Everything You Need To Know About Writing Coaches (From Real Writing Coaches)
When I was ready to start my current novel-in-progress, I knew I would need help along the way: from discussing ideas, to seeking feedback when I was ready for it, to learning more about what happens after you type “The End” on your first draft. I didn’t need creative writing courses, and I didn’t want to join a feedback-based writing group. What I needed was a writing coach, and the coaching I’ve received has been essential, and transformative, to the way I approach writing.
A writing coach might be a good fit for you depending on what you need help with in your writing. And what better way to explain what a writing coach is, then directly from the source! I reached out to a fellow Scribbler, and writing coach, Kim Lozano, and my own writing coach, Mary Adkins, to learn more about what a writing coach does, and how they can help you accomplish your writing goals.
In your own words, what is a writing coach?
Mary: Like a writing teacher, mentor, and cheerleader combined. I think of my job as being the expert when someone needs an expert, the support when someone needs a boost, and the guide paving the way by showing what worked and works for me.
Kim: I think of a writing coach as someone who combines the expected change-making skills of a coach with the technical insights of an editor and the instructional know-how of a teacher.
What made you interested in becoming a writing coach?
Mary: I spent years hobbling together information to figure out everything I wanted to do—how did I write a novel? How did I revise a novel? How did I pitch it so that agents would want to represent me? To be honest, I learned a lot of incorrect things from well-meaning people who I hired, or who I took classes from. Once I found my way to being published, I felt like I had acquired wisdom and knowledge that I wanted to share so people could learn from my mistakes.
Kim: It was a very natural progression. When I got turned on to writing, years ago, I became obsessed with understanding how good writing happens. Part of honing my skills and getting my own work published was a lot of intense study of craft. I started teaching writing classes and leading workshops and eventually decided that I also wanted to spend time working more intensely with writers one-on-one. I immediately get attached to people’s book projects, so it’s a delightful challenge to help diagnose problem areas in the manuscript and come up with solutions. I just love the collaborative energy involved in nudging a piece of art toward its maximum potential.
What does your day look like as a writing coach?
Mary: I have a lot of live meetings with writers where we talk about what they’re struggling with and how to make it through that struggle. When I’m not doing that, I’m usually preparing lessons—[recently] I put together a lesson on how to shift from point of view to point of view when you’re writing in third person from multiple perspectives. That wasn’t something I ever learned. So I want to teach it to the writers I work with now. A lot of what motivates me is, “What would I have loved to have that I didn’t?”
Kim: Because being a writing coach and developmental editor means I’m also a business owner, I necessarily split my time between client work and business work. My day usually starts with coffee and social media—reading it, keeping up with my accounts, and any posting I need to do. I try to squeeze in a little bit of daily business admin then I might jump in on an online writing date where I work on my own writing projects, including blog posts and guest articles. Editing client projects happens in the afternoons. I do my best to accommodate writers with full-time jobs so late afternoons and evenings sometimes mean Zoom calls.
How is working with a writing coach different from pursuing an MFA, or attending a writing conference, or other avenues writers can take to improve their craft?
Mary: A lot of writing programs are workshop-based: writers submit writing and get feedback from others in the workshop, their fellow writers. Not all programs are modeled that way, but most are. I see writing coaching, at least the way I do it, as not being feedback-driven at all. There’s a time and place for feedback, but it’s really the last step, not the first. First comes the figuring out what the story is—what is the thing you’re wanting to bring into the world? That often takes some digging. Then it’s a quest to figure out how to get there, how to uncover the story. That involves discussion and brainstorming—it’s still engaging. But it’s not feedback. It’s not looking at a piece of writing and commenting on how the scene opens. Only once the story is uncovered can feedback really be useful. Because feedback is largely responsive to presentation—how the story is executed—and that’s the final step of the process.
Kim: Working with a writing coach can really help writers fast-track what they’re trying to do. Depending on the need, a writing coach can quickly pinpoint what particular craft elements a writer might want to work on. I’m a fan of workshops (and MFAs), but some writers are interested in focused personal attention, and that’s a real benefit of hiring an editor or coach. I like that I can get invested in a writer’s project and get deeply familiar with it over time. And I also like that as a team we can customize deadlines and goals.
What is your favorite thing about being a writing coach?
Mary: Getting to see people finish their drafts, discover their confidence, and learn to trust themselves as creatives. It makes me smile just typing it!
Kim: Even more than hearing about an acceptance or publication, I love it when a student or client tells me that I’ve helped them achieve with their writing what they couldn’t on their own. It makes this work deeply satisfying.
There are many different types of writing coaches for all genres of writing. If you are interested in finding a writing coach, make sure you do your research to find the right writing coach for your particular goals and needs!