Posts Tagged ‘process’

Why Hire a Book Coach: Jen’s Story

Perhaps you’re wondering, Why hire a book coach? Jen’s story, below, will give you a novel writer’s first-hand experience of working with a professional book coach.

When Jen first contacted me, she’d completed a Young Adult (YA) novel and had already been under contract with a literary agent for a year. Unfortunately, the agent was not able to sell the book. The editors rejecting Jen’s manuscript said things like: “The plot was slow-moving,” “I found my interest waning by the third chapter,” and “I couldn’t quite connect with the main character.”

Finally, mutually frustrated, Jen and her agent parted ways. This brought Jen to a come-to-Jesus moment with her literary career—and led her to hire a writing coach. I’m delighted that coach was me! And I’m so happy to share Jen’s thoughts on our process together.

Why hire a book coach: Jen shares her story

If you’re a writer, you spend a lot of time in your own head. If you’re not a writer, that might sound weird to you, but trust me—it’s fun! There are people in there, and they’re doing interesting things: falling in love, learning magic, murdering their families. Writers’ heads hold maps of cities and castles and the location of quicksand. They’re populated by talking animals, ghosts who refuse to speak their needs clearly, and, maybe, if we’re really good planners, several generations of violent family trauma.

See? Fun!

Writers, however, aren’t content to hang around in their own brains by themselves forever. We writers want to show-n-tell the insides of our brains to the world. And we want the world to love what they see. And pay us for it.

So we sit down to our laptops and we type for many years. And then we send our manuscripts to our friends and family and wait for them to say they like it. And then we email our manuscripts to carefully researched agents in New York who we’re sure are going to love it. And then we die when we receive piles of rejection letters.

But we revive ourselves and do it again. And again. Maybe we do it three times before we stand in front of our haggard reflections and ask ourselves if we should stop—forever.

We don’t, though, either because we really loved show-n-tell (and we’re still mad that Mrs. Walsh mismanaged her time and missed our turn on the last week of second grade) or because there’s something in our bones that won’t let us stop.

When to hire a book coach

After all those rounds of rejection, we realize it’s time to do something different. If we’ve got several years of free time on our hands—not to mention a spare $50,000—maybe we go back to school for a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in writing.

If we don’t have that luxury—and I didn’t—I highly recommend hiring a book coach.

If you’re intimidated by the cost of a writing coach, you might want to research the cost of a three-credit graduate class on novel writing. Then consider the fact that you’d be sharing your professor with your classmates. Not only that, but your class will likely end long before you finish a first draft, let alone your second.

When I found Jamie, I was in the middle of my MA in Special Education, and it put the cost in perspective. By the age of 35, I had invested tens of thousands of dollars on myself as a teacher and only a few hundred dollars on myself as a writer. I decided it was time to change that.

Why hire a book coach if you have a finished manuscript

I came to Jamie with a finished manuscript—my first foray into writing adult fiction, rather than my seemingly unmarketable YA novels. But no matter how many times I revised it, it wasn’t working.

We decided to go back to the beginning of the process—back to story concept. That meant I had to trust Jamie with the raw contents of my brain, and it wasn’t easy. Jamie, however, is a big fan of raw brain. She’s an idea zombie, if you will—deeply interested in the process. I learned to trust her to help me untangle the contents of my gray matter and weave them into a cohesive story, one that connects with readers.

Not show-n-tell

Writing a novel is inherently a lonely process. While it may not be show-n-tell, writing is a way to make a human connection. (Maybe AI is going to write the next novel. And maybe it will be entertaining. But I daresay readers want satisfying connections with characters, understanding that another human designed that character and her journey.)

Leo Tolstoy said, “Art is a microscope which the artist fixes on the secrets of his soul, and shows to people these secrets which are common to all.” Writing 400 pages of the secrets of your soul just to receive a “no thanks” earns you membership in an especially sad club.

You start to wonder if there’s something wrong with you—something about your secrets that really are uncommon.

And then you meet Jamie, who tells you that’s crazy, to get back to work. The issue isn’t that you’re too weird, she’ll say. It’s that you’re not being weird enough. From there, you discover the secret to connecting to readers is mastering the craft. It’s a skill. It’s hard work. That narrative structure, the Hero’s Journey—the one that’s been in literally every story ever since the dawn of human language—it exists for a reason.

