Three Benefits of a Creative Writing Coach

Would you like support unlocking your full potential as a writer?

What is creative writing and how can a creative writing coach help? When we say, “creative writing,” we’re actually talking about two things: primarily imaginative writing and creatively developed factual writing. The more imaginative types of writing include short stories, novels, and poetry, for example. In these forms of writing, we make up events and images almost entirely from our inner inspiration. We might use elements like imagery, metaphor, and evocative language to get our vision on the page. But writers of nonfiction projects—like memoirs, personal essays, or literary journalism—often rely on many of the same techniques. Adding our own style to our writing makes our work unique and engaging to read, whether what we are writing about is purely imaginative or completely factual.

But using our creativity to write in ways that are personal to us can be an unexpected challenge. While you may think most writers are just born with the ability to spin stories that captivate readers or use language in beautiful and moving ways, most of us need support to develop writing skills like these. That’s where a creative writing coach can come in.

Jamie Morris Writing CoachWhy a writing coach? A professional writing coach—especially a creative writing coach—works with writers (like you?) who want to find ways to add depth, power, and interest to their writing.

Whether you’re an experienced writer looking to take your work to the next level by developing your voice or are a novice writer trying to find the shape of a story, working with a writing coach can unlock your full potential as a writer.

As a creative writing coach, I help writers working on many types of creative writing projects. Among them, I am a

Although there are many reasons to work with a writing coach, here are three top benefits:

1. Personalized guidance and feedback on your writing project

A creative writing coach will provide you with one-on-one guidance and feedback tailored to your individual needs and goals. Whether you’re struggling with plot development, character building, or simply trying to figure out the best way to get your book or essay started, a writing coach can offer insights and techniques to help you overcome your challenges and (creatively!) improve your writing.

2. Accountability and motivation

Sometimes, writing can seem like a solitary—lonely—pursuit. A professional writing coach is a companion on this sometimes-challenging path. They can help you get unstuck and stay on track. They can also help you set realistic goals and act as your accountability partner, helping you stay motivated to achieve those goals.

3. A safe and supportive environment

Your writing coach will provide a safe space for your work to be shared. Writing, especially creative writing, can be quite a personal and vulnerable experience. Therefore, it’s important to have a safe and supportive environment in which to share your work and receive feedback. A writing coach provides a confidential and judgment-free space to explore your creativity and develop your skills.

A creative writing coach can respond to your writing with enthusiasm for what’s working and skillful strategies to help you fix what’s not.

If you need support in finding a creative writing coach, check out this article on how to find a writing coach. If you are considering hiring a writing coach, I invite you to schedule a free 30-minute consultation. Let’s see how I can help!

Makes a GREAT Writing Coach?

What is a writing coach?

A writing coach is someone who helps writers get their books done! Part editor, part cheerleader, part story confidante, a coach is always, always on a writer’s side—and she is also someone who has the chops, knowledge, and experience to make her support effective.

Your writing coach is your smart, effective writing friend. Whether you’re trying to figure out which writing project to tackle next, how to plot your story, or how to even handle such a big commitment with so many other demands on your time, she will guide you forward confidently.

She’s traveled this road before, and knows how to get you where you’re going.

Jamie Morris Writing CoachWhile I’ve been helping writers for well over a decade, and have developed solid strategies along the way, I was curious: what makes a great coach? I asked this question of a dozen writers, including several well-published colleagues, a few clients, a literary agent, an editor, the head of a college writing program, and the creative director of a small publishing house.

If you’re in the market for a writing coach, you might keep their responses in mind.

What makes a great writing coach?

Tom Wallace, editor and ghostwriter: Contrary to what many new writers believe, the craft of writing—narrative writing, creative writing—is less an inborn talent than a collection of skills that can be learned. In my observation, the best coaches—great coaches—can not only hold multiple story and character ideas in their minds, but guide writers in applying the skills they need to make those ideas work. A great coach offers both their knowledge and their generous attention to a writer’s creative needs. Working with a coach is an investment in time and energy that can transform a writer’s creative journey and pay off for years to come.

Joyce Sweeney, award-winning author, former coach, literary agent with The Seymour Agency: I think, moving past the obvious skill of knowing the rules of good writing and how to apply them, the real talent a great coach brings to the table is to be able to read the client’s work and feel the intent. We have to know what this person is doing, why they are doing it, and what is important to them beyond what they have written. What do they uniquely have to say? What undeveloped gifts can we see traces of? We have to somehow see the finished project they are dreaming of, and work backwards from that to what they have put on the page so far.

Tam Cillo, Communications at Club CarWe all have our writing strengths and weaknesses. A good writing coach celebrates the former and helps improve the latter—and she creates an atmosphere of acceptance. When she reviews my writing, she is listening for my voice, my personality. This means she sees what’s possible in even the roughest pieces. Like my favorite scuffed sneakers, my work doesn’t need to be pristine, like out-of-the-box white Keds for her to see the potential. 

A great writing coach does more than encourage, though. She helps me set goals—and stick to them. She knows that the art of writing takes more than creativity, that I must continue to develop my skills. And when I get stuck, she’s a motivator who helps me move the roadblocks and continue on the way toward my success. 

