Why Do I Need a Writing Coach?
Writing is something that most people can do, but relatively few people can do well. Maybe you didn’t pay attention during your high school English classes, or maybe English isn’t your first language. Maybe you’re bursting with ideas but every time you sit down to write them out, you end up staring at a blinking cursor for an hour until you give up. Or maybe you’re an experienced writer, but you’re trying something new, or something about your current work just doesn’t feel right, and you’re not sure how to proceed.
That’s where a writing coach comes in, and if you find the right one, you’ll have made an invaluable investment into your career by drafting a teammate and a partner who is there to push you toward success.
What Does a Writing Coach Do?
Simply put, a writing coach is there to help make you a better writer. Writing coaches are mentors, there to guide you through the writing process and help you overcome obstacles when you get stuck. Through consistent work, a writing coach can help you develop your writing style and find your voice so your work sounds unique and truly you.
By helping you organize your thoughts and comb through the tangle of ideas in your head until they’re braided neatly on the page before you, a writing coach serves as an invaluable member of your team, one who can use their expertise and perspective to your full advantage.
A writing coach can come in handy at any part of the process, but generally, the sooner you get their help, the more help they are going to be. Whether you’re trying to develop an idea into a story, or you’ve already written your novel and are trying to get an agent, a writing coach will use different methods to help make your end product shine. Here are some of the main ways a writing coach can assist you.
During the outlining process, your writing coach will help you organize that jumble of thoughts and ideas into a more neat and manageable form. You might set up a weekly or biweekly phone call with your writing coach, in which you’ll chat together about your ideas and build some outlines. You can use your writing coach as a sounding board for your work, and they will offer you honest opinions, advice, and feedback about how to make those ideas succeed or how to pursue other routes when necessary. Some people prefer to share their screen with their writing coach, so together they can build a storyboard for their plot. Others send documents back and forth so the coach can provide feedback on a regularly scheduled basis. The process is fluid and can adapt to your needs as a writer, however unique those may be.
Sometimes life gets in the way while you’re in the midst of the writing process, and it can spell trouble when you try to get back into your story after some time away from writing. Other times, you might run into the sudden realization that one of your plotlines has interfered with another, or the crippling concern that one of your characters is falling flat. Whether it’s writer’s block of a roadblock, a writing coach can help you design a detour, or crash through that obstacle and get safely to the other side so you can write freely again. Here, your coach might take you back to the drawing board to do some more outlining, schedule a discussion session, or assign you a writing prompt so you can spend some one on one time with that misbehaving character.
A writing coach is not the same as an editor. Let’s repeat that again, just for fun, shall we? A writing coach is not the same as an editor. An editor seeks out mistakes and makes the appropriate changes to your work, but a writing coach will tell you exactly why they are making those changes, in the hopes that you will learn to identify common errors yourself and eventually stop making them. We’ll put it this way: an editor is all about making your work better, but a writing coach is all about making you better at your work.
When you use a writing coach after the initial writing process is complete, your coach can help you get a different perspective on your work. A writing coach will read your writing, whether it’s an email to your coworker or a full-length novel, while paying specific attention to things like your writing style, common errors in grammar or spelling, and overall plot. Your writing coach will act a lot like a developmental editor here, by helping you learn to identify mistakes and inconsistencies in style, voice, plot, characterization, worldbuilding, and continuity. They can point out places where you might need to expand, cut back, or do more research. Some coaches might even do some line editing for you, by helping to point out specific errors within your writing to teach you how to fix them.
Publication of long form writing takes two routes these days: self-publishing and traditional publishing. If you decide to go the traditional route, you’ll need to put together a query package to help you find an agent. Your writing coach can help you write a stellar cover letter, put together a book proposal, build your platform, and compile all the market research and information needed to really wow agents and publishers with your work and convince them you’re worth publishing.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that for whatever step of the process your writing coach helps you, they are there to encourage and keep you on track. Think of them as your own personal shoulder angel (or shoulder devil, depending on the day), whispering advice into your ear when you need it most. Your writing coach will encourage you to take leaps and test your boundaries in ways you might be afraid to on your own, which might mean anything from closing your emails in a different way to killing a character in your novel. Writing can be a scary journey, but having a trusted writing coach by your side means you don’t have to make it alone.
What Does a Writing Coach Not Do?
A writing coach is not a cheerleader. Your coach will do everything in their power to make your work better and push you to explore your limits and capabilities, but sometimes that means giving feedback you won’t want to hear. It might mean thinking about making changes you don’t necessarily love, or adapting your writing style in ways that don’t feel quite natural to you (yet!). But the thing you need to keep in mind is this: your writing coach is on your team. Always. Every suggestion or piece of advice they give you is designed to make your writing the best it can be. When your writing coach gives you criticism or insight, it’s because they truly believe you have the capacity to do better.
A writing coach is not a ghostwriter. They are not there to do your work for you when you get stuck or don’t feel like doing it yourself. A writing coach might give you some good ideas to help kickstart your momentum again, or even make a few changes when necessary. Heck, they may even help you outline an entire scene right down to the witty banter in the dialogue, but when it comes to the actual writing, the responsibility falls to you.
A writing coach is not an editor. I know, I know. I’ve said this already, but just let me repeat it once more for those in the back. Some coaches might act as both, but a writing coach is not there to be the final say on nitty gritty grammar mistakes, except when teaching you a better alternative. When a writing coach is acting as both they should be telling you which hat they are wearing and when, to keep everyone on the same page. As I mentioned above, where an editor focuses on the manuscript, a writing coach’s priority is always you, the writer.