No, it’s not easy to master. But Jamie is a plotting expert with a keen eye for characterization. She’s a voracious reader with a book recommendation for exactly what you need to work on this month. She’s a cheerleader and a tough-love distributor. Family and friends will pretend to like your work when it’s bad. Jamie will not. She’s your personal trainer who’s going to tell you that you need to work harder, but she’s also going to make sure you’re not wasting your valuable time working harder on the wrong things.

Welcome to the book coach reality show

Working with Jamie hasn’t exactly been the show-n-tell I’ve wished for; it’s more like being a contestant on one of those reality TV shows. You know. The ones where the straight-shooting declutterer holds your hand as you tearfully toss four of your five chipped Teflon pans into a distended garbage bag. Just like that host, though, Jamie reassures you that, somewhere, behind those dutch ovens and glass casseroles, there’s going to be a story people—editors included—will love.

And I believe her.

—Jen Russ

Struggling to get published? A top book coach might help! Let’s chat.

Writing coach Jamie Morris, pictured smiling, can help you learn how to self-publish your book. I love story—and the characters that live through their stories. I’ve helped many novelists develop their plots in ways that make them more engaging and more marketable. If you’re working on a novel and wonder how to make it more successful, schedule a free writing consultation with me. Also, check out THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.”

Writing Coaching: The Hard Stuff

I’ve been in the trenches, coaching writers, for well over a decade. From long experience, I can tell you that, with writing coaching, the hard stuff is the stuff that can make or break a career. And by “hard stuff,” I mean whatever you currently don’t have in your writer’s toolkit.

Most writers have mad skills in some areas, but struggle in others. For instance, you may be a crazy plotting genius, but create flat-as-a-pancake characters. Or, you’re an amazing researcher, but stumble when trying to organize your ideas on the page.

As writers, we all have strengths and weaknesses. But, weirdly, it’s looking our weaknesses straight in the eye that separates successful writers from those who never reach their full potential. It’s natural to want to work around our literary deficiencies. But if we’re willing to really dig in to the less-developed aspects of our writing, we will—eventually—strike gold.

Writing coaching: the hard stuff

Tackling those underdeveloped skills head-on isn’t easy. As a professional writing coach, I often see writers struggle with aspects of writing that feel completely out of their current reach—creating a dynamic plot, for some; finding a convincing voice for others. However, I know that if they keep at it—putting in what may seem an unreasonable amount of time and effort—there will be a pay off.

On the other hand, some writers can’t—or won’t—harness their energies to make the admittedly uphill climb to mastering a tough skill. They truly believe their current (easier, go-to) strengths will carry them to where they want to be in their writing life.

I understand! But that’s not how it works—at least not in my experience.

Hiring a writing coach

So … you know something in your writer’s arsenal needs to be powered up. You hire a writing coach. And it’s going wonderfully! Your coach is an angel on your shoulder. She encourages you, provides accountability, reads your work with enthusiasm and insight. Fantastic!

Of course, she also points out areas of your work that could use some improvement. Many of these aspects are easy-peasy to address. Yes, I can easily be more precise with my verbs, you say. Also, Giving more visual cues to my readers? No problem.

But the hard thing? That “weakness” which is native to you as a writer, your literary blind spot? As you work with your coach, that will become more and more evident. Worse, no matter how hard you try to address this most difficult of skills, you may feel you aren’t making significant progress. And your darned coach won’t let it go!

Fortunately, she will bring myriad ways to help you on-board the skill you most need to master. That’s because she knows how important it is to your career. You can’t maneuver around a deficit without compromising your work as a whole.

Yet, despite your—and your coach’s—best intentions, you may get to a point of frustration. You might want to toss up the whole enterprise and walk away. But—and I am telling you this with the deepest compassion I can bring here—if you keep moving in the direction of excellence, especially when the going gets tough, you will make it through. Then, you will reap rewards you can’t even imagine when you’re humping that huge load of sticks uphill toward your beautiful writing dream.

I believe in you! If you’re ready to dig and find out what you’re made of, a chat with a top writing coach might be your next step on the road to literary success.

Novel writing coach Jamie Morris, pictured smiling, can help you outline your novel. As a professional writing coach, I support fiction and nonfiction writers working in a number of genres. Wherever you are on your writing journey, I would love to see how I can help you achieve your literary goals. Schedule your free writing consultation with me. And take a look at THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.”