Elizabeth Sims, award-winning author, contributing editor at WRITER’S DIGEST magazine: The best coach is first a listener. Tell me your troubles! Then, a permission-giver. It’s OK for you to feel anxious when you do new things. It’s OK for you to screw up! In fact, it’s required! Then, a combination wrecking ball and new puppy. Let’s blast through obstacles without much thought! Let’s make friends out of troubles we can’t break apart! Love the storm and sunshine equally! What a journey!

Reverend Rebecca M. Bryan, minister at First Religious Society, Unitarian Universalist: A great writing coach is someone whom you trust implicitly to guide you on the right path. She always tells the truth and holds the success of your work as paramount importance. She’s a consummate professional, who has a way of being kind to your spirit and entirely honest at the same time. Her critique and redirection always resonate and nudge you to the next right step in your writing, while her encouragement is ever-present. You trust her with your craft, which is to say you trust her with your heart and your professional path.

Peg Loves, writer: I had four developmental editors before I realized what I needed was a writing coach. Through my many sessions I’ve found these attributes to be what makes, for me, a great writing coach:

  • She’s an incubator for ideas. I have brought twigs of ideas into a meeting and left with the frame for a tree house.
  • She’s an advocate—a champion of the work and ally to my goals. When she pushes back on an idea, but changes her opinion after being led through my thought process, I know I have an advocate. When she doesn’t let me avoid something hard that I’m fully capable of doing, I know I have an advocate.
  • She has the breadth of a developmental editor and the depth of an investigator, willingly jumping in to help me untangle weak points and suggest strong threads to braid into the story.

I believe, though, part of what makes a writing coach great is the writer. Are you open-minded? Are you clear on your goals? Are you ready to deep dive into the work? Finding the right writing coach is much like dating, trying out personalities, finding which one fits best to foster your productive and fruitful work.

Ryan G. Van Cleave, author, Head of Creative Writing, Ringling College of Art and Design: Why do you need a writing coach?

  • To stop floundering
  • To save years of heartbreak
  • To shorten the learning curve
  • To help develop an appropriate, effective platform
  • To create a clear direction for your writing efforts and career

The best writing coaches aren’t just editors—they’re guides to the wider world of reading, writing, and publishing. A great writing coach will help identify what’s holding you back, troubleshoot specific writing projects, and offer insider-industry advice to create a pathway to the future you want in the world of writing.

MK Swanson, writer: A great writing coach is …

  1. A cheerleader to speed you to the goalpost.
  2. A best friend for delivering truth gently.
  3. A concierge on whose efficiency you can depend.
  4. A masseuse with whom your creative muscles relax.
  5. A drill sergeant by whose orders your story gets stronger.
  6. A trail guide to lead you past the brink of madness.
  7. A magic hat from which to pull rabbits.

Teri Saveliff, author of SIGNATURES: If you ask a friend, even a well-qualified friend, to judge the quality of your work, you will likely get a supportive but not necessarily accurate response. A good writing coach will tell you the truth. A great coach will tell you the truth in a way that encourages you to jump in and make the changes that will benefit your story—even, or especially, if these are big changes.

If you’re like me, you love words and have an easy time putting them on paper. But maybe the overall arc of your story is weak. A writing coach can tease out the story lines you may have buried in pretty language and give your work some true substance. She can also work her magic on unlikable protagonists and improbable plot lines. Ready to take it to the next level? Consult a writing coach.

Hanna Kjeldbjerg, creative director at Beaver’s Pond Press: When I’m looking to connect authors with a writing coach, the number one thing I look for is heart. Writing is so personal, and manuscripts are oftentimes an extension of ourselves. It’s true that authors need writing coaches for accountability, organization, and an objective eye to help with structural elements like narrative arc. But more than that, writers need a partner who understands their vision for their book, who feels like a friend.

My favorite editing quote is “Editing fiction is like using your fingers to untangle the hair of someone you love” (Stephanie Roberts). A relationship with a great writing coach should feel like that.

Megan Cooke, writer, animator, graduate Ringling College of Art and Design Creative Writing Program:

  • Great writing coaches don’t just tell you to fix something, they explain how to reach your solution.
  • Prioritization and organization are huge—a great coach will help you focus on what matters most.
  • A great coach should have your future readers in mind. They’ll catch things that will be confusing or unsatisfying to your audience.
  • Your coach should know what hard decisions need to be made. A coach can help you make tough decisions—sometimes even suggesting “killing your darlings”—that will benefit your entire story.
  • A good relationship between you and your coach makes all the difference. Our stories can be very personal, and a great coach will understand what matters most to you. They will encourage you and push you to produce your best work.

Scott Dobbins, aspiring futurist; founder/CEO, Hybridge: Any writing coach must have the experience and knowledge to provide perspective and insight to their writers. But that is just a part of it. A great writing coach must have the ability to engage with their writers on many levels—personally, intellectually, and spiritually. This forms an authentic bond, one rooted in mutual trust and respect.

With this foundation, a great coach may be empathetic and supportive in one session and no-nonsense and directive in another—whatever the project and writer require at the time. A great writing coach knows when to push you and how to pull it out of you. They are both your cheerleader and your challenger, your accountability partner, and your friend.

