PDA

View Full Version : Writing Coaches (beware?)


NoelleB
06-06-2009, 02:11 PM
So, a few months ago I was temporarily insane and hired a writing coach. Although this woman is truly very nice and has lots of credentials, I didn't get nearly as much feedback or direction from her as I'd hoped. In fact I thought she was too nice.

Leading me to believe that either she isn't good at critiques or else isn't good at writing, because a lot of parts in the manuscript I sent her were just incomplete and one chapter I stopped halfway through and put "More?" in bold. Yea...apparently she didn't catch that or thought it was part of the story.

Now I'm supposed to pay her $360 for what I think was a poor job, and I didn't get the results I wanted. That being said, can other people comment on professional editors or betas that they've hired who aren't newbies but are actually published or credentialled or otherwise legit?

P.S. On a related note I need a serious beta reader who is a good writer (as in, better than I am) and can offer two or three real suggestions on how to improve some of my chapters.

dpaterso
06-06-2009, 03:33 PM
$360?! Argh! Alas the horse has already bolted on this one, from the sounds of things, but at the very least I think I would have asked to see samples that prove the person's worth as a writer/teacher (testimonials from satisfied customers, titles of published novels... heck, for 360 bucks I'd expect her to throw in some nekkid pics, too).

Ditto to a lesser extent with a beta reader! I'd start off with a chapter or two and if things look good, build up from there. But each to their own approach.

-Derek

ideagirl
06-07-2009, 06:15 AM
I have a great writing coach. Found her in the classifieds of Poets & Writers. However, I also found a scam artist in those ads (I determined from his odd business practices that it was a scam before giving him money, fortunately). So writing coaches, like any other service on this earth, can be hit or miss.

In my case I didn't ask for references from the woman (who turned out to be great), because she has published books herself and we hit it off--a very important feature, I think, for a writing coach/editor: they need to GET you, and the two of you need to communicate well. I did ask for references from the man, and he declined to provide them--in fact, he "fired" me for daring to ask for them, because he felt his literary reputation should suffice--so that was that.

In short, you have to shop around. Don't pay until you think you've found a good one. As far as their "getting" what you write, it's a good idea to "test drive" them by having them read at least, say, a chapter and talk about it briefly with you, so you can see if the two of you are a good fit. If you're hiring a copyeditor just to correct your grammar or whatever, that's less important, but a writing coach is something more than a copyeditor.

Medievalist
06-07-2009, 06:39 AM
I would in general run like hell from a "writing coach"--that's the function of beta readers, writing groups/communities, editors and agents--none of whom benefit until YOU benefit via an advance.

colealpaugh
06-07-2009, 06:48 AM
I have a great writing coach. Found her in the classifieds of Poets & Writers.


Sounds like she's earned a free mention by name, eh?:)

Matera the Mad
06-07-2009, 07:28 AM
I think some of the best writing coaches work for karma points. Sometimes we give, sometimes we get, and it goes 'round and 'round.

Ah, well, be thankful that the insanity was temporary, and you are now in the AW Recovery Program. :)

ideagirl
06-08-2009, 02:58 AM
I would in general run like hell from a "writing coach"--that's the function of beta readers, writing groups/communities, editors and agents--none of whom benefit until YOU benefit via an advance.

That same reasoning could lead you to say, "I would run like hell from a 'psychotherapist'--listening to you and giving you advice is the function of friends." Most professional services you could name can also be done at least somewhat well by nonprofessionals, but that's not a good reason to operate by some blanket rule that you should always "run like hell" from the professionals.

I'm also not sure what editors are doing on that list. Editors don't even see your work until it's good enough to get you an agent who shops it around, and at that point the editor's function is solely to decide whether to buy it or not--as opposed to helping you improve your work.

ideagirl
06-08-2009, 02:59 AM
Sounds like she's earned a free mention by name, eh?:)

Jill Dearman.

scarletpeaches
06-08-2009, 03:00 AM
If nothing else, at least you're a member of the best site for meeting people who want to help you improve as a writer.

KTC
06-08-2009, 03:05 AM
I would in general run like hell from a "writing coach"--that's the function of beta readers, writing groups/communities, editors and agents--none of whom benefit until YOU benefit via an advance.

