Put me in coach! I’m ready!
I love this post by fellow writer and coach Timothy Pike. It’s about what be brings to the table as a writing coach.
What’s so awesome about the post is that Pike brought up a topic that writing blogs haven’t brought up as often, the need for a writing coach to help writers with their projects. In fact, after doing a quick search on other writing blogs, my colleagues and I haven’t mentioned it as much as we’ve mentioned other things like writer’s block.
I’ve personally seen how a writing coach (in some circles they are called a developmental editor) can help writers at the beginning part of their project. In the new gig, I help coach student journalists before they write one word of their article. We do things like story mapping to determine the focus of a story. We also look at the writing in past stories — what worked and what didn’t, wordiness, theme, etc. I’m starting to see results of coaching in my students’ writing. I also have seen how coaching has helped my writing and honestly, I miss it.
So, writer, do you need a coach? Yes, you do.
What’s the difference between an editor and a writing coach?
Both positions are very similar but are brought into your writing process for different reasons and at different times. An editor is brought in at the end, when the project is written and helps with the grammar, mechanics, and, depending on the type of editor (line or developmental) they can give you feedback on your writing project.
A writing coach does that with a focus of helping your writing get better over time. Coaches are typically brought in earlier in the project, not necessarily when things are completed. Coaches do just what the word say they do, coach you through the process, talk out a story idea, help develop the idea, and essentially anything you need to get your writing in gear.
So what do you need in a coach? Here’s some questions to ask yourself.
1.) Are they also writers?
Writers know what works for them and can sympathize with other writers. You want someone who has tried some of the tools and techniques that they hope to use with you. Writing is more than just theory, it’s about practice and someone who still practices the art of writing. A coach does more than grammar and mechanics, they see the wholes in plot, the flat characters, and they know how to fix it.
And because they are writers they also know how to give back feedback in a way that is constructive and helpful. Their goal is to help you, not to make you feel awful.
Does it mean that only writers can be coaches? Not at all. But writers know. They just do.
2.) Do they have a deep tool box?
And if they are writing, they’ll know more than one way to skin a cat. If your characters are not evolving, if they are flat, how will your coach help you put meat on the bones?
With my writers, I have several exercises for them to do to help them expand characterization (which is my favorite thing to do.) Your writer coach should have that kind of exercise.
3.) Can they see the completed project even if you don’t yet?
One of the first conversations you’ll need to have with a writing coach is the big picture idea of the project. This is more than just saying that you want to write and sell a book. What is the book about? What is it trying to say? What do you want readers to walk away feeling or thinking? Are you self-publishing or going the agent route?
4.) How do you like to work? How do they hold you accountable?
A coach will hold you accountable. They will ask about your writing. In fact some (and I am one of them) will put their clients on a schedule. That means, the coach expects to get pages from you after a couple of days or weeks. Others will just want pages at the beginning, the middle and the end.
Make sure that you know how they work and that how they work works with you. Do you need to be held accountable consistently? Then a coach like me is a better fit. Do you just need to go to someone when you need them, I’m probably not your coach but there are others that will help.
5.) What is their writing philosophy? Are they also readers?
Writers are readers. Period. So ask your potential coach what they are reading. I use Goodreads to tell folks know what I’m reading and what I want to read. I try to read across genres and styles because as a writer and coach, I like seeing how others deal with similar issues.
Writing coach are a good thing. Do you need one? Yes, if only for the reason to keep you accountable and to help you get out of a writing jam when you need it. Some call writing coaches beta readers or have a writing group that can serve similar purposes. While the purposes do overlap, a writing coach is different because they coach through the process, after the end result.