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Monday, August 12, 2013


THE FOLLOWING IS A GUEST POST by Rachel Sentes of gal-friday publicity. I've featured Rachel on Suzenyms before, and she always comes at the writing process from an interesting angle. This time, she talks about writing coaches, what they do, and whether a writer should use one. 

IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, the term 'coach' has been overused and has lost value, because anyone can declare they are one. There doesn’t seem to be any regulation or monitoring in the life, business, creativity, or writing coach arena. Sports coaches have to have some academic schooling and training on their resume, but it doesn’t seem like you need much of anything to declare yourself a writing coach.

The terms 'Writing Coach' and 'Life Coach for Writers' are often interchanged and I never understood who needed this kind of person. Shouldn’t a writer just sit down and write? Writing can be hard. What does a writer need a coach for? I wanted to know the answer to these questions after I received a manuscript that had been mapped out by a writing coach. The author was enthusiastic and fully committed to getting his book completed at breakneck speed. The outline of the book was succinct and well ordered, the timelines for completion seemed achievable, but the actual manuscript was a mess. I thought, "What's the point of having a great organizer help you, if the structure and content are unreadable? Why would a coach not mention that the writing isn’t yet publishable?"

After doing some research, I discovered (for the most part) that a writing coach doesn’t work with a writer to critique the content or edit work. She helps the writer with his process and makes him accountable so he achieves specific goals. If you're looking for someone to validate how great your story is, you won't get that. What you will get is a great resource who has expertise in helping you  reach goals and learn the value of your writing. A good coach can answer your questions about how to map and time manage your career. She will boost you when you're feeling discouraged. Coaches set achievable goals, hold you accountable for your work, push you through roadblocks, and counteract self-sabotage, with the end goal being your project's completion. 

Every writer is different, and every coach will have a different take on the work they want to do with you. Not everyone works well on his own. Some writers need someone to monitor them, to make sure they hit deadlines, and to push them when they aren’t self-starters. Many need that kind of interaction to keep them going. The people who hire writing coaches are often the same ones who join weekly writing groups to discuss their work.

If you decide to hire a writing coach, remember that you're about to work with someone in an area that is very personal to you (what writer hasn’t referred to their manuscript as their baby'?). Therefore, you need to make sure that you're going to get along with this person. Have a discussion with the coach to find out as much about them as possible. Ask to see their contract, fees, and get them to explain how they work. They won't do your writing for you; that's your job. If you don’t think you can take direction from them, this could be a problem.  

Once you think you’ve found a coach, look over their fees and consider their methods. Most should have a decent resume in the field. If they promise you instant success, move on; these coaches often have an ulterior motive for signing you up. Watch for 'up sales' right out of the gate. While it's common for writing coaches to offer other services, it shouldn’t be a requirement that you buy them. 

The writing coach industry is unregulated, and as such, so are the fees that are charged. Shop around for your best fit. I've seen fees ranging from $100.00/hour to $1,500.00 for three months. It’s rare to find a writing coach who is actually certified. Indeed, the only certification process I found was something called a Creativity Coach Course that takes twelve to eighteen months to complete for $2,900.00. What it provides, I’m still not certain, but I think it was a basic psychology course directed towards understanding writing roadblocks. Don’t bother to search for someone who says they are certified. This doesn’t denote how good of a coach they are.

My impression of this industry is that writing coaches can be of great benefit to writers who need direction with process, organization, and accountability, but you shouldn't look to them to turn you into a better writer. That may be a great side effect of working with them, but if you don’t have the basics of grammar or storytelling, a coach isn’t going to be able to help you as much as you might hope. Spend some time thinking about what you want to get out of the relationship, and what you want the coach's role to be. Do you want someone to call you and get your butt in gear to hit a deadline, someone who can assess your progress on a weekly basis? Start by asking these questions, and then ask a potential writing coach. 

I came across this great link that contains an interesting discussion about writing coaches and mentors on the Urban Muse. It answers a lot of questions: Ultimately, the purpose of working with anyone in the industry is to find the best way to reach your goals. A writing coach is one route to consider on your way to success. 

Rachel's Bio: Rachel Sentes is a professional writer and full-time publicist/CEO of gal-friday publicity, based in Vancouver, B.C. Her clients include actors, sports figures, publishers, authors, top tier businesses, and dog rescue associations. She specializes in building publicity platforms and garnering media bookings for authors, helping them negotiate their way through the ever-changing maze of the publishing world. Rachel has booked clients on CNN, CTV National, BNN, The Seattle Times, Global, Shaw, City TV, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, NewsTalk 1010, TSN, Bloomberg Radio and The Vancouver Sun, to name a few.

(Thanks, Rachel.) 

Next Post: The ABC's of How NOT to Write Speculative Fiction - 'A' is for Adjectives, Adverbs, and other Descriptive Additives - do we use them, or not?

Stay tuned.

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