New writers often buy how-to-write books, take classes and join critique groups. But with the present day stampede to publish atmosphere, many also opt for hiring a personal writing coach.
Writing Tip for Today: Here are some important things to consider if you want to hire a good coach or mentor:
Writing Coaches Are NOT Equal.
New writers especially may be vulnerable to the claims of coaches or mentors. Many writers are sure that if they could only hire Bestselling Author, they’d be able to unlock their secrets and become bestsellers themselves. As with any field, the truth is that being gifted as a writer does not automatically translate into superior coaching abilities. Some well-known writers are good mentors and if you can access them, great. But at writing conferences every year, organizers use “Big Names” to get people to attend, but much of the real technique teaching comes from unknown but dedicated writers/editors/teachers. If the coach is unknown but has a great website or comes recommended by another writer you trust, it may be worth your time but watch out: Mentors aren’t licensed and what one writer says is great instruction may not help you at all. One of my own mentorees spent a year working with me, and then sought out an industry insider–an editor from New York City, who blasted her story with so much discouragement that she was unable to write for months afterward. My student thought that if she got a real editor and paid big bucks, she’d get closer to her publishing goal. It didn’t turn out that way. Ask for a free sample evaluation before you sign up.
What to Expect From a Mentor/Coach
So what should a good coach offer you as a writer? Maybe it’s easier to say what a coach shouldn’t be. A writing coach shouldn’t be expected to land you a big agent or have some other magic connection. Coaches can’t correct all your bad writing habits overnight. And they can’t always solve all the structural and mechanical flaws present in your work. What they can do is pinpoint problem areas and help you work on them, guide you in goal-setting that is realistic and positive and keep you going during times of discouragement and hard work where true progress often emerges. If a coach reads your work and makes recommendations, you do exactly what the coach says and then resubmit, there are no guarantees. Your coach should be a fan of your chosen genre and have similar literary taste. You should expect to advance your skills, not necessarily get a book deal.
Another aspect of this relationship is with money. You get what you pay for–most of the time. A good coach may charge up to $100.00 per hour or $10.00 per page to evaluate your work. But this coach should also give you specific suggestions for how to fix issues which have been pinpointed. By specific I mean asking you to flesh out scenes where there is too much narrative, how to pace your story appropriately or how to alter the story’s arc. Just telling you the arc is bad isn’t going to help most writers. A good coach will demonstrate and give real ways to correct mistakes.
Where the Real Magic Lies
I think the best coaches are the ones who can keep you working hard, who stretch your skills set and guide you to better writing all while keeping your passion alive. If you get a compliment from a famous writer but never any hints on how to advance your skills, it feels good but doesn’t help you with craft. If the coach says your work stinks, you may still not know how to fix it AND you feel like giving up. A disappointing assessment of your work can kill your desire to write, make you believe you’ll never improve and even paralyze your ability to put words to the page. We all get these downers now and then, but a good coach knows how much you as a writer can take at any one time. A good coach encourages without condescension, cheers you on without mutual admiration society tactics and most of all, gets you to write at Absolute Top Speed.