly’s character has the most dramatic arc in the story and is well done, as is Greg’s. In particular, Jenny’s character, albeit likable, feels quite one-note, which is part of the reason why her point of view doesn’t add significant value to the narrative. A developmental editor can help you to tease out each of these key characters’ unique attributes to make them more distinctive.

The editor included several paragraphs of examples here both positive and those needing revision.

Scene Development

You have a good instinct for developing scenes, most of which are fluid and well wrought in this book. The primary exceptions are the scenes involving the following plotlines:

Again, specific examples of unbelievable coincidences or unlikely events were detailed with page numbers, quotes and recommendations for improvement.

Dialogue

The book’s dialogue is quite strong overall. It feels natural and both true to life and true to your characters’ distinct personalities. My one recommendation in this area is to eliminate the use of the nicknames…etc. Eliminating this language from these women’s conversations would serve both conversational flow and character development.

Brooke commented not only on the wording that sounded forced but also how it didn’t mesh with some characters’ personalities that were previously established.

Point of View

Your current approach of using three alternating points of view is successful in the sense that it is consistent and comprehensible. However, I do not think that Jenny’s point of view enhances the manuscript significantly (although I would not remove her character from the story entirely).  In addition, on p. 81, there’s an abrupt POV shift.

The editor pointed out why she thought this POV should be eliminated and suggested either reworking it myself or with the help of a developmental editor. She explained why it wasn’t working or wasn’t necessary as well.

Tone and Style

Your writing style and tone are consistent but at times you employ clichéd language. In addition, you sometimes rely on telling the reader what your characters are feeling, rather than showing it.

Here she gave page numbers and quotes as well as suggestions for more nuanced language and fresher descriptions. Much of this I would have caught as I began revising but it is helpful to have the examples to follow as I check through the manuscript.

Grammar and Punctuation

The book needs a medium to heavy copyedit after all of the developmental work is complete, to fix grammar, punctuation, and formatting errors.

Was it Worth it and What’s Next?

In a more extensive developmental edit, the editor would go into even more detail. This was the right step for me taking my goals into consideration. I am using this book as a learning process. I wanted to get professional feedback from someone that had read the entire manuscript instead of just excerpts. Now I know what my strengths are and where I need to focus for the most improvement.

My revision process has started with character profiles. I’m trying to make my characters more three-dimensional. I have applied and been accepted to the Novel In a Year program at Story Studio and my plan is to work on and finish the second draft in this class.  So that’s where I’m at. Leave me a note to let me know where you are with your latest project.

Here are my Top 10 Tips for a ManuscriptAssessment

  1.  Ask for referrals, send emails or call explaining your project and what you need
  2. Make sure you understand what is included, ask questions
  3. Decide what level of help you need
  4. Receive feedback with an open mind – anything can be fixed once it’s on the page.
  5. Pay on time. This might be your first time dealing with professionals in the publishing industry. You want to project professionalism.
  6. KEEP WRITING. Whether it’s short stories or an outline for a new project, keep working while the editor is reading your manuscript and preparing the assessment. Don’t sit and wait.
  7. Read it and ignore it. That’s right. You will be curious and anxious and excited and possibly distressed. Read it and then let it, and your ego, rest. Go on to something else and come back to the assessment when you are ready to begin revisions.
  8. Follow the editor’s advice. You paid him. He’s an expert. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring his advice.
  9. Don’t follow the editor’s advice. It’s  your story and if you think they’re dead wrong about a beloved character or plot twist, follow your gut. Take a risk.
  10. Exercise your rewriting muscles remembering that anything can be improved. Make use of the information you received for future projects as well.

 

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