09 August 2013

What is writing coaching?

Several things happened a month ago (or is it two? darn you, Time, for marching on!) that caused me to consider adding writing coaching to my list of services. "But what is writing coaching?" I thought. "And how is it different from developmental editing?" Much to my surprise, I found I had an answer. Even more surprising: I realized I was already doing it! I've been coaching friends and family (and even editing clients a little bit) for years. I coached my students when I taught writing. I love coaching. I love feeling like I've contributed something positive to people's lives--have helped them gain clarity, overcome their sense of overwhelm, or learn a new writing skill.

But back to the question at hand: What is writing coaching?

Whereas developmental editing is focused on a piece of writing--on bringing that piece of writing to the next level--writing coaching is concerned with the writer's development. It's a bit like an independent study: the writer sets the goals, and the writer and the coach work together to determine how those goals will be met. There may be "assignments," but it's up to the writer to determine whether those assignments are worth trying. The role of the coach is to listen and reflect; to offer suggestions based on her or his experience and expertise; and to help the writer break down larger aspirations into smaller, achievable tasks that do not overwhelm. In a (perhaps oversimplified) nutshell: writing coaching is about helping people identify and remove the barriers to their creative expression.

To give you a more concrete sense of what coaching can look like, here are three examples. My clients' names have been changed to protect their privacy, but the stories are real. 

Case 1
Jake and I started out with developmental editing of his non-fiction book-in-progress. But after a few weeks, we ran out of material to work with, and it became evident that he needed some coaching to keep him producing writing. When we discussed what Jake was up to, I learned that he was doing a lot of reading and processing. So I suggested an assignment that would not only help him process but also make progress toward his book. He accepted and completed the assignment, and I gave him feedback on it that was both appreciative and constructive. I asked questions that led him to other assignments. And on we went from there.

Now, at the end of each of our sessions, I ask Jake, "What's your writing goal this week?" and he sets one that he deems achievable, given what he has going on in his life. And while life events sometimes prevent him from following through, just having someone interested in his work and asking to see it has kept energized, excited, and motivated to write.

Case 2
My friend and client Nadia invited me to her home for the first time last month. As is customary, she took me on a tour of the house. Most of the rooms we passed through fairly quickly, but when we came to a tall, glass-fronted display case containing souvenirs her parents had collected from their years living in Asian countries, we lingered. She opened the case, took some of the objects out, told me about them. Then she talked about not knowing what to do with these things. She's had some of them appraised--the most valuable item is a sculpture valued at about $1500--but no item is worth enough to tempt her to sell it. She holds onto these things because she feels she should, but she doesn't know what will happen to them after she dies. She has no one to pass them on to.

A little while later during my visit, Nadia mentioned she's been frustrated with the fact that she and her husband share a computer. She wishes she had a computer of her own, but they can't afford a second one. One of the main reasons she wants her own computer is for making digital stories, which brought the conversation around to her sense of overwhelm regarding her digital storytelling class. The class was meeting that weekend and she was supposed to create a digital story, but she didn't have any ideas. I pointed out that she'd already told me a story that day. Why didn't she take photos of the things in her display case and write a script about them? She could explore her relationship to the objects and why the sculpture, which she rarely looks at, is more valuable to her than having her own computer, which she would use every day. She could make it a story about her family's things, but also a story about the sense of attachment that people have to their things. Our conversation gave Nadia a starting place, and I was happy to be able to help her feel less anxious and overwhelmed.

Case 3
Tamara is a new author with one self-published title under her belt and a second in process. Problem is, she's gotten stuck. So we started talking about writing coaching. During our conversation, she happened to mention that one of the things she struggled with in her first book--and which she finds herself struggling with again in her current WIP--is how to write from her male characters' perspective.

Part of our first session, therefore, will involve a discussion about what Tamara doesn't like about the writing she's producing now that's told from the male perspective, and then we'll brainstorm strategies for how to work on this. I'll start by asking her what her own ideas are and then add a few ideas of my own (assuming she hasn't already mentioned them), and then I'll ask her to set one small, achievable goal for the week to help her make progress toward that bigger goal of learning how to write from a male character's perspective.

Those are just three example of what could happen within a coaching relationship, but hopefully they give you some idea. If you're interested in learning more about my coaching services and rates, please check out my Writing Coaching page.

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