INSIDE THE ART, CRAFT AND BUSINESS OF WRITING for Film, TV, Books, Stage, Print or Digital Media (with Particular Attention to Comedy)
Asking for help with your writing is NOT ADMITTING FAILURE, it’s part of doing everything you can to succeed, a way of getting perspective on yourself and your work so you can see more clearly.
Every single writer I know (and I know a lot of them) gets advice, notes, feedback and perspective from someone – usually from several people – on every draft, or in mid-draft if they hit a snag, lose momentum, lose heart or lose perspective. It’s a natural part of the process because you inevitably get lost in the trees in the course of any long-form writing project and need an outside eye to help you see the forest.
Of course you don’t want to pay for someone else’s perspective or advice, you want it for free! And you’ve probably gotten a lot of free advice already, but if you’re reading this, you’re at least considering hiring a professional.
And that is tricky because a writing coach is some combination of producer, editor, therapist, cheerleader, strategist, market watcher and psychic advisor each with their own style and bag of tricks.
Let’s start with how you know when you really need a writing coach or consultant?
1) When your friends or spouse have already read your work and given you as much input as they can. And/or…
2) When your friends all have different and/or conflicting advice about your writing. And/or…
3) When your material is too personal or raw to show people who already know you. And/or…
4) When you feel like you need a professional perspective to help raise your work to a professional level. And/or…
5) You aren’t getting the in-depth detailed advice or notes you need from a class (or friends/spouse). And/or…
6) Your new rewrite is making your material worse than the previous draft. And/or…
7) You’ve lost perspective (or heart or momentum) and have more questions than answers about your work.
Some coaches can also help, or say they can help, find you an agent and/or publisher. That’s great too, but for now let’s focus on getting the thing written.
An online search reveals literally hundreds of thousands of listings for ‘writing coach’, but I couldn’t find anything that described various coaches specialties, compared their style or approaches or compiled recommendations. So here is some advice on how to pick the best writing coach for your needs, followed by some specific coaches:
RATES – Almost all coaches charge by the hour and rates can range from $30 – $300/hr. Cheaper doesn’t mean better, but neither does more expensive necessarily mean better. It’s hard to know how much information a coach can pack into an hour until you get into it, so I recommend starting with 1-2 hours to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
PROCESS – Most coaches now work via email and online. Facetime is a bonus, but don’t expect it, so if you work with a coach, you can probably expect to pay hundreds of dollars to someone you’ll never meet in person. Of course, the right coach can save you from wasting time on misguided drafts now and money on editors later. (Yes, sometimes you have to hire your own editor now. And of course a publicist.
FREE SAMPLES – Some coaches offer free blog articles or pdf downloads. Read their material. It will give you a taste of the kind of information they offer, their personality and style.
Most coaches also offer a free initial consultation and you should take full advantage of it. Prep for the call by checking out other coaches, comparing rates, asking for recommendations (or warnings) on Facebook and studying the coaches websites and bios.
And here is the most important and difficult part: you should try to articulate your needs. If you know them. All you might know is that you need help!
YOUR NEEDS – Some writers want no-nonsense concrete advice, others want a more open-ended creative exploration. Some writers need pep talks and cheerleading while others just need a hard deadline. Some writers want an objective outsider to question even the basic premises of a project if necessary, and others just want to know the shortest route to finish the damn thing and get it off their desk.
Most coaches can adapt somewhat to your particular needs – if you know and can state them. Otherwise, the coach has to figure out what you need – and then try to give it to you – with the meter running.
A good writing coach can do a lot more than help edit your words and focus your thinking. They can help motivate you to generate more raw material and provide strategic advice about what to write (or how to re-write) based on a knowledge of the ever-changing market.
PLANNING – You should be able to tell from a 20-30 min. phone call if a coach is giving you the kind of advice that will help take your project to the next level. Like doctors or therapists, not every coach will be equally productive for every writer at every stage of every project. It’s an art, not a science. Chemistry and shared sensibilities are important. It’s also important to discuss a game plan for how you’ll work together (if you go forward with them).
The main question to answer in your initial consult (and all throughout the process): is this coach a good fit for you and this project right now?
FIDELITY – One coach may give you the inspiration you need to get started on a project, but run out of advice when you bog down in the 2nd act – or the 2nd draft. Just because you start working with someone, it doesn’t mean you have to stick with them exclusively for the rest of your project (or your life). In fact, a great coach may recommend other coaches or consultants whose specialties could help make the project as good as it can be.
The bottom line is this: does your coach help you enjoy the writing process more, increase your productivity and, most important, is working with them making your writing better?
RECOMMENDED WRITING COACHES – Here are several coaches (in alphabetical order) that I know personally and/or have been recommended by writers and/or other coaches. I hope one (or more) of them can help you be the best writer you can be.
ANN RANDOLPH is a writer-performer of her own acclaimed solo theater shows. She specializes in personal creative writing for solo shows.
GEMINI ADAMS is the author of two non-fiction books and created her own imprint. She specializes in completion and finishing projects.
JEN SINCERO is the author of an autobiographical novel and non-fiction book. She specializes in nonfiction book proposals fast, and I mean fast. She offers an online course that promises to help you complete a non-fiction book proposal in a week! Her style is no-nonsense and rock & roll.
JENNIE NASH is the author of three memoirs and three novels. She specializes in clarity and work habits and describes her style as “demanding, yet compassionate”.
KARIN GUTMAN is a writer and co-executive producer of the well-respected LA storytelling venue Spark Off Rose. She specializes in deeply personal material and stories, especially personal essays. She describes her coaching as “Honest, thorough, gentle and collaborative.”
LISA CRON is a story analyst, editor, literary agent and writing instructor. She specializes in story and fiction and is caring, supportive and passionate.
LISA TENER is an author of non-fiction books and serves on the faculty of the Harvard Medical School continuing education course on writing and publishing. She specializes in fast first-drafts of non-fiction and book proposals and offers a structured program to write your book in 60 days. She describes her coaching style as intuitive, alchemical – with a business and marketing background.
TERRIE SILVERMAN is a solo performer, poet and playwright. She specializes in experimental writing for performance and describes her style as “fun, energizing and liberating”.
And finally (for now)…
GREG MILLER is a producer, writing teacher and screenwriter (full disclosure, it’s me!). I specialize in scripts, memoir and comedy. You’ve probably picked up from this blog that my style is practical, opinionated, supportive and individually-oriented. I don’t have a cookie-cutter approach, but I do like cookies!
If you have other coaches to recommend, please feel free to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 323-717-4731 with info or questions.
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Good post, thanks for the honest low down on writing coaches – I think it’s a broad area of coaching, as you say, cheerleader, part editor, help with getting to the end of a story, or helping a writer to see the trees for the wood once again. Thanks again, Sean
This is a very helpful post. Thank you Greg!
Reblogged this on Saul's Fiction and commented:
loved the advice.
truly helpful and thanks for the advice