 

The image of tarot’s Ten of Wands comes from the ASTROMATRIX TAROT, available on Amazon.

How to Write a Fantasy Novel: Quick Tips!

Wondering how to write a fantasy novel? As a professional writing coach, I’ve learned that following a few important guidelines can make all the difference! Here are some magical tips to help you write fantasy fiction, from me—and NEW YORK TIMES best-selling fantasy author Lev Grossman. Dark blue cover of Lev Grossman's book The Magicians writing a fantasy novel

Quick tips for writing fantasy fiction

World-building: Your fantasy world may be an ancient one, filled with a long history of dwarves and elves and dragons. Or it might exist in a contemporary city, where magic hangs heavy in the air.

Whatever your fantastic world, make sure you establish consistent rules to govern your magical elements. Also, even if there’s not a dwarf in sight, you will still need to include the background of your world.

To do so, answer questions like these: What is the origin of magic in your world? Who is allowed to use the magic? How does the magic manifest? Are there factions in your world? If so, what is the source of their differences?

Limit point of view (POV) characters; Your fantasy may encompass many characters. However, if this is your first foray into writing fantasy, I suggest you limit yourself to no more than four POV characters.

Limiting POV characters makes it easier to map out your story. It also allows you to create an internal arc for each POV character. Those arcs ensure your readers invest in your characters as well as your plot.

Create a stand-alone first novel: Fantasy novels are often developed into series. However, if you’re a first-time fantasy novelist, I suggest you write a stand-alone first novel. Forcing yourself to complete a significant narrative arc in a single book will keep you from drowning in story-line possibilities.

If you love your fantasy world, you may decide to set another story there. Eventually, you may find you have created a series! But if you follow this advice, each volume of that series will be a satisfying read on its own.

Of course, as you dig deeper into your fantasy-novel-writing craft, you’ll be ever-better prepared to commit to a full series, right from the get-go!

Let’s learn from Lev Grossman!

My short list of tips covers what I consider to be the most important for fantasy writers to consider. However, Lev Grossman has written a terrific essay on novel writing that addresses many other points of interest for fantasy—and other—writers.

Check out his Buzzfeed piece “How Not to Write Your First Novel,” subtitled, “It is Okay Not to be a Genius.” (Hm. Reading about Grossman’s chilly, oddly heart-filled journey through six cold months in Maine, I’m pretty sure I see his genius shining through.) Grossman is the author of THE MAGICIANS, THE MAGICIAN KING, and THE MAGICIAN’S LAND, among other well-regarded fantasy titles.

Wondering how to write a fantasy novel? A chat with a top writing coach might help!

Novel writing coach Jamie Morris, pictured smiling, can help you outline your novel. As a novel writing coach, I support writers working in a number of genres, fantasy, among them. Whether you’re world-building or developing your characters, I would love to see how I can help you, too.  Schedule a free initial consultation with me. And also check out THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.”

Book Writers’ Coach

Why am I a book writing coach? Great question! Over the last ten years, I’ve coached writers of all types. New writers, short story writers, dissertation and thesis writers, hobbyists and journalists. But after a decade of working with a myriad of different writers, I’ve found my greatest joy as a book writers’ coach.

red book cover for book writers' coach Jamie MorrisFolks who commit to writing a book are a different breed. They’re tenacious (and sometimes hard-headed, lol).

They see the long view. They know their actions today (and tomorrow, and the next day/week/year) create their future: If they keep writing, they’ll be authors.

Me? I want to be along for that ride. Sure, there will be ups and downs. (If it were easy, everyone would write a book, right?) So when I agree to become a book writer’s coach, I’m declaring myself in it with you for the long haul.

I’ll be there to remind you about your goals, sure! But more than that, I’ll listen to your ideas and help you develop them in ways that (almost magically) transform your book into something more than you ever imagined it could be! (Believe me, I have a track record for doing just this!)

I’ll guide you to be more efficient when you need to get something—chapter, outline, query letter—done. But I’ll also encourage you to explore enticing paths that may make your work both richer for you as a writer and deeper and more meaningful for your eventual readers.

So, why am I a book writers’ coach? Because I consider it a gift and an honor to help creative people—you!—accomplish the huge task of turning your dream into a book.

