As a coach, I’ve worked with clients sometimes for years on their novel and memoir. Most clients look forward to the day when all their hard work will pay off, the day their books find a publisher.
One such client, Tess Hardwick has seen her dream come true. I worked with Tess from June 2007 to September 2008, once a week on her novel Riversong. The novel is being published in April by Booktrope in Seattle, a new concept in publishing that uses print on demand, and makes some books available to read for free online.
After we’d finished coaching in 2008, Tess and I emailed sporadically for years. Then I saw on her blog that Riversong had found a publisher. I emailed her. “Congratulations, Tess. That’s so wonderful!”
She emailed back, “Even as I was working on Riversong this last time through to get it ready for the editor, I could still remember where you had highlighted in green. Isn’t that funny?”
When reviewing chapters, I use yellow highlights to indicate sections that need work, and green highlights to indicate areas that are brilliant. I learned through my own writing process that too much criticism can shut me down, so I make sure to give clients feedback on what really works. For Tess, the highlights were a green light that said, “Go Tess go! You are a writer. You can do it.”
When Tess first came to me in June 2007, she had a rough chapter written, and a passionate idea for a woman character.
“I had a strong character, but no plot,” she says. Her character was also her theme, which is about suffering difficulty, going home again, finding yourself, finding love, and fighting for who you are and what you want.
We began our work together by reviewing the chapter. I emailed her a characterization sheet to fill out. These sheets help writers explore everything about a character, from religious affiliation to boyfriends to hobbies to greatest flaw. From a deep understanding of character comes plot, as characters motivate what will happen in a novel and why.
Neither Tess nor I can remember the exact details of how the novel unfolded. I think I’m good at two things as a coach. One, I help people see their true creativity. I help them align with their organic writerly selves. It’s already in there, this genius, and I just hold up the mirror and say, “See!”
Secondly, I teach people craft.
“When I came to you I felt so lost,” Tess says. “I hated my job. I felt like my creativity was dying.” She had earlier won an award for a play that was performed. “You gave me my life back. Now, I know I am a storyteller. It’s deeply entrenched in my soul.”
I think Tess gave herself her life back by choosing to hire a coach, and by taking her writing seriously.
After the characterization sheet, we studied vivid description, plot, theme, and setting. And then we explored how to interweave these things into the action of the book. Tess works hard. I tell her this is one of her strongest attributes, how hard she’s willing to work.
“When you decide to hire a coach, it motivates you to get the work done. Literally on a physical level, kids, paying bills, cleaning, all these things can interrupt your process. When you pay someone for a service, it keeps you going. And having deadlines keeps you accountable.”
But as a coach, I can also state quite emphatically that the writers who are truly successful are the ones who own their own process, who go above and beyond coaching, and work their behinds off, who stick with it no matter what.
This is true of Tess. After we ended coaching, she wrote and rewrote the book. She sought advice. She went through the difficult process of sending the book out again and again and receiving rejections. She then put the book away, and started on her second novel. A friend got a job at Booktrope and asked for her to resurrect Riversong.
“I’m talking to this friend who is considering getting an MFA. I told her about coaching. The thing that’s really useful over getting an MFA is that its far less expensive, you get individual immediate feedback, and you get a book out of it in the end.”
But coaching isn’t just about writing. It’s also about lifestyle. You have to align your life with writing. You have to carve out a writerly life within your existing paradigm.
Tess was the first client who had small children. I learned a lot from her on how to coach mothers with kids.
I tell clients like Tess that they have to have their own computer to do their writing, no sharing with other family members. They need a desk and an area to decorate and shelves to put their books. They need to schedule in writing to whatever degree they can around the responsibilities of the children.
“I learned to say no a lot,” Tess said. “They expect you to be involved with the school, but I learned to say no.” I believe women like Tess set a profound example for their daughters by passionately taking care of their own creativity, and not just succumbing to society pressure to be full-time caregivers. And even coaching can become caregiving, as I’ve well learned. So, I state passionately to my clients that I am a writer first, and a coach second. Any writing coach who isn’t doing her own writing, won’t be the sort of authentic teacher who can help get your book finished, polished and published.
Riversong will be available in April, on Amazon and through other booksellers. Tess and I are both blogging about the coaching process. Go to www.TessHardwick.com to read her perspective of the coaching process.
I’m a writing coach. Contact me for a free initial consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.artofstorytellingonline.com.