Posts Tagged ‘process’

What Is a Writing Coach? … and What Makes a GREAT Writing Coach?

WHAT IS A WRITING COACH? 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.

While I’ve been coaching writers for well over a decade, and have developed solid strategies along the way, I was curious: what makes a great writing coach? I asked this question of a dozen writers, including several well-published colleagues, a few clients, a former writing coach, 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.

So, what does make 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 writing 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 writing 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: A great writing 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.

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.

* * *

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

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Sometimes, We’re Mute, We Writers (with Resources for Dreaming Writers)

SOMETIMES, WE’RE MUTE, we writers. Sometimes, we drift, dream, words floating above us, like sunset clouds in fantastical shifting shapes—now a ship, now a sheep, now a swan and his wife. Sometimes, it’s twilight, and we’re quiet, content. Sometimes, we choose not to cast our nets to capture those words, glittering like so many stars in the broad night sky of our imagination.

My writer friend and co-author Tia Levings signs off emails with this quote:

But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, for they may think their dreams into reality with open eyes. —T.E. Lawrence 

So, yes, sometimes, it’s enough to read what’s in our own hearts, and let the words build castles and angels and half-memories, undisturbed. Sometimes, we have no need to chase them and jar them, like fireflies, but, instead, simply watch the words flicker into tiny, brief constellations that mean just what they mean to themselves, while we allow them—and ourselves—to be mysteries that remain unsolved. At least for now.

These may be times to read fairy tales or peek into other writers’ journals to see how they dream and drift on the page. Here are some stories and pages that may flutter beside your own quiet heart right now.

Reading resources for dreaming writers

A GIRL GOES INTO A FOREST, short stories by Peg Alford Pursell

MAGICKAL FAERYTALES: An Enchanted Collection of Retold Tales, by Lucy Cavendish (edited by me!)

SPILLING OPEN, a visual journal by Sabrina Ward Harrison

THE DIARY OF FRIDA KAHLO, by Frida Kahlo

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.

***

The cloud painting, above, is from my art journal—where I dream in color and shape and brushstrokes … and sometimes in words.

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Whisper, Shout, Hit “Send”!

WHILE WRITING CAN BE A FORM OF SELF-EXPLORATION, it is also a way to communicate our thoughts and stories with others. 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.

In 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 ideas for showing your written work
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.”

* 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

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

Cats and Writers: A Writing Coach’s Purr-spective (Sorry!)

MAYBE YOU’RE NOT A CAT LOVER. If that’s the case, you might not understand the enduring connection between cats and writers. Here are some thoughts on the matter:

  • Cats are companionable. They’ll hang around wherever you settle to write. (Sometimes, they want to sit on your keyboard. Sigh. But if you put low boxes on your desk, they’ll likely curl up there instead of on your hands.)
  • Despite the above caution, cats are relatively undemanding. Unless they’re hungry, they won’t interrupt your work—nor will they make critical comments. Pretty much, they think you and your writing are awesome.
  • Not only are they noncritical, cats are quiet. Unlike, say, dogs, cats sleep right through most anything that’s going on, inside or outside your house.
  • The only noise your companionable cat is likely to make is a soothing purr. An old wive’s tale says the purr of a cat knits broken bones.* I don’t know about that, but I do know that the sound knits my frayed nerves when a scene or paragraph is going awry! This is why I keep boxes filled with purring cats on my writing desk at all times.

This YouTube video features a cat purring for three minutes. If you don’t have cats of your own, cue it up the next time your story is going south and you want to pull your hair out by the roots! Chances are the sound of this lovely little cat will calm you—and a calm writer is one to whose mind unexpected solutions spring!

*Our old friend science is definitely pro-cat—for writers and for other folks! Recent studies have shown that purr vibrations may help heal infection, promote bone strength, and even reduce the risk of heart attack!

Need more convincing that cats are a writer’s best friend? Check out this Writers Write article: “The Relationship Between Famous Writers and Their Cats”

Writing coach

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

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Writing/Not Writing: With 2 Non-Ironic Writing Prompts

IT’S FRIDAY. I’m talking to my friend Mary, who is an excellent writer—but who no longer writes. I actually have several friends like that. But it’s okay. She’s a wonderful human being, anyway. Still, it makes me wonder why writers stop writing. Have you ever put down your pen (or the electronic version thereof) and simply walked away from your literary endeavors?

If so, have you returned to the life of the word?