It’s possible. It’s hard. It’s worthwhile. And you don’t have to do it alone.

Gearing up to write a book? A chat with a top book writers’ coach might help!

As a book writers’ coach, I have tricks of the trade to share! Book writers' coach Jamie Morris Schedule a free initial consultation with me. And also check out THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.” 

Tarot’s Judgment: Your Writing Coach

When tarot’s Judgment card volunteers to be your writing coach, fasten your seatbelt! It’s time to rev up a manuscript you thought had breathed its last. We’ve all been there, right? (Or is it just me?) We give up on a “failed” manuscript. Then we push it as far away from ourselves as possible, leaving it to die an ignoble death.

But is it really dead?

Tarot’s Judgment card can coach a writer’s draft to life.

Tarot's Judgment: your writing coach is shown as a phoenix rising from the flamesJudgment, in tarot, is about rebirth. In this image, we see a Phoenix rising from the ashes. From the Judgment card’s perspective, we can see that our manuscript did not actually collapse into a pile of cold ashes. It just needed time to settle.

In WRITING DOWN THE BONES, Natalie Goldberg discusses “composting” our ideas. She says that with repeated attempts to express a concept or aspect of our lives, we’ll eventually develop a sort of critical mass of attention. And “something beautiful will bloom.”

This seems to me to be similar to the way we can focus sunlight through a magnifying glass and eventually set fire to a pile of kindling. (Please don’t try this at home!)

Tarot’s Judgment writing coaching moment

It’s been my experience that our ideas, gathered like tinder in the form of a draft, may lay dormant for longer than seems reasonable. In fact, having shoved the darned thing in a drawer or file, we swear we’ll never look at it again.

And then … one day … it calls out to us. Then, it’s time to bring out the magnifying glass and stare at our draft until it bursts into fiery new life. That moment when the twigs spark, that’s a Judgment card moment! When our book draft (finally) starts to kindle, though, we must be right there to fan the flames.

You see, Judgment may make the call. But we must to be ready to answer with a full heart—and faith that this time our book will be fully born from the flames.

Ready to (re-)commit to your book? A chat with a top writing coach might give you the boost you need!

When a writer is ready to tackle either a significant revision or an entirely new approach to their book, a professional writing coach can offer a perspective that will help them get traction right from the get-go. Would you like to discuss your project? Breathe new life into your book with Jamie Morris writing coach and tarot's Judgment card Schedule your free consultation.and check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

Tarot’s Judgment Card as Your Writing Coach uses the image of Judgment from the ASTROMATRIX TAROT.

Unlock Writer’s Block

Oh, my gosh! Yolanda needs help to unlock her writer’s block! writer's block causes figure under nine swords to have a nightmareShe’s tormented by worries of failing as a writer—yet can’t get any words on the page. While she’s allowed swords of self-recrimination to stack up over her head, it’s probably not as desperate a situation as she believes.

Like many writers, Yolanda feels that if she’s stuck with her current project—short story, essay, master’s thesis—she’s “blocked.” But if she looked more closely, she might find she’s facing a more manageable problem.

In my wide experience as a writing coach, I’ve seen writers like Yolanda free themselves from the dreaded block quite quickly. They just need the right strategies.

If writer’s block is threatening, check out these common causes and their cures. You, too, may be able to unlock writer’s block and write with ease again!

Start here: Is it really a block?

At a crossroads? Maybe you’re actually just confused about what to do next. “Confusion” is not a block! It’s a reasonable response to the many paths a writer can take at any given moment. Uncertain of which way to go?

Try this: Pick any one possibility, set a timer for ten minutes, and write as if you were committed to that direction. If it’s not right, back up and try a different option.

Empty tank? Exhausted? Pushing forward when our creative tanks are empty is a sure way to grind writing to a halt. While fatigue is not necessarily a symptom of writer’s block, it sure can feel like it.

So, take note: Too tired to write? Give it a rest. Whether you need an hour or a week to recover your mojo, take it. Your restored future self will thank you.

Says who? Okay. Here’s the truth: I hate being told what to do. Maybe I’m alone in this. Maybe not. But I have noticed that when someone is writing a memoir because other people have told them to—“You’ve had such an interesting life”—the would-be writer generally loses interest at some point. Likewise with fascinating topics about which a person is an expert. Or when someone is naturally funny or a great story teller.