Looking for help with your book or writing project?

I’m available for writing coaching and book coaching! Also, check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

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Image of “The Coach,” from BASEBALL TAROT, by Mark Lerner and Laura Philips, illustrations by Dan Gardiner.

How to Choose a Creative Writing Coach

creative writing coachingA creative writing coach is a professional who provides guidance, feedback, and support to help writers develop their craft and achieve their writing goals.

Are you looking to hire a writing coach who is the perfect fit? I hear you! Deciding to work with a coach—whether you’re looking for a fiction writing coach, a nonfiction writing coach, or a memoir writing coach—is a big step.

An experienced coach is able to work with writers at all stages of their journey, from beginners to seasoned writers. In my experience, the coach/writer relationship is a personal one. Not only do you need a coach who knows her stuff (of course!), but you want a coach who inspires and supports you.

From my years working as a writing coach, I have plenty of tips to help you know how to find just the right creative writing coach for you—as well as what to expect from that coaching relationship once you and your coach get into the nitty-gritty.

How to choose a creative writing coach

  1. Know your writing goals: Before you start your search, think about what you want to achieve from coaching. Do you want to develop your unique voice, find your personal style, complete your manuscript, discover the right genre for you and the ideal audience for your work—or all of that?!
  2. Research writing coaches: There are many writing coaches out there. Search for book coaches online, through writing associations, or by asking for referrals from other writers. (But remember, while each coach may be great in their own way, not all will be a fit for your needs.)
  3. Review writing coaches’ credentials: On their websites, writing coaches typically present their credentials—including their education and coaching experience. They might also share testimonials from writers who have used their services.
  4. Interview potential coaches: Schedule a consultation with potential coaches to discuss your goals and their coaching philosophy and style. During that meeting, notice if they give you their careful attention and respond to you openly and with a positive vibe.
  5. Sample a session with your top picks: Many coaches will offer some sort of a trial session. This will give you a hands-on chance to see if their coaching style and approach work for you.

A client of mine had this to say about hiring a writing coach: We all have our writing strengths and weaknesses. A good writing coach celebrates the former and helps improve the latter—and she creates an atmosphere of acceptance.

Ultimately, working with a coach can help you become a better writer, make progress with your writing goals, and increase your chances of success as a writer.

I’m an expert writing coach. I coach writers at all levels of experience, in all genres. Take a look at my rates page or book a free initial consultation to see how we might work together. I’m based in sunny Florida, but I am a writing coach for authors around the world. I look forward to talking with you—wherever you call home!

Plotting Your Novel: 5 Fabulous Tips!

Plotting your novel can be confusing!

I compiled these 5 fabulous tips for plotting your novel because, if you don’t have a guidance system to help you navigate, you might find yourself asking questions like these:

  • Where do I start my story for greatest impact?
  • What events will force my main character to undergo the change they so desperately need to make?
  • How do I construct stakes that are high enough to keep my main character engaged with their quest all the way to the end?

If you, like me, need some help to deal effectively with these and other pressing plot questions, read on. I’ve compiled a short list of tips, approaches, and resources that demonstrate ways to successfully traverse the rough terrain you and your main character must travel to create a compelling tale.

FABULOUS NOVEL PLOTTING TIP #1: Explore a myriad of plotting methods.

Fortunately, for those of us who are writing novels, novellas, short stories, screenplays, or memoirs—basically, anything that tells a story and develops a character arc—many writers have gone before us and have generously blazed a trail through the wild woods of plot for us to follow.

So which of these many plotting methods is the best? I think that depends on your learning style.

When I immersed myself in the mysteries of plot, I read book after book on the subject. But I always felt I was missing something. Then Joyce Sweeney and I started developing the plot clock—and everything fell into place! The plot clock’s approach made perfect sense to me. Suddenly, I saw how exactly how plot can create a character arc—and what steps to take to make that happen.

For years, Joyce and I taught the plot clock at workshops, writing conferences, and to our clients one-on-one (which I still do).

But now, we’ve also written the book! How to plot your novelAs you’re browsing Amazon looking for good books on plot, check out our PLOTTING YOUR NOVEL WITH THE PLOT CLOCK. It’s short—just seventy pages! And yet it explains how to accomplish the two most important tasks you face when writing a novel or memoir: 1) relating a dynamic set of story events and 2) making your character change in response to those events.

Of course, as I said, this is just the method that works best for my brain. You might love any one of a number of other more linear takes on plot, like SAVE THE CAT WRITES A NOVEL by Jessica Brody. Or you might enjoy diving really deep in story theory with a book like THE WRITER’S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler.

This choice is personal. Take the time to find what plotting approach works best for you—even if you have to experiment with several styles to do so. It will be worth it. Because once you find what fits, that method will be your trusted guide through the rest of your story-writing journey.

FABULOUS NOVEL PLOTTING TIP #2: Start with the basics.

Here are five quick, handy reference points to help you think about how to get your story started and where you’re going to take it. Considering your plot in these simple terms allows you to see if your basic idea has enough oomph to carry the story to the finish line.

Once upon a time there was … (Describe your main character.)

Every day … (This is a glimpse at your main character’s “ordinary world,” before the inciting incident changes their life.)