How Does a Writing Coach Work?
Everyone learns differently. Some people work best with strict, specific rules and deadlines, while others react better to gentle guidance or discussion to spark their inspiration. When you establish a relationship with your new writing coach, the two of you will need to get to know each other a bit to make sure you’re a good fit. Ideally, you will probably start by having a chat on the phone or, if your writing coach is in your area, face to face. Some of the big questions your potential coach will ask you should be:
- What sort of project are you working on?
- Have you done anything like this in the past? If yes, how did it turn out?
- What are your goals for your project?
- What sort of obstacles are you facing, and what’s holding you back from success?
- What are your biggest struggles as a writer, and your biggest strengths?
- In your mind, how do you see this relationship proceeding?
From there, your writing coach will help you devise a plan to get you on track and—the tricky part—keep you on that track to success. That plan will vary from person to person based on their needs, and may include things like scheduling and deadlines, creating assignments, sending content back and forth, and regularly scheduled check-ins to discuss your progress. Your coach will assist you in setting goals and staying accountable to those goals as you advance with your work. Not all coaches operate the same way, which is why it’s important to find a writing coach whose methods align with your own learning style. One person might benefit from reading related examples depicting what they should and shouldn’t be doing, while another might benefit more from a coach pointing out and correcting specific examples of those errors within the context of their own work. It’s important to find a coach who is committed to discovering what works best for you.
Who Can Benefit from a Writing Coach?
Just like everyone could benefit from a good therapist, I truly believe everyone could benefit from partnering up with a writing coach. Only instead of talking about your feelings, you’ll spend your sessions with your writing coach talking about things like style, narrative flow, and the ongoing controversy surrounding that devilish vixen, the Oxford comma. What it comes down to is that writing is a form of communication, and by improving the former, you’ll be working on the latter as well.
Authors and novelists, whether they’re working on fiction or nonfiction, would undoubtedly benefit from having some extra brainpower and an extra set of eyes on their manuscripts, but so would students who need help making an impression on an admissions board with a college essay, writing an A+ thesis paper, or boosting their GPA. Office employees and business owners could always use some improvement in their emailing skills, especially if they’re looking to increase sales, land new clients, or secure a promotion. Writing coaches can help bloggers come up with and execute new post ideas, and ESL writers, though their grammar is often better than that of native English speakers, could almost always benefit from someone who knows the target language in an intimate, encompassing way.
Remember, a writing coach is a pillar of support, not a crutch. No one is going to be able to offer you a magic cure-all potion that will make you a better writer. Your relationship with your writing coach will likely last for a number of months, if not longer, and during that time your coach should be teaching you to lean on them less and less—or at least for different things—as time goes on and you advance your abilities. I’m not trying to put myself out of a job here, but the end goal of your relationship with your writing coach is to gain the skills and confidence you need to become a better writer so you don’t have to rely on your coach quite so much. However, as is true with all of life, do not expect results right away. There’s no magic cure-all, remember? Everything takes time, whether we like it or not, and success can often be measured most easily when clear goals and expectations are set. If you’ve been working with a coach for a significant period of time and feel like you’re not improving, then it’s time to discuss that with your coach so you can reevaluate and come up with a new plan.
How Do I Find a Writing Coach?
First, do your research. The best place to find a writing coach is undoubtedly the internet. Platforms like Upwork and Fiverr are full of freelancers, but beware of those whose prices seem too good to be true, because they usually are. It can be difficult to part with your hard-earned cash, but remember, the cost of a writing coach is actually an investment into your future success. If you’re looking for something specific, like a writing coach for your book’s genre, a writing coach in your area, or a writing coach who works with students, then specify that in your search. Your potential coach will probably ask to see a sample of your writing, so when you begin your search, make sure you have one prepared.
Check out the market, get in touch with a few writing coaches, and find the one who feels right for you. This is incredibly important, and I can’t stress this enough. Working together with someone on your writing can leave you feeling incredibly vulnerable, so your coach needs to be someone you trust and respect. You should always talk with them a bit before hiring them, because no two writing coaches are exactly alike. Set up an initial consultation (these will usually be free, but not always) and use the opportunity to get to know your potential coach.
Some questions you might want to ask:
- What methods does the coach use to help their clients?
- Have they worked on projects like yours before? (Think in terms of genre, length, or specific goals)
- What does working with them typically look like?
- Do they charge hourly, by session, or in a package?
- Do they feel like they are the right coach for you? (You might be surprised by the answer here, and it’s important not to feel offended if a potential coach doesn’t feel the spark. If a coach turns you down, they might be able to direct you to another coach who would be an even better fit for you.)
How Do I Get Started?
If you’re interested in my coaching services, first check out my page to get a feel for my personal coaching style. If it sounds like something that could work for you, send me an email. Tell me a little bit about yourself, your writing, and your goals, as well as what’s been standing in the way of achieving those goals. Send me a sample or two of your writing if you’ve got it on hand, and I’ll get back to you to set up a free consultation call. We’ll discuss your needs over the phone or via video chat and determine the best course of action to move forward.
If you decide you’d like to work with me, we’ll do a two week trial period first before we lock into a contract. This is mandatory for all my clients; I find that it gives us both a chance to go for a test drive before setting off on a long road trip. Then if all goes well, we’ll dive right in, and I’ll be bothering you about deadlines in no time at all.