And if you have, how long did your hiatus last? Do you know why you stopped? What did you learn about your relationship to writing while you and it were on a break (Ross and Rachel reference: sorry/not sorry). What made you come back? Are you a better writer for stepping away? Did you change genres? What about your writing changed since you quit for a while?

If you’re anything like me, when you’re not writing, your life just isn’t complete. While I may be relieved at not having to show up at my keyboard on the regular, the hole writing leaves is a gaping one. And like most gaping holes, the writing hole has a prodigious gravitational pull. So (like you? but not like Mary—yet), I always get sucked back in.

Writing prompts

1) Wherever you are on the writing/not-writing continuum, you might want to journal a bit about your relationship with the word-hungry beast. Use any of the questions posed above as a starting point for your personal exploration regarding your love/love-hate relationship with writing.

2) You might also want to take your experience of writing/not writing and put it to fictional use. In that case, here’s a prompt for you:

Write about a character who steps away from an art form (writing, painting, trumpeting …) that has had great significance for her. Perhaps she gives it up for a more practical path—accounting or nursing or parenting, for instance. Or because she loses her connection to her muse. Or because she feels like she’ll never achieve greatness in her field. Or….

Write a series of scenes about your character’s return to the pen/fiddle/garden. Start with the moment in which she first realizes will never feel fulfilled until she gets back to her keyboard/easel/pastry board. Next, have her act on that epiphany: Does she just walk away from her current life? At what expense? Or does she try to integrate her art into her non-art circumstances? And how does that work out? (Use this opportunity to create big trouble for your character, as someone in her life is likely to rise up and complicate her new-found decision, if not block her creative path altogether!)

Personally, I’m not big on writing (or reading) about romance. But I am deeply interested in how people—fictional and actual—conduct their creative lives. So, if this idea sounds good to you, and you find it has legs, let me know when your novel or memoir about reviving a creative life is published. I’ll be first in the pre-order line at Amazon. Because I am always delighted to read a tale about the hot, sweaty pursuit of a tall, dark, handsome life in the arts.

Writing inspiration

OLD IN ART SCHOOL (a memoir about a writer/historian enrolling in art school at an advanced age), by Nell Painter

A WORK OF ART (a novel about a young artist who gets stopped in her creative tracks by life), by Melody Maysonet

UTOPIA AVENUE (a novel about a band’s “Faustian pact and stardom’s wobbly ladder…. of music, madness, and idealism.”), by David Mitchell

Writing coach

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

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Writer’s Block? A Sure Cure from a Writing Coach Who’s Been There!

IF TAROT’S FOUR OF CUPS WERE YOUR WRITING COACH, it would definitely want to have a little chit-chat with you about “writer’s block.” You see, the fellow in the Four of Cups is a faultfinder. Nothing is good enough for this guy. Hand him a golden cup of magical possibilities, and he’ll just turn away. Whatever is on offer—even if it comes from his own imagination—he’ll refuse it every time.

And this, exactly this refusal of our own thoughts and imaginative impulses, is an attitude that brings us crashing back into writer’s block. I believe that a case of writer’s block boils down to this: We’re being overly critical about the words our brain offers us. Rather than taking what comes on good faith, rather than trusting we’ll be able to work literary magic with the words and ideas that first occur to us, we cast them aside, claiming they’re not good enough. But if we do this too often, believe me, our brains will get the message and stop producing any words at all.

In his June 30th blog post titled “The simple cure for writer’s block.” Seth Godin writes, “People with writer’s block don’t have a problem typing. They have a problem living with bad writing, imperfect writing …”

But that bad, imperfect writing is exactly where we have to start! We must use whatever clumsy, terrible, boring words arise when we first attempt to pin our beautiful, still-nebulous ideas to the page. If we’re not willing to write badly, we won’t ever get the chance to rework our terrible words into the exquisite, precise language we hope will deliver our best stories to our readers. In other words, we must first fetch the pumpkin—then we can wave our wand, transforming that mundane squash into a golden carriage that will carry us all the way to the prince’s ball.

Don’t believe me? Then believe Anne Lamott! In her classic book on writing, BIRD BY BIRD: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Lamott includes a chapter titled “Shitty First Drafts.”

In it she says, For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts…. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?” you let her. No one is going to see it. If [you] get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory…. just get it all
down on paper because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that
you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.

Because Anne Lamott is both funny and whip-smart about writing, I suggest you get a copy of BIRD, read the shitty-drafts chapter, then stow the book away in your writer’s emergency kit for the next time writer’s block looms. Then harness up the mice and ride that shitty-draft pumpkin all the way to whatever ball you desire.

Writing coach

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

***

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

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Cut-and-Paste: A Writing Coach Confesses

WE WRITERS ARE WORDY PEOPLE. We like to think in language, explain ourselves in words, describe our world in nouns, adjectives, verbs. But we can be so immersed in the power of words we forget that, to arrive at them, we have to translate what we see, feel, and think into their hard currency.

Imagine each word is a nugget of coal that must be pick-axed out of the coalmine of your brain every time you want to express yourself. It can be exhausting, right? I confess. After dragging up wagon-loads of words all week, my brain can feel like two stones rubbing together: dry, but unlikely to produce fire!

That’s why I make collage. My style (as you can see), is very loose. Lots of smearing, tearing, and scribbling. This nonverbal form allows me to be playful and creative without using language—the coin of my daily realm.

Then, when I return to the world of words, those verbs and nouns tumble onto the page like a shower of daisies. I don’t have to excavate them like a ton of coal!

This would be reason enough to take a break from language-centric creativity. But I get more from my collage-making adventures! After messing around with scissors, paper, and glue for a bit, I find I make wider, more unexpected connections when I return to the task of putting words on the page. I notice my language is fresher and my transitions between ideas are more dynamic.

Which, of course, is exactly how collage happens—by tapping unexpected juxtapositions and committing to them.

Make your own metaphor to improve your writing*

If, like me, you value such leaps of association, you might want to experiment with collage and see if it offers your writing similar benefits. But maybe that kind of wild abandon is not what you’re after in your literary pursuits. Maybe what you really want is to develop more orderly writing. In that case, you might try the precise patterning that knitting requires. Or, if you’d like to include more sensory detail to your writing, try cooking! Exploring the tastes and textures of a wide variety of ingredients in the kitchen might well result in more delicious  writing on the page!

While any nonverbal activity gives your word-making mind a break, you can amplify the positive effects of time spent off the page by choosing a creative practice you can see as an RX to heal what ails your writing!

Non-writing inspiration

If you already work in a visual medium as well as a literary one, you’re in good company! PRINT MAG’s article The Visual Art and Design of Famous Writers showcases the visual work of writers from Sylvia Plath to Rudyard Kipling. (And if you don’t have a non-literary creative practice, you might find this article inspiring!)

*I discovered the idea of creating a concrete metaphor for a desired end in Marsha Sinetar’s book DEVELOPING A 21st CENTURY MIND.

Writing coach

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

Writing Young Adult Fiction? A YA Author Invites YOU to Connect!

I WANT TO INTRODUCE YOU TO SOMEONE! YA writer Alina Smith and I have worked together since November of 2017—three awesome years and counting!* In that time, I’ve seen this committed writer dig in and learn how to plot the heck out of a story … then dig even deeper to find truthful motivations for her characters. Those motivations, in turn, lead to powerful arcs that give her stories real guts (and will deliver true satisfaction to her readers!).

I count myself lucky to be on Team Alina and am so happy to pass on her invitation to connect with you. So, without further ado, I give you Ms. Alina Smith!

What’s up guys! I’m Alina. Although I have a pretty sweet day job—I’m a songwriter and producer in a music team LYRE, which has worked with artists and bands across genres, from Fall Out Boy to K-pop girl group Red Velvet-–over the past few years, I’ve gotten excited about writing stories. Particularly futuristic YA stories with chilling twists on current technology: think BLACK MIRROR populated by hormonal teenagers.

I started writing my first YA novel three years ago and got about two-thirds of the way in before being pulled into a new direction, one which merges my music career and my literary passion. You see, in the last few years, LYRE has become known for working with digital creators: influencers with millions of followers across all social media platforms. As my music partner, Elli, and I wrote songs with these YouTube and Instagram stars, I felt myself getting immersed in their world: a world where your worth depends solely on the numbers of likes and followers on your socials. It got me thinking: What if this world was exacerbated further? What if the numbers on your socials meant life or death? That’s how the idea for my latest book was born. It’s called “Influencer.”

As I’ve been writing “Influencer” (one-and-a-half years and counting!), I’ve done plenty of Google searches. I’ve checked out writers’ blogs, advice columns, and YouTube channels. It’s been fun watching published authors share bits and pieces of their journeys. But it got me wondering: Are there any not-yet-published writers sharing their process with the world? Their aha! moments and their blocks, their triumphs and fails, their I-just-finished-this-act underwear dances, and the moments when they just wanna throw their laptop through the wall? I poked around, but there didn’t seem to be much: no hungry new writers diving into their process and allowing others to snorkel beside them.