QFT. I'd run like hell. In the off chance you find a legitimate person...you still would be better off just learning for yourself. Don't pay to get what you can get from reliable people for free or for exchange. A lesson hard learned here.

inkkognito
06-08-2009, 03:47 AM
I'll toss out an opinion here as a professional counselor as well as a credentialed writer. I think a person needs more than just writing experience/credentials to be a coach. I am a cognitive therapist, which has given me the skills to "push" people when needed and to know how to do it most effectively. That is a whole skill set unto itself. I've kicked around the idea of becoming a writing coach but haven't ever done anything with it. But if I were actually looking for my own coach, I'd want them to have some solid cognitive coaching or therapy skills.

Medievalist
06-08-2009, 04:32 AM
I'm also not sure what editors are doing on that list. Editors don't even see your work until it's good enough to get you an agent who shops it around, and at that point the editor's function is solely to decide whether to buy it or not--as opposed to helping you improve your work.

Well, no, actually, editors do in fact see your work before an agent; it depends on the publisher and the editor, and well, yes, editors do suggest changes. The acquisitions editor who decides to "acquire" either alone or with a board, will suggest large structural changes; the copy editor will also do line edits and fact checking.

Writing coaches are not a standard feature on the professional writing landscape, frankly. I'd want a list of professional credentials, including experience in writing and publishing, and quite frankly, since publishing and writers have done quite well without them for hundreds of years I'm still a little skeptic. It strikes me as a vocation that almost invites abuse.

KTC
06-08-2009, 04:42 AM
Writing coaches are not a standard feature on the professional writing landscape, frankly. I'd want a list of professional credentials, including experience in writing and publishing, and quite frankly, since publishing and writers have done quite well without them for hundreds of years I'm still a little skeptic. It strikes me as a vocation that almost invites abuse.

Exactly exactly right. It does invite scammers. Give me your money...I'll coach your writing. Yep.

scarletpeaches
06-08-2009, 04:43 AM
I've often said, why pay for something you can get for free? :D

Now sure, you might think "Why would anyone beta your book for free? What are they getting out of it?"

Hopefully, because of places like AW, they're picking your brains in return. An 'interchange of encouragement' as the Bible puts it.

ideagirl
06-08-2009, 07:47 AM
I'll toss out an opinion here as a professional counselor as well as a credentialed writer. I think a person needs more than just writing experience/credentials to be a coach. I am a cognitive therapist, which has given me the skills to "push" people when needed and to know how to do it most effectively. That is a whole skill set unto itself. I've kicked around the idea of becoming a writing coach but haven't ever done anything with it. But if I were actually looking for my own coach, I'd want them to have some solid cognitive coaching or therapy skills.

Yes, exactly. A writing coach is not just an editor by another name. It can be like a very narrow, tailored, specific type of therapy.

ideagirl
06-08-2009, 07:58 AM
Well, no, actually, editors do in fact see your work before an agent; it depends on the publisher and the editor, and well, yes, editors do suggest changes. The acquisitions editor who decides to "acquire" either alone or with a board, will suggest large structural changes; the copy editor will also do line edits and fact checking.

They do suggest structural changes, etc., but that's AFTER they acquire it, or are interested enough to want to acquire it if certain changes can be made. With most publishers, that's AFTER you have an agent because it's the agent who gets it to the acquisitions editor. But this is a minor tangential point; an editor who works in a publishing house has a very different role than a writing coach, so I was just puzzled to see such editors mentioned in this thread.


Writing coaches are not a standard feature on the professional writing landscape, frankly. I'd want a list of professional credentials, including experience in writing and publishing, and quite frankly, since publishing and writers have done quite well without them for hundreds of years I'm still a little skeptic. It strikes me as a vocation that almost invites abuse.

Of course you'd want such credentials, and more. I said upthread that I myself encountered a scam artist--in his case he had credentials up the wazoo, but he wouldn't give me references, which was one of several red flags. And "writing coach" is just a new word for something that has existed for a long time, namely a specific type of mentor who combines literary skills of their own with the ability to challenge you not just to really push your writing skills, but also to find ways around your own less-than-helpful habits (a grab-bag term that includes procrastination, writer's block and what have you). A beta reader gives you feedback on a manuscript, but they don't help you whip yourself into shape on the back end, where the actual writing gets done.

If you can find a person who combines both skills and is willing to provide them to you for free, enjoy. If you can't find such a person, then the modern-day word for what you need is "writing coach." I got one when I found myself pining for the two years I spent doing an MFA and seriously considered getting ANOTHER MFA just to be able to immerse myself in a group of really talented writers who work to deadlines and push each other to grow. I was looking at MFA programs online, feeