A FEW WEEKS AGO, in an interview on writing coaches, I got to discuss both the purpose of having a writing coach and the role of critical feedback in a writer’s life for The Working Writer Podcast with my client and good friend Tia Levings. Tia and I started working together in 2017, when she came to me looking for feedback on her current work in progress and for writing coaching, in general. Like a lot of writers, Tia was juggling quite a few projects, had too many ideas in the hopper—but didn’t know how to get her books done. (Today, Tia is the co-author of PLOTTING YOUR NOVEL WITH THE PLOT CLOCK and author of A WELL-TRAINED WIFE: My Escape from Christian Patriarchy, which will be out on St. Martin’s Press in the winter of 2024.)
Although she was a prolific writer (yay!), she had come to realize that just writing a lot wasn’t enough get her across the finish line. What Tia really needed was an objective eye to help her see what was going both right and wrong.
A writing coach is a trusted story confidante
Offering quality feedback is a big part of my job. Good writing doesn’t happen in an echo chamber. You know how it goes–-you work hard on a piece and feel like it’s done until that edge of doubt creeps in. “Is it really any good?” “Am I missing something?” “Who can I ask to read it?”
Why hire a writing coach? As challenging as it is to find a critique partner, feedback is important. After all, you’ve been staring at those words for so long your eyes now skip right past your errors. You are, as they say, too close to the forest to see the trees. But not all feedback is helpful and not every opinion shared will be useful. How can you know?
There are criteria that separate good feedback from the bad. Some of this comes down to the feeling generated by that feedback. If the suggestions are personal attacks on you as a writer, then they are not constructive suggestions to make your piece stronger. A critique that rips your writing to shreds without practical ideas on how to adjust what isn’t working maybe overly negative and as such, would be of more value discarded and ignored than taken seriously.
And what about the poor newer writer, who finds themselves on the receiving end of that?! They’ve mustered up the courage to have their work scrutinized and bam! I can’t blame them if a bad critique experience makes them want to just quit.
Good writing coaches don’t offer feedback as a personal attack
Ironically—and unfortunately—it’s fear of this very situation that causes some writers to skip the feedback step entirely. Instead, they just put their work out there, sending it to agents or self-publishing it online, without ever having a thoughtful manuscript review. Nah, nah, nah, nah … I can’t hear you, they think, with their hands over the ears. And then when their queries go unanswered, their books don’t sell, and their reviews sit silent, they wonder why.
When Tia invited me to be on her podcast, she focused our discussion on a writer’s need for good feedback and the role coaches play in that process. Tia describes a “working writer” as one who takes their craft and effort seriously. While hobbies are great, her show draws a distinction between writing as an occasional interest and writing as a serious pursuit.
I bet there are as many ways to be a working writer as there are writers. Tia has an exciting line up of guests planned, including agents, professors, novelists, editors, and yours truly, her writing coach.
Writing coaches are part editor, part cheerleader
As I mentioned, Tia came to me as a client three years ago—after a Google search and an emotionally difficult experience with another coach before me. Like a lot of writers, she’d been working hard but in circles, not knowing what she didn’t know.
Her previous foray into working with a coach resulted in red-pen words and tears––so not my style. As I wrote in this post about writing coaches, a coach is always on a writer’s side. A great coach will have the chops, knowledge, and experience to effectively help a writer get their books done. Part editor, part cheerleader, part story confidante, a coach is your smart, effective writing friend.
Kudos to Tia for trying again—because once we identified where the issues were in her process, she was able to fix them and move forward with her writing career. She now has a completed memoir nearing publication, has co-authored a book on the writing craft, and has several viable fiction projects in progress.
Tia started The Working Writer Podcast in 2020, and every episode pairs with a Companion Guide––a short ebook that further explores the topic of that week’s show. My episode airs on February 10.
Tia’s also written a series of blog posts on the writing life. You’ll see them posted here throughout the coming months.
In the meantime, you can listen to the podcast on Anchor and Itunes, as well as anywhere else you access podcasts. It’s also in video format on YouTube. The Companion Guide for my episode is called Get Feedback on Your Writing, and is available on Amazon.