One day … (Aha! Inciting incident!!)

Because of that … (Here, we see how the main character responds to the inciting incident—and we establish stakes [see Fabulous Novel-Plotting Tip #5, below] that propel them forward into the main events of their story.)

Until finally … (This actually takes you past most of what happens after your character commits to their story—their trials and challenges; their low point; their lessons learned—and brings them to the climax, the battle to end all battles, the inevitable high point of your tale!)

FABULOUS NOVEL PLOTTING TIP #3: Let the three C’s catapult your plot.

Raindance, an independent film festival and film school that operates in major cities, including London, Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Budapest, Berlin and Brussels, offers up a helpful article on the “The Three C’s of Plot (and how they help you get through Act II).”

The “three C’s” of this approach are conflict, choice, and consequence. Having a handle on these major story drivers will assure that your plot has the traction it needs to keep readers deeply engaged.

Further, in the above-mentioned article, writer Jurgen Wolff says, “{While] you can use these [the three C’s] to develop your main plot … they are equally useful in constructing the smaller components of your story-–the individual scenes. This is especially true in helping you construct the hardest part of any story, the middle, or Act II.”

Learn about this concept at the Raindance site.


This improv acting tenet offers an easy-peasy way to allow your character to engage dynamically with the events of their plot. Every time the plot makes your character an “offer,” be sure she “accepts” that offer (says “Yes” to it), and then adds to the situation (or, better still, complicates it!) by adding an “and …”

For example, let’s say your character is walking down a crowded street and notices someone running from a store, having just robbed it. In improv, we’d call this an “offer.” In other words, the story has brought something to your character’s attention that she can act upon. Taking action in response to the “offer” is your character’s way of saying “Yes, and …”

Rather than allowing your character to just ignore the commotion—which can slow the story and make plotting more difficult—consistently require she make a “Yes, and” response to whatever happens in her story. In this case, she might give chase (the “Yes” being her acknowledgement of the thief escaping and the “and,” her taking off after the person). Alternatively, she could rush into the store to try to help anyone who was injured in the incident—or she could rush into the store to take advantage of the confusion and steal something herself!

In any one of these examples, your character’s active response to a situation raised by the story allows more and increasingly complex interactions with other characters to unfold. These interactions will drive her character arc and her plot forward.

This technique is particularly useful when you’re writing your first draft, as it keeps you from stalling out in the shallow waters of character ennui and unwillingness. Once you’ve “Yes, and-ed” your way through the entire plot, you can always revise to rein in or eliminate any excessive reactions on the part of your main character.

To learn more about improv and how “Yes-and” creates lively story-telling and a lively life, I suggest YES, AND: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration—Lessons from The Second City.

To learn more about how to apply this improv precept to life off the stage, take a look at this MEDIUM article titled “Saying ‘Yes, and’—A principle for improv, business and life” by Mary Elisabeth.

FABULOUS NOVEL PLOTTING TIP #5: Create compelling stakes.

Stakes. They’re what gets your character off her duff and involved with a plot that, let’s face it, is likely to end up being a pain in her butt!

According to the Institute for Literature, “One of the most important questions to consider when developing a story is ‘What is going to be at stake for my main character?’ By this, we mean, ‘What is the cost of quitting?'”

These are great questions!

If your character can quit the demands of your plot with few or no consequences, you’re likely to lose your reader early on. You see, we readers like to see a character struggle with conflict. It helps us understand better how to do so in our own lives!

So, how do you make sure you’re getting your character into a situation that has sink-or-swim urgency? Consider my four-question “stakes squared” approach.

Jamie’s Stakes Square: Your character is faced with a significant choice. You’ve backed her into a corner. She MUST say yes or no, not delay the decision—because her decision will set a significant plot point into motion! To establish the stakes inherent in the choice, ask yourself these four questions:

Question 1: What might your character GAIN if she says YES to the choice on offer?
Question 2: What might your character LOSE if she says YES to the choice on offer?
Question 3: What might your character GAIN if she says NO to the choice on offer?
Question 4: What might your character LOSE if she says NO to the choice on offer?

If you make sure that all of these potential outcomes create problems for your character—problems that are in proportion to the overall intensity of your story—you’ll be well on your way to creating plot-driving stakes that will hook a reader and not let them go!

(Be sure to consider how this stakes-setting technique impacts the perhaps-impulsive choices your character makes when you require that she say “Yes, and …” to everything the story offers her!)

Do you need a writing coach?

Do you think you may need help with your book? I’m available to be your professional writing coach. Schedule your free consultation and check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

How to Choose the Right Writing Coach

Spit-spot! Hiring a writing coach can be like inviting Mary Poppins into your writing life!

Jamie Morris Writing CoachAre you struggling to improve your writing skills? If so, you might consider hiring a writing coach to help.

Do you feel you’re not making the progress you want, no matter how much time you sink into your writing project?

Like Mary Poppins, a writing coach has a virtual magic carpet bag filled with solutions to your writing problems!

A good writing coach can help organize your writing process, galvanize your plot or story structure, and steer you in the direction of your writing goals and dreams. No matter which way the wind is blowing, I work with writers on all sorts of books and other writing projects.

Creating a blog? Writing your family history? Starting a novel? I can help! I can provide guidance as your

So, how do you go about finding the right coach? Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Consider your goals: Before you start searching for a writing coach, it’s important to think about what you want to achieve. Do you want to develop your voice? Learn how to create a dynamic plot? Aim your writing for a specific audience? Or do you have a different goal in mind, altogether? Whatever direction you want to take your writing, be sure to look for coaches who specialize in those areas.
  2. Check credentials: When you find potential coaches, be sure to check their credentials. Look for coaches who have a background in writing, such as a degree in English or journalism, and who have experience working with writers at your skill level.
  3. Has your coach written a book about writing? Do they provide testimonials from other clients? Have any of their clients been published? Questions like these will help you determine the level of the coach’s expertise.
  4. Ask for a sampler! Many writing coaches offer a trial session or consultation to see if they will be a good fit. For example, I provide both a free, 30-minute initial phone consultation and a low-commitment mini-writing coaching session. Offerings like these give you a chance to see if the coach’s approach works for you—before you sign up for a long-term coaching relationship.

Since (unfortunately) writing coaches rarely float down to your front door with a spoon full of sugar and a parrot-headed umbrella, doing your research remains the best way to discover a coach who is (almost) magical in their support of you. And when you find that person? Fantastic! Working with the right coach can take you a long way to achieving your writing goals. To learn more about the writing coach relationship, check out this article, What Is a Writing Coach.

Me? I’m an expert writing coach—who may or may not have a magic tape measure up my sleeve. I coach writers at all levels of experience, in all genres. Take a look at my rates page or book a free initial consultation to see how we might work together.

Benefits of Working with a Writing Coach

Writers, the benefits of working with a writing coach can add up to the perfect equation for your success!

Wondering how working with a writing coach will benefit your writing? I hear you! The decision to work with a writing coach—whether you’re looking for a fiction writing coach, a nonfiction writing coach, or a memoir writing coach—is a big step.

When I asked my colleague Ryan G. Van Cleave, who’s the Head of Creative Writing, at Ringling College of Art and Design, why he thinks someone might take that big step, he was pretty emphatic! He said that working with a writing coach can help a writer in these very significant ways:

  • To stop floundering
  • To save years of heartbreak
  • To shorten the learning curve
  • To help develop an appropriate, effective platform
  • To create a clear direction for their writing efforts and career

All that sounds awesome, right? But what exactly does a writing coach do to help a writer achieve outcomes like that? In this article, we’ll take a peek at some of the benefits of working with a writing coach, ways to find the right coach for you, and what a writer can expect from a coaching relationship. With some luck and hard work, all these elements might just add up to a perfect formula for your success!

Benefits of working with a writing coach

There are many benefits to working with a writing coach. Here’s just a quick list of some of the most often discussed:

  1. All eyes on you: Pretty much by definition, your personal writing coach will give you and your work their undivided attention. Their professional feedback will always be tailored to you and your unique needs and goals. They have your back, always.
  2. Cheerleader: Your writing coach will support you in staying the course. Their enthusiasm for your project will encourage you to show up, even on days when doing so feels like a big stretch. (Writing coach secret: We writing coaches know that those “big stretches” are helping you grow into the writer you want to be.)
  3. “Every day, I’m getting better and better”: Yup. It’s true. When your writing coach brings all the benefits of their education and experience to you and your project, they can help you identify what you’re already doing well (congrats!) and point out where you could improve. And you will improve, because your coach will also give you precise guidance on how to make the changes to your writing that will have the most impact. Woohoo!

Wondering how to find the right writing coach?

  1. One of my clients told me this about her experience looking for a writing coach: I believe part of what makes a writing coach [a great fit] is the writer. Are you open-minded? Are you clear on your goals? Are you ready to deep dive into the work? [When you’re ready], finding the right writing coach is much like dating, trying out personalities, finding which one fits best to foster your productive and fruitful work.
  2. Of course, in addition to personality, there are practicalities to consider. I suggest you look for coaches who have a degree in writing or English (or both). You’ll also want to check out testimonials from their clients. If a coach has written a book about writing, that’s a plus!  I co-authored the innovative guide to plot for novelists and memoir writers PLOTTING YOUR NOVEL WITH THE PLOT CLOCK. And do ask a potential coach (if it’s not obvious on their website) whether any of their clients have been published.
  3. If you’re liking what you’re seeing, ask for a sampler! Many writing coaches offer a trial session or consultation to see if they will be a good fit. For example, I provide both a free, 30-minute initial phone consultation as well as low-commitment mini-writing coaching session. Offerings like these allow you and your potential coach to find out if you are a good fit for each other.

What can you expect from a good coaching relationship?

When Hanna Kjeldbjerg, creative director at Beaver’s Pond Press, recommends an author hire a writing coach, these are some of the reasons she cites: Authors need writing coaches for accountability, organization, and an objective eye. But more than that, writers need a partner who understands their vision for their book, who feels like a friend.

I agree. Whether you’re a more experienced writer or a newer one, I bet you aim high. You deserve a writing coach who meets you there. You want to work with someone who is not only a professional, but who is also your smart, capable writing friend. Having done the (literary!) math before, your coach should be able to help you add up all your resources so they equal your success.