That’s when it hit me: I should share my own writing process! My struggles with beat sheets, my ever-evolving characters, what it’s like to find time for writing alongside another creative career—and all the other myriad aspects of the novel-writing process that I find fascinating. Whether I become a hit author or end up throwing my story in the trash and setting it on fire, I want to highlight what it’s like to be a first-time novelist. And I hope to connect with anyone else who’s going through the same thing.

So, please join me on this fun (and slightly terrifying journey) on my YouTube channel: Alina Writes a Book.

And if you’re writing YA fiction, too? Please, drop me a line on Instagram or Twitter. I’d love to hear about your story and your journey creating it!

Writing coach

* Alina’s loving our collaboration, too! She recently wrote, Jamie is such a fantastic coach! Her approach is very intuitive. No matter what I’m working on, from plotting to character development, she always has an intelligent, unique perspective. If you’d like to take your writing to another level, I strongly recommend Jamie!

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

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A Writing Coach Weighs In on Writing to Connect with Oneself During a Time of Isolation

OKAY. THIS IS W-A-Y MORE THAN I SIGNED UP FOR! But here we are. Isolated. And spooked. (Or is that just me?) But that doesn’t mean we can’t connect. I sing the praises of my iPhone every day. It allows me to participate in online yoga classes, chat with friends while I walk (carefully maintaining a six-foot distance from all whom I pass), and feverishly check the latest updates from Italy to get a glimpse of our potential three-weeks-out future.

All of which is fine. Helpful, even. But I’ve noticed that—even during those virtual yoga classes—my attention is fragmented. Although I’m in regular communication with friends, I’m not sustaining much of a connection with myself.

Time, then, to get off my blessed cell phone and return to the simple practice of writing—in ways that have nothing to do with craft or publication and everything to do with creating that much-needed inner connection.

Writing to discover and connect

Many writers say they write to understand themselves better, to connect more deeply with their own thoughts and feelings. For instance, historian Daniel J. Boorstin said, “I write to discover what I think.

Natalie Goldberg also talks about understanding herself through the practice of writing. In the introduction to her first book on writing process, WRITING DOWN THE BONES, she says she made a pact with herself, “… to write what I knew and to trust my own thoughts and feelings and to not look outside myself.”

Writing prompts for inner connection

Because I turn to Natalie’s books time and again to remind me how to reforge my inner connection, I want to share a few of her exercises here with you. Any one of them might help you find your way in—into memory, into stories you’ve carried for a very long time, into the idea of a home that lives inside you. May writing provide you some measure of comfort and steadiness in these uncertain times.

I REMEMBER: In this exercise, Natalie Goldberg suggests we simply start writing from the phrase “I remember,” allowing it to trigger memories of a years-past event or one from just moments ago. The trick, as with all of Goldberg’s exercises, is to keep your pen (or fingers) moving for a full ten minutes—rewriting the phrase “I remember” any time you get stuck and allowing it to send you off in whatever new direction occurs to you.

OBSESSIONS: Writers,” Natalie says, “end up writing about their obsessions. Things that haunt them; things they can’t forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be released.” Acknowledging the power our obsessions have—and the power we gain from accepting these aspects of ourselves—she invites us to list our current (or longest-lasting) obsessions. Name them. Bring them to light. Then, pick one and set out on the path it beckons you down. Tell all the truth you’re ready to tell—and not one word more.

WRITING ABOUT HOME: In this prompt from WILD MIND, Goldberg invites us to write about home—certainly an evocative topic and one that’s likely to bring us close to our own bone, which is exactly what we may be hungry for just now. Of course, we might want to write about our current home or one from childhood. But we could write about it “slant,” as Emily Dickinson would say. Or, as Natalie herself says, we could “Write about home and [don’t] write about any street, town, or city. Find another home.”

* * *

It’s funny, when I tried Natalie’s slant version, I easily found a home with no street address to write about. But, in sharing it here, I see I inadvertently dived into what she would call obsession—haunting stories I’ve carried—as well.

I want to write about the orange groves when I was a kid—all the young years I lived in Florida, but especially when I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, riding horses along dusty rows of cabbages, then slipping back into the shadowed orange groves, the aisles between the trees strung with citrus spider webs, the huge spinners swaying at the center of their webs, invisible to us, waiting for us to gallop through and forget to duck, and shriek and swat and swipe at our heads when their sticky webs got tangled in our long, teenage hair.