If you’re struggling to fulfill someone else’s literary ambitions for you, chances are good you don’t have writer’s block. You probably just don’t want to write a book. Or, at least, not the book other folks are telling you to.

Mix it up to unlock the block!

Pushing an agenda? When we come to writing with a too-tightly circumscribed agenda, we can write ourselves into a corner. Rather than trying to beat our project into obedience, we can play a bit. Free-writing on our topic can allow fresh ideas to surface, unlocking our writing progress once again.

Traveling the straight and narrow? New writers—particularly new novelists—may think their job is to start writing at the beginning and continue all the way to the end. Makes sense, right? But more often than not, this approach leaves them in a rut, wheels spinning.

Instead, imagine which scene might be the most interesting to write today. A novel is a long haul. Making it more fun makes it more likely you’ll actually get it done.

Play hopscotch! Rather than committing your focus to a single writing project, have two or three on the go. When you feel stuck with one, move to a different piece. Hopping from a stalled project to a fresher one is sure to reinvigorate your writing process.

I hope you (and Yolanda!) try unlocking your next bout of writer’s block with some of these strategies. While a little angst can make for interesting writing, I’ve found it’s best to keep most of the drama (not to mention the swords!) on the page, not hanging over our heads and  inducing nightmares.

Would you like some more writer’s (un)blocking strategies from a top writing coach?

As a professional writing coach, I’ve boosted writers at all levels of experience out of their  writing block slump. Maybe I can help you!unlock-writer's-block-with-Jamie-Morris-writing-coach Schedule your free consultation.and check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for kind permission to use the image of the Nine of Swords from the RIDER-WAITE (SMITH) TAROT.

Tarot and Writing: Meet the Two of Cups, Your Writing Coach

Tarot and writing seem a match made by the very best of old-school matchmakers! The 78 images that make up a tarot deck can inspire writers in many ways. As a writer myself, as well as in my role as a writing coach, I’ve found looking at the cards can spark our creative writing, suggest a solution to a specific literary problem, or even propose a way out of a writing slump.

No matter what issue we’re addressing, it can be fun to draw a tarot card and see what it has to offer about our current writing journey. In this case, I drew the Two of Cups. Here’s what this smart card had to say.

Tarot and writing: the Two of Cups on your writing process

If the Two of Cups were your writing coach, two of cups and your writing processshe’d ask you to be loving with yourself and committed to your writing project. In this card, we see a union occurring, two people are joining their intentions for a higher purpose. Often read as the card of new love (or even infatuation), we can also understand this as a contract being pledged.

What if that contract is between you and your writing? What promises are you giving? And what do you expect in return? I’ve read that a relationship isn’t really a 50-50 proposition, but a 100-100 one. If our relationship is with our writing, then it follows that we need show up fully (hello, butt in chair!), even when our writing is slow to respond.

Also, as in all partnerships, patience is a thing. Consider Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

If the Two of Cups were your writing coach, she might ask how you can apply these principles to yourself and the writing you love.

Want to talk about your writing with a top book writing coach?

I’d love to learn about your relationship to your writing project. As a professional writing coach, Jamie Morris Writing CoachI might have some helpful insights to share. Please click to schedule your free consultation. You might also take a look at the article Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for kind permission to use the image of the Two of Cups from the RIDER-WAITE (SMITH) TAROT.

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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.

* * *

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

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.”

Publish Your Writing Now: Whisper, Shout, Hit Send!

PUBLISH YOUR WRITING! 

WHILE WRITING CAN BE A FORM OF SELF-EXPLORATION, it is also a way to communicate our thoughts and stories with others. That’s why it’s important to publish your writing.

About this, my novelist pal MK Swanson says,

There is no writer without a reader. Writing is a performance art. When I was little, I used to make up stories that my girlfriends and I would act out—sometimes with puppets, but usually with our bodies. One time, Kori and I pretended to be in the Nautilus, being dragged down into the depths by a great sea creature, a story inspired directly and entirely by the sound the washing machine made as it shifted cycles.

We performed as if someone was watching and applauding. I thought I was the most talented, funniest writer in the world, as I directed my friend and myself to run around the porch, captaining the submarine. Now, when I try to make something new, and I don’t think anyone will ever see it, it falls flat. An audience pulls art into the third—or maybe the fourth—dimension.