Want to know more about hiring a writing coach? Check out this article about writing coaching from THE WRITER magazine or book a free consultation to discover how a writing coach can help you get your book or project off the ground and into print!

The Five Biggest Benefits of Working with a Book Coach

Your book coach knows that writing a book is an exciting—and ambitious!—undertaking. And your book coach is as enthusiastic about the challenge as you are! (It’s what we live for, honestly.) Wearing a number of different hats—editor, cheerleader, critique partner, among them—your professional book coach has the experience and know-how to help you accomplish your book-writing goals.

Time’s a-ticking: While short-form writers (like bloggers, short story writers, or business writers) might also benefit from a writing coach, when you’re writing a book-length manuscript, a coach can prove invaluable. For example: Your book coach can not only estimate how long it might take you to finish your book (less time for a how-to book than for a first novel, for instance), but she will also share shortcuts that can save you precious days or even weeks!

“How does this sound to you?”: Offering quality feedback is a big part of my job as a book coach. Often, you can find yourself too close to your project to see what’s working and what could use further development. When you ask your coach, “How does this sound to you,” you get the benefit of fresh—and sympathetic—eyes on your work. Your coach will then help you choose what additions, subtractions, or tweaks will serve your book best.

“What will help right now?”: Each time I prepare to meet with a client, I commit to showing up with an open mind and a fresh approach, asking both them and myself “what will help right now?” Writing a book is a complex process. There are many angles to consider at any one time. Determining what’s most important right now keeps your book moving forward. For example, we might decide that one of your character’s voices needs to be developed to create the tone that you’re aiming for. Or we might realize an aspect of your plot or nonfiction book outline needs to be restructured!

(True) story time: A client came to me several years ago after having an emotionally difficult experience with another coach. Her former coach approached every session with a red pen in hand, focusing almost exclusively on line edits and sentence structure. While there is certainly a time and place for that kind of focus, in this case, the writer wasn’t even halfway done with her first rough draft.

Unfortunately, that book coach’s style left the client going in circles—and often in tears! As I wrote in this post about writing coaches, a good coach is always on the writer’s side. They work with the writer, rather than trying to squeeze the writer into a box that doesn’t fit. Congrats, however, to that writer for trying again. She became my client and we set to work to figure out what she and her book needed right then. After that, she was able to work steadily and effectively and complete her manuscript.

Happy ending: That client now has an agent and a contract with a publisher for her completed memoir.

Here is brief summary of a few of the many benefits of working with a book coach:

  1. Provides one-on-one support: A book coach takes the time to learn exactly where you are in your book-writing journey. She always personalizes her feedback and guidance so it suits your unique needs and goals.
  2. Is reliable: Working with a book coach typically involves a combination of individual sessions, assignments, and ongoing professional support. Your coach shows up to meetings prepared, interested, and on time, ready to give you her undivided attention and best advice.
  3. Invites accountability: The book-coaching relationship relies on this old adage: Two (well-prepared) heads are better than one! Because your book coach arrives prepped and primed, you’ll be motivated to do the same. You’ll feel encouraged to complete the writing tasks you’ve committed to, which, in turn, will move your book-writing process along more quickly and consistently.
  4. Motivates: For all the reasons listed above, you’ll most likely find that working with a coach keeps you motivated and inspired. Of course, there are times when writing a book can be tough going. But your coach will be there every step of the way; she’s ready and able to assist you over or around any blocks that might arise.
  5. Helps you become a better writer: Not only will your book coach help you complete your manuscript (a huge win!), but she will also help you find ways to improve your writing chops along the way. This means that when you type “THE END” you’ll be a better writer than when you faced that blank screen for the first time.

And that’s a win you can take down the field for another goal.

Want to know more about hiring a book coach? Check out this article about writing coaching from THE WRITER magazine. Learn how to find a writing coach by reading this article. Or book a free consultation to learn how a writing coach can help you get your book or project off the ground and into print!

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Writing a Middle Grade Novel: 10 Tips

Writing a Middle Grade novel can be an exciting adventure! But, like any adventure, it’s best to know the ground rules before you start. As a book coach, I’ve steered many Middle Grade authors through the writing process. Here are ten of the basics to keep your book squarely on the road to publication.

Word counts for Middle Grade (MG) novels

1) Know the ages of your protagonist and your audience: Middle Grade fiction is defined by the age of its protagonist and its intended audience. Your main character should be no older than twelve. They could even be as young as six or seven, if you’re writing an Early Reader. (An Early Reader book is written for new readers. It’s intended to create a bridge between picture books and chapter books.)

Since kids typically read up in age, not down, you’re writing for an audience of children between the ages of eight and twelve—with an Early Reader audience as young as five! 

2) Book lengths: Your MG story is likely to be fairly short, as far as novels go. Depending on the intended age group of your readers, your final manuscript might be as short as 10,000 words or as long as 50,000 words. If you’re writing fantasy/adventure, especially for an older MG audience, you might need 50,000 to 100,000 words—or more!