Looking back, all that memory is dim, less than a shadow, just a cataract over the present. But still, I wonder about those other kids. Ali and her brothers, Jake and Lyle—Jake, on whom I had such a crush.

And Pammy, round and always red-faced among all the narrow, jodphured adolescent girls; Pammy, who was too big for her small, light-boned Thoroughbred. Such a pretty little horse. And Pammy, so kind. She asked me once to hop on her small horse and take him over a jump he’d refused because she knew I’d be gentle with him.

(Oddly, although so much of my barn years is faded, disintegrating into dust even as I lift it to the sunshine of my attention, I can still hear Pammy’s nervous laugh. She, I imagine, became a lawyer, though I’m not sure why I think so. Still, I hope she’s happy.)

And the girl who took me home for sandwiches, and whose mom served us potato chips out of a brown Charles Chips drum. And the brother and sister who shared a horse—a big, bony chestnut. They were only a year or two older than me, but seemed so sophisticated. It was they who taught us, out behind the back barn, to hold our breath until we saw stars. That was their game. And smoking cigarettes.

And the steaming manure pile we feared would catch fire during the fierce white-heat of July. And the three-pronged metal hook that hung in the tack room, meant for cleaning straps—and the story: that one of its prongs tore through the white flesh of Jake’s upper arm, leaving a raw red scar. And the farrier—who noticed all the girls’ breasts and whistled softly at us while he trimmed our horses’ feet.

There was a bit of savagery at the barn. A bit of every kid for themselves—adolescent savagery and a hierarchy of adult alcoholics. And at the top of the heap was Mr. Reeves, with his huge gut and his rangy gray open jumper Storm Trooper, who left Mrs. Reeves and ran off with a stable hand and eventually broke his neck riding to the hounds in New Jersey.

A place like all the others in my world, where you had to look both ways before crossing—and it wasn’t the spiders that bit.

Writing coach

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

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Top Writing Coaching Tip #2: When You Wonder If Writing Your Memoir Is Worthwhile

DO YOU WANT TO WRITE A MEMOIR? If so, do you wonder if your story will have value for readers outside your immediate circle? Yes? Well, you’re not alone.

Often, I talk with folks whose experiences have been meaningful enough to them that they want to share what they’ve been through. They feel that, if published, their life story could benefit others—in part, by demonstrating to future readers that at least one person has survived the circumstances about which they want to write and also by offering others the wisdom they’ve gleaned in the process. These potential memoirists may have been subject to abuse or have hit a deep bottom after self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Perhaps they’ve had a serious illness or gone through the devastating loss of a child or spouse.

Whatever their story, having undergone a life-changing trial, they’re ready to share their experience of strength and hope. But faced with the long haul of writing a memoir, they may wonder: Will others really find what I have to say worth reading? (Then there’s the not-insignificant task of on-boarding excellent narrative writing skills!)

With all that in mind, I wrote a note—both in recognition of those who have shared their memoir-writing dreams with me and with the hope that, if I send it out on the ethers, it might reach the heart of someone hesitating at the brink of writing their story.

Dear Memoir-Writer-to-Be,

I understand you’re concerned that your story might not hold meaning for anyone else—that it might not be a valuable contribution to literature or society. But I want to assure you, if you can dig deep and excavate the shining core of your experience and convey it in a compelling way, readers will connect with what you have to say.

Of course, much skill and craft goes into writing a compelling memoir—but with patience and diligence, those can be learned. If you are really committed to the task, that commitment will be the reliable spark that will fuel the work of learning what you must to deliver the story you want to share.

Work hard. Find techniques that will make your story strong, that will convey the deepest meaning of it, that will showcase its worth, that will help you develop its shape and create of it a presence that will make its inherent value evident to your readers.

Tall order? Sure. But having lived through something so life-changing you believe you can impact others by sharing it, I bet you can tackle this, too.

Wishing you every inspiration and a basketful of determination,

Jamie

 

Memoir-writing inspiration

There are wonderful resources available to support you in writing your memoir. Among them, I recommend THE ART OF MEMOIR, by Mary Karr, and MEMOIR WRITING FOR DUMMIES, by Ryan G. Van Cleave.

If you’re looking for more suggestions, Meghan McCullough wrote an article for The Perch (the Penguin Random House blog), titled “The 9 Best Books on Writing Memoir.”

And for a shorter read, you might like my post, “Telling the Truth: A Memoir Writing Prompt.”

Writing coach

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

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