sketch of blues band, the tap, haverhill, ma
A former writing student recently hired me to teach her how to be a writing coach. So much came up around how to do coaching well that I thought I’d blog about it.
First, the process of coaching has its own internal integrity, an organic integrity. What this means is that to be a writing coach you must be a writer. Trying to be a coach without being a writer is like trying to be a doctor without any training in medicine. You have a passion for the work so you will be able to help people a bit, but when the going gets tough, you’ll be stumped. You will not have learned through sheer hard work what writer’s block means and how to fix it. You’ll know characterization, setting, plot and theme by reading about them in “how-to-write” books, but you won’t know these fundamental and deeply important truths about writing in the depths of your belly.
So, how could anyone be a coach for writers? There’s just way too much to learn. At one point are you “good enough” to be a coach? I think that if you’re taking your writing seriously, and you feel the call to work with other writers, you’ll find clients who are a few years behind you. Every writer is at a different stage of writing, and if you’re five years into the process, there will be clients who are completely new to it who will need the knowledge and experience you have. So, let’s say, in five years, you’ve taken classes and workshops, you’ve taught your own classes on writing, and you’ve done your own writing. So, as a coach, you’ll have a breadth of knowledge to share. I believe teaching classes comes before coaching, because there’s a lot to be learned in a classroom on how to deal with writers. They are very very sensitive and how to approach giving them feedback is crucial! But it is a generalization to say coaching clients will always be behind you in experience because sometimes the clients are your peers, but are working full time or have small children and simply need someone to keep them accountable.
Remember as a coach, you are always learning. Always. You’re reading and studying your area of expertise. You’re reading a lot of classic and contemporary fiction (or, when you’re eyes are too tired to do so, you’re listening to books on tape while you clean the house, drive etc). You’re studying current publishing trends. You are a student, too. And remembering that should keep you humble.
There’s so much more to discuss about coaching, but I’ll add just one final note here. Every coach offers a unique approach. Finding your approach is key. Setting your intent with coaching is of utmost importance. Each coach will have a different intent. One intent might be to work with the dying. Another to work with the elderly. Another to assist businesspeople in telling their stories. Another coach may be more into the spiritual healing qualities of writing. Another may be called to help people write plays because she loves the dynamism of the theatre.
I love stories, voices of all kinds, and I love fiction and memoir. I was also an international journalist, so I know what it means to get published. So, I tend to attract people with quirky voices who want to write and publish with major publishers. I feel little to no competition with other coaches. I figure we’ll attract the clients who need what we offer, and that’s exactly as it should be.