We can look to the Harry Potter fantasy series as an example of an author expanding word counts to suit her maturing audience. The first book in the series, THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE, is 76,944 words. In that book, Harry and crew are ten years old—smack dab in the middle of MG audience age.

However, as Harry and his readers grow up, the word count of the books increase. This trend continues until, having reached the far end of the kid-lit spectrum with the final book, the Young Adult title HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HOLLOWS, we’re looking at 198,227 words.

How long should your Middle Grade chapters be?

3) Chapter lengths: Early Readers don’t really have chapters. But “chapter books,” the next level for Middle Grade readers,do. Since chapter books come in at the low end of the total word-count estimate for MG books, their chapters are proportionately short at 500-750 words. Middle Grade books, meant for more experienced readers than the chapter book audience, can have chapters of up to 2000 words—or even more, if needed.

4) Sentence and paragraph lengths and complexity: Allow your reader to enjoy the story, rather then trying to educate them with too heavy a hand. To that end, keep your sentences straightforward and fairly simple. Paragraphs, too, should be short and easy to digest. Also, no need to send your reader to a dictionary often, either. Write in language they can easily understand.

Age-appropriate content when writing a Middle Grade novel

5) Focus on the story: Focus your writing on the story and action, rather than on description or psychological insights about the characters.

6) Think G or PG rating! While your middle-grade age characters may undergo significant difficulties, convey these in a way that doesn’t dwell on the darkness, but, rather, looks to solutions. Avoid swear words and graphic discussions of sex.

7) Lighten up on emotions and psychology: Let your young characters grow and change through their actions and reactions to story events. Don’t belabor psychological insights or character introspection in the process.

8) Third person POV: Third-person point of view allows a bit of distance between character and reader. Third person makes it feel safer to read about even tough circumstances. Your MG reader will, consciously or unconsciously appreciate that distance.

9) Get good readers: Teachers and librarians of your intended audience make great beta readers! They know what’s engaging to the kids in their care. They can also help you step carefully where needed.

10) Read 200 Middle Grade novels: Those same teachers and librarians are also familiar with what’s being published currently. (In other words, what types of stories you should be guided by). Get lists of books from them and from around the internet. Read 200 recent (last three years-ish) Middle Grade novels before committing to your own story. You will be vastly more informed about what’s selling now.

Further, you’ll have developed an inner sense for the rhythms of the stories being published for your young audience. This makes your success in the  field much more likely.

Good news for a Middle Grade author

MIDDLE GRADE NOVELIST GAIL SHEPHERD has great news! She writes, Jamie, I wanted to let you know I just signed a contract with Penguin Young Readers Group/Kathy Dawson Books, for a two-book deal. Kathy made the offer based on SOUTH BY SOUTHEAST, the book you were so helpful with in workshops. I’m thrilled of course and wanted to thank you!

Shepherd is also the author of Middle Grade novel THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS.

Ready to write that Middle Grade novel? As a professional writing coach, I can help!

Jamie Morris is a professional writing coach who helps middle grade authors complete their novels. If you have questions about writing your Middle Grade novel, a free 30-minute chat with me might get you on the right path.  Schedule that free consultation. And also check out THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.” 


5 Writing Workshop Pitfalls

Oh, writing workshops! How we love and hate you!  A group of talented folks come together to discuss one another’s writing. What could possibly go wrong? Any one of these 5 writing workshop pitfalls, that’s what!

As a professional writing coach, I encourage my clients to join a good writing workshop. Participating in a well-run, level-appropriate workshop will add benefit to our writing coaching sessions. But a bad workshop? That’s just a waste of time. It can take some research to find the right fit—but it’s worth it. Use the lists below to increase your chances of writing workshop success.

5 common writing workshop pitfalls

1) Writers in one genre may not be well-versed in other genres. In a genre-mixed writing group this may result in less-than-helpful feedback. A horror writer might fault a women’s fiction writer for not establishing high enough stakes early on in the story, for example.

2) Often, workshop mates have widely differing opinions about what’s working and what’s not. This leaves the writer under discussion in a quandary: Which advice should they take?

3) Being a good writing workshop participant requires time. If the group is reading 25 pages of your novel-in-progress, you’re expected to read 25 pages of everyone else’s manuscripts— ongoingly. While there is much to be learned from reviewing others’ work, the amount of attention to our own work may feel like a scant payoff for the reading we do on the other writers’ behalf.

4) Sometimes a workshop member is just mean, insensitive, hurtful. Are they having a bad day? Are they jealous? Do they simple dislike the writer under attack? Or perhaps the writer is simple trying to help. When our writing is up for feedback, we can be quite sensitive to criticism. But, you know, sometimes someone is just not playing nice.

5) The math may not work in your favor. If you’re submitting 25 pages every three or four weeks, that’s a slow ride to get the ~80,000+ words of your novel read!

5 solutions to the pitfalls of a writing workshop!

1) If writers unfamiliar with your genre give feedback that consistently misses the mark, consider starting a workshop for writers only in your genre. Or, alternatively, create a “cheat sheet” of the basic tenets of your genre. Hand it out to group members and ask them to consider those points when critiquing your work.

2) Too many conflicting opinions about your writing? Use this rule of thumb: If two or more people comment about the same passage—no matter how different their views of it—take that as a signal to review that section closely. Ultimately, though, give your own opinion more weight than that of your workshop fellows.

