A writing coach should provide lots of insight, guidance, and answers on the aspiring author’s journey. At least, that’s what I thought when I picked up the mantle of coaching at the behest of a writer in a group I led.
And so I began, basing my services and package on selling my experience. I’d been a beginning writer and bumbled through months and years of solo effort, finally landing contracts with three different small presses in three different genres. I could help my clients shortcut past the dead ends and frustrations.
My heart is for writers. I’ve been where those beginners are, wondering if my writing is good enough and how to find out. Then came the endless rounds of self-edits and more questions about if it was ready to submit.
I believed a writing coach was the person who filled the gap between what a writer didn’t know and where they wanted to go. And I wasn’t wrong. Completely.
Fast forward a year. After being accepted to a coaching certification program, I realize that what I considered to be coaching wasn’t. In fact, there’s a fine line between coaching, consulting and mentoring, and I’d been zigzagging across it like a dizzy sailor.
Maybe you’re confused by what a writing coach does that’s different from a writing mentor or a story doctor, ie. provider of editorial assessments or manuscript critiques.
I played basketball as a teenager. I loved the feel of the grooves beneath my fingertips and the sound the ball made swooshing through the net.
When things weren’t so great at my house, I walked up the street to the grade school and spent hours shooting around or dribbling back and forth in the play shed that doubled as an outdoor basketball court. Those things I loved became part of my mental coping mechanism.
What’s that have to do with coaching? It lays the groundwork for the idea that a coach is helping you work with the skills and dreams you already have.
My basketball coaches didn’t shoot the ball for me. They didn’t really even teach me how to shoot, pass, and dribble. What they did was give me drills and plays and whistle me through conditioning and shooting practice.
In this case, it’s clear a coach is someone who helps a player strengthen existing skills and work as part of a team to win games. How does that translate when writing is the solo sport?
A coach is a guide. They aren’t going to write your book or even read your pages. They’re going to ask you to form goals. Then they’ll ask a ton of questions to help you narrow your focus to a single action step. One that will lead to you “winning” whatever is at the finish line you determine.
Maybe you’ve decided you want to self-publish your fantasy novel next year. They’ll ask what needs to happen so you can do that and list out the things you name. They’ll ask, “What’s the first step you need to take to reach your goal?”
“Write the book.”
“Let’s talk about that. Tell me about your writing process.”
And the questions continue until the writer determines to show up at the page on Thursday evenings from 7-9 PM and for four hours every Saturday.
Next, we’ll talk about obstacles that might keep the writer from showing up at the page. The coach will lead the writer to decide how to navigate through those roadblocks before they happen. In effect, the coach helps the writer pre-plan to combat things that could sideline the scheduled writing.
It’s still up to the writer to show up at the designated time and implement the plan for avoiding and surmounting the obstacles. All the coach has done is help the writer decide on a goal and devise a plan to reach it.
In coaching, the client is the expert. The coach is the person who helps them tap the deep well of their genius. A coach believes the client has the best answers to meet whatever challenge they face, and it’s the coach’s privilege to help them discover those answers, create a plan of attack, and follow that map to reach their dream.
Tune in next week when I define consulting and mentoring and talk specifics about what I do at Sharon Hughson Author Services.