What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring?

Is a writing coach the same as a writing mentor? I used to think so. But then I started taking a coaching certification course and boy, did I learn how wrong I was!.

Check out my thoughts about what coaching is here. It really is part ONE of this post.

And now on to consulting and mentoring. Because neither of those is the same as coaching.

Consulting

               A consultant is an expert who knows how to solve your problem.

               If the problem is you need to make X dollars by Y date, you’ll hire someone who knows your business model and can give you a plan to meet that expectation.

               That looks a bit trickier when you’re talking about consulting with a published author about getting your book written. Or rewritten. Or published.

               Obviously, they know how to write a book. They’ve done it. The proof is in the final product.

               But their method for writing might not mesh with your writing process. I’ve talked to a hundred  writers about their process. Guess what I discovered? A hundred different ways to write a book. There is no single method that spans the continuum, although there are plenty of similar signposts.

My informal poll doesn’t leave me empty-handed. I can learn some broad categories for every writer. I might be able to generally classify them as plotters, pantsters or plan-sters, but that’s barely scratching the surface of what it takes to finish an 80,000-word novel (or 10,000-word short story or thirty-poem collection).

               Still, a writer might hire a consultant to check out story structure or character development. I would call this person a developmental editor, but I know some people say they are story doctors and they do the same work. I paid for a manuscript critique one time that gave me this information.

               Maybe you’d hire a writer to help you navigate the rewriting and revision process. You would discuss each scene and chapter and maybe they would read some of them and offer feedback.

In the end, it’s YOUR story. You have to make the final decisions about what to keep and what to cut. Only you know if the character journey resonates and whether or not the story meets your original vision for it.

A consultant gives lots of suggestions and input, but the client still has to do the work. In this relationship, the consultant is the expert who’s sharing their knowledge so the client can rise to a similar level. Eventually.

Mentoring

A mentor is someone who is exactly where you hope to be. It’s the Vice president of sales while you’re a sales manager longing to move up. Or in our case, a published author in the genre you’re seeking to be published in.

               It’s important to make this distinction because a published mystery author might be able to help an aspiring fantasy writer write a query and pitch at a conference, but they won’t be able to help them decide if their book meets reader expectations.

               And if you want to publish a successful book, reader expectations are the most important consideration. Not everyone cares if their book becomes a best-seller. They have a story and they want to get it down and out into the world. If only a few people read it and find it useful, helpful or entertaining, they consider that a success.

               Which means before you hire a mentor, you need to know:

  1. Have they made it where I want to go? Is their idea of success similar to mine?
  2. What do they write? Is it similar to what I want to write?
  3. Can I work with them? Does their teaching style connect with me?
  4. Are they going to be able to help me with big picture questions while allowing me to maintain a unique voice and style? Or will they be conforming me into their mold (and some people might want a mentor who does this)?

               A coach can help you find these answers. Some coaches – like me – might even offer mentoring services.

A mentor’s job is to walk beside you while giving input on the steps you’re taking. They’re guiding you to duplicate their journey. They are the Sherpa on the Mt. Everest of your writing dream. They know where there’s a crevasse that will end your expedition five hundred yards from base camp or a sheer wind to send you off a cliff only a dozen feet from the summit.

               A mentor will probably read a good portion of your manuscript. But rather than telling you what to change, they’ll ask for clarification and point out where they lost interest or got confused. They’ll get you thinking of ways to make your story stronger, your characters more relatable, and your manuscript ready for the next step.

               A mentor understands that even though you write in their genre, your style, voice, and purpose are unique. Your story needs to be told your way, not like they would tell it. There’s wisdom you can tap in a mentor but they won’t offer to edit or even truly critique your words.

* * * *

When I started freelancing a year ago, I knew I wanted to be a mentor, but two of the three coaches I spoke with about my business plan told me that most people wouldn’t understand the role of a mentor, so I should call myself a writing coach instead.

               I became a coach who sold mentorship packages that involved hour-long meetings and input on manuscript pages. I was an author who listened and asked questions and encouraged a writer to make goals and put plans in place to reach them.

The Sharon of Sharon Hughson Author Services is more than a coach but not quite a consultant.

               And when I formed my coaching group and provided weekly teaching about craft, marketing, and navigating the writing life, the members there expected that my coaching services would be more of the same. In effect, a mentorship.

               Which we discovered when a handful of them signed up to be practice clients for my coaching certification program. Boy, those were some hard conversations to have. But in the end, I was able to use my budding coaching skills to help them discover they did have the answers to many of the questions plaguing their writing journey.

* * * *

               I’m sure I still haven’t defined these roles as thoroughly as they deserve. You could do me a huge favor.

               If you’ve worked with a writing coach, drop a comment to tell me how they fit (or don’t) my above description. Same goes for if you hired a consultant to help you improve your story or a mentor to guide you through a project.

               The only way to find clarity about the difference between coaching and mentoring is to ask questions.

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.

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