3) Spending a disproportionate amount of time reading others’ work relative to the attention your own work is receiving? Maybe your writing workshop is just too large? Could members agree to split the group in half? Or maybe what you really need is a single excellent critique partner, rather than a guild!

4) Ugh. Harsh, mean, or otherwise hurtful feedback can be devastating. Set up guidelines for feedback—and stick to them. The “sandwich rule” is helpful: Start and end feedback with positive comments—and limit critical comments to just three to five of the most significant. You might also allow those whose work is being considered to ask for specific feedback and not entertain comments on any other aspects of the writing.

5) If your critique group is slowing you down, you might benefit from a book-writing program or course designed specifically to support writers in finishing book-length drafts in a short time. Or you could hire a developmental editor or writing coach to help you move ahead more quickly.

Bonus writing workshop support

In her article The Writing Workshop Glossary” on the NEW YORK TIMES website, Amy Klein translates some of the puzzling stuff a writer might hear when hanging their work out on the line and inviting others’ input!

Klein includes her very helpfulo take on the following phrases, frequently heard in a writing workshop: Find your own voice; I don’t find the character sympathetic; What does the character want?; What Is this story really about?; Show, don’t tell; and the ever–popular Kill your darlings.

Discussed with both humor and an obvious wealth of writing workshop experience, Klein’s article will likely offer you support as you manage your workshop participation—and a chuckle or two. The latter may come in handy when dealing with the pitfalls of the former.

Need more for your writing? A chat with a top writing coach can help!

Jamie Morris pictured knows writing workshop pitfalls and is a writing coach. Sometimes, writing workshops are great for writers. Sometimes, they’re confusing. Over a decade of leading workshops has taught me that! If you feel you might benefit from some one-on-one attention, let’s chat.  Schedule a free initial consultation. And also take a look at this THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.”

Teacher’s Pet: A Tarot Writing Prompt

In this week’s blog post I will provide you with a Tarot writing prompt.

IN TAROT CIRCLES, the Hierophant, also known as the Pope, can get a bad rap—for being an uber-conservative, repressive, by-the-book sort of guy. But, really, he might just represent any clergy person, mentor, or teacher—however rule-bound or not. And I’ve had some great teachers!

My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Nethercote, for instance, gave me props for my mad reading skills. The next year, my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Smith (who looked like Aunt Bea from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW), thought I was a fine communicator and took the time to introduce me as such to my third-grade teacher, who subsequently always listened to what I had to say!

High school was tough, but my tenth-grade English teacher, whose name is lost to memory (and to various adolescent indulgences), was a bright light, encouraging my poetry-writing. In Seattle, at Shoreline Community College, theater instructor Charlie gave me a directorial role, saying she thought I had leadership potential.

As I make this list, other teachers—a horseback-riding instructor, an art teacher, a math professor—arrive at the threshold of my mind, nodding approval across the years. Their long-remembered encouragement has boosted my self-esteem and bolstered my belief in my own abilities when I’ve needed it most.

This, then, is a thank you to them all.


Revisit your memory of a supportive teacher—or create such a champion in the life of a character who could benefit from one just about now.

Alternatively, if your life has been stingy regarding mentors, consider this writing prompt as your chance to rewrite history and provide yourself one you wish you’d had. Once you’ve got him or her on the page, let your self-created mentor provide a bit of guidance. Chances are it will be some of the best advice you’ve ever received!

When I told my art pal Paula Jeffery about this prompt, she shared this poem with me:

Just Words
       by Paula Jeffery*

Before home time, every day,
That sleepy, can’t-write-any-more
Time of day,
Low sun picks out chalk dust
Suspended in air, over kids,
Who only want to meander
Across the park,
For tea and Thunderbirds.

Most kids. Not all kids. Not us kids.
We were Mr. Gardener’s kids,
And the slowest of us perked,
Eyes bright, legs crossed
At the end of the day,
Warm with anticipation.
Home was not pressing
On our nine-year-old minds

 Unexpected Mr. Gardener,
Generous, mild, and
Gentle sharer of knowledge,
Balancing on the brink
Of retirement,
Who, at the Christmas concert,
Awed us, floored us
With soaring solo Emmanuels.

Before the bell, we gathered round.
He held the book aloft and cracked open our little worlds
With Beowulf.
No diluted, convoluted picture story form,
This was all bloody battles,
Dragons, a severed arm.
A teacher transformed
Animated, passionate, Mr. Gardener
Held us all in thrall

 We went home through the cloakroom,
Summer air heavy with the smell
Of plimsolls and sour milk,
Minds alive and buzzing with heroes and monsters,
Chasing sword play across the park.

I thought, Imagine. You can have all that
With just words.


TEACHER, by Sylvia Ashton-Warner

THE FREEDOM WRITERS, by The Freedom Writers and Erin Gruwell

EDUCATING RITA, 1983 dramatic comedy, starring Michael Caine

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.


*Artist, writer, self-publisher Paula Jeffery lives in the middle of England. Visit her at

Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for kind permission to use the image of The Hierophant from the RIDER-WAITE (SMITH) TAROT.

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