One of the several hats I wear is that of writing coach. Right now I’ve got five people that I do calls with, and I find the sessions as inspirational for me as for the students. On the student side of things, they’ve told me the sessions keep them accountable, productive, and thinking about writing.
If you’re thinking about a writing coach, don’t grab the first one that presents themself. It’s important to find a coach that is the right fit for you, one that can help you find your voice and enable you to look at your work with fresh eyes. Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself in order to choose one that’s right for you.
Are they willing to accommodate your needs? A call runs 20–30 minutes. Of my five coaching clients, some send me stories for feedback on a weekly basis, others are checking in to talk about what’s working and what’s not, and one’s just chatting about writing (and insisting they get tremendous use from that). With each, I started with an introductory call where we talked about the stage they were at in their writing, what their goals were, what their process was like and if there were things about it they wanted to change, what they wanted from the sessions, and what sort of strategies worked best. Your coach should be finding out what you need and charting out sessions that tackle those items.
Are they willing to accommodate your schedule? Sometimes people may want to meet every week, other times they may want (or need) to take time off. A monthly check-in may work fine for someone who just wants a periodic sanity check and bout of encouragement. My own schedule tends to be a bit erratic, but at the end of each session we schedule the next while going over any items they’ll be getting to me to review before then.
Are they a voice you trust? Do some research and read their stuff, either fiction, non-fiction, or both. Are they willing to give you the names of other clients or provide other testimonials? Do they have experience in the field? And just as importantly: are they an experienced teacher? Taking a class with someone you’re thinking about hiring as a coach will give you a sense of their teaching skill.
Are you simpatico? By which I mean, do your styles mesh well so you’ll get along? That can be something as simple as a punctual student being annoyed by a frequently late coach to more complex issues like philosophical differences on the nature of fiction. One person’s sense of humor can easily clash with another’s. For most people, a coach you like is one you will work harder for than one you dislike. Here again, taking a class will provide a sense of their personal style and people skills.
Is their process compatible with yours? Everyone’s writing process is different, but you may get more valuable input from someone who’s struggled with the same issues. If you write long and need to revise heavily, for example, a writer who also does that may provide more useful commentary than the writer who writes short, tight pieces that require little revision.
Will they kick your butt — but in a kind way? (And if you want tough love, will they be willing to provide it?) Mileage varies here, but I’ve found most people want encouragement, not an angry disciplinarian ready to shame them for not meeting goals. My philosophy is to reward yourself for meeting goals, so often in a session I ask how clients have been rewarding themselves.
Once you know the answers, you know more about what that coach will offer you. Trust your gut, though. A writing coach is there to encourage and teach, to give you feedback that points you in the right direction and helps you avoid pitfalls and perils. What you need from them may vary, but encouragement and motivation should always be part of what they deliver.
And — finally — don’t be afraid to shop around! If someone’s not working for you, that doesn’t reflect on either of you, but you should find someone who inspires you…particularly when you’re paying.
Cat Rambo has published over 200 short stories, 2 novels, 5 collections, a cookbook, a travel guide, a book on creating an online presence for writers, and a bunch of essays and poems. She is currently the President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
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