I agree with MK. When I write with an audience in mind, it gives my work a sense of purpose—traction, focus—that it lacks when I am writing only for myself. But going public with our work can feel daunting. Here’s the good news: You can publish your writing in a wide variety of ways.

 

publish your writingIn SHOW YOUR WORK! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered (see a list of those ten ways, below*), author Austin Kleon discusses the many benefits of sharing our creative work with others—especially how doing so can make us “findable.” Reviewer D. Bivins says of the book, “This is a refreshing kick in the butt about believing in yourself as a creative person and jumping in with both feet. The basic idea is to put yourself out there even if you (or your work) are a work in progress.

And while we may not currently be availing ourselves of pre-Covid in-person opportunities to show our work (remember open mics and free, monthly bookstore writing groups?!), there are myriad contact-free ways to offer our writing to the world.

You could always start a blog, join an online writing group, or send out stories to literary contests—all great options for sharing your work. You might also try one or more of the following suggestions if you’re seeking fresh avenues to show your writing to others:

Postcard poems
Every August, there’s an event called the Postcard Poetry Fest. Essentially, once you register at the site, you’re sent a list of addresses. You then write a (possibly terrible) poem each day for August’s 31 days and mail it to one of the 31 recipients on your list.

Can’t wait until August? A friend and I used to declare an arbitrary period our own personal Postcard Poems month. Then, for the next 31 days, we would email daily mini-poems back and forth. Often goofy, sometimes poignant, our “poems” generally started with a place name (fictional or not) and were written from the perspective of an imagined persona who was there visiting. Here’s an example:

Dear Dolores,

I’m in Quincy, Alabama, and the almond trees are in high bloom. So are my allergies. My nose, red like a rose, won’t win me any suitors. But my days and nights are full enough without thoughts of another to cloud my view of the stars.

Wish you were here.
Myra

Throw a Zoom! prose-and-poetry party
Back in the day (basically, pre-February 2020), friends and I used to gather regularly to eat, chat, and read our work to one another. Zoom! makes this even easier, now. No need to arrange a ride—or even wear proper pants. Just find your tech-iest friend and get them to make it so.

Publish on Medium
If you don’t know about Medium, I’m about to make you very happy. Medium is a platform for writers. And readers. Here’s their mission statement:

Medium is not like any other platform on the internet. Our sole purpose is to help you find compelling ideas, knowledge, and perspectives. We don’t serve ads—we serve you, the curious reader who loves to learn new things. Medium is home to thousands of independent voices [um, that means “independent writers,” which, by definition, could include you!], and we combine humans and technology to find the best reading for you—and filter out the rest.

Interested in writing for Medium? Start here.

Submit to THE SUN MAGAZINE‘s Readers Write
A well-regarded, ad-free, glossy print and online monthly, THE SUN magazine not only publishes poetry, interviews, short memoir, short fiction, and fabulous black-and-white photographs, they also open their pages to their readers!

In their Readers Write section, they publish twenty or so short nonfiction pieces each month. These pieces are written to themes (like “ghosts” and “getting started”) listed on the website. As their Readers Write submission guidelines say, Topics are intentionally broad in order to give room for expression…. Writing style isn’t as important as thoughtfulness and sincerity. There is no word limit, but we encourage you to familiarize yourself with the section before you submit.

And if your piece is chosen for publication, you’ll receive a six-month subscription to the magazine!

More ways to publish your writing

You’ll find more ideas and resources in A Writing Coach’s 5 Simple Tips for Sharing Your Writing on Social Media. Choose an approach from those choices, or from any of the ones listed above. But whatever way suits you, do as Austin Kleon suggests and be “open, generous, brave, and productive [… and] share something small every day.”

“Publish your writing” doesn’t have to mean getting a three-book deal with a major publisher! It can simply mean “make your work public.” Sharing your ideas and work with the world in whatever way appeals to you can make you feel more empowered as a writer and more involved as a citizen of the world.

* Here are Kleon’s ten ways:

  1. You don’t have to be a genius.
  2. Think process, not product.
  3. Share something small every day.
  4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities.
  5. Tell good stories.
  6. Teach what you know.
  7. Don’t turn into human spam.
  8. Learn to take a punch.
  9. Sell out.
  10. Stick around.

Writing coach

If you want to publish your writing, I can help! I’m available for book and writing coaching! Also, check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

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