Writing Coach

The purpose of a coach is to help you train. But you can train on your own as well. So under what circumstances should you find yourself a coach?

Consider an analogy. I play the piano every day, mostly for fun. I enjoy it, and I get better. There was a time when I took piano lessons once a week, however, and I'm considering going back to it because I'd like to learn how to a play Bach better and how to play jazz. A weekly session with a teacher would help me make progress. But I would need to find the time, both to get to the session every week and to practice in a more disciplined way. There's no point in engaging a teacher if I'm not going to practice. Of course: there is a good chance that if I do engage a teacher I will practice more, simply to impress her. Commonsense stuff.

Writers can also benefit from the guidance and encouragement of a coach. But it's not for everyone, and today is not always the right time. When people contact me because they would like some coaching, therefore, I always begin by giving them some free advice.

First I have them describe their current writing practices and the projects they are working on. Take a couple of weeks, I then tell them, and find one to three hours every day in which to work on one of those projects. Find 9 hours altogether and book them into your calendar at least 30 minutes and at most 3 hours every weekday, scheduled as 30-minute sessions in which to write a single, well-defined prose paragraph.

Spend about 20 minutes writing it, one minute reading it out loud, and another five or six minutes editing it for clarity. Take a three minute break, then move on to the next paragraph or get on with your day. After 9 hours of work over between 3 and 18 days, you've written 18 paragraphs, or about half a paper's worth of prose. (It's relatively easy to decide what 18 paragraphs of a current project will have to say in advance. Just think of your paper according my standard outline.)

The purpose of this exercise is to gauge your strength and ability as a writer. If you send me the results of these 9 hours of work, I know what your prose is capable of "on command", as it were. You will have spent a definite amount of hours writing about something you know (which means something you're supposed to be able to write about.) You will have given each paragraph a reasonable amount of time. The paragraphs will not be perfect, but I will know what constraints they were written under.

Most importantly, if you can't write this way for nine hours in a two or three week period, or if you think that's a stupid idea, well, you don't want me as a coach. It's the basic form of the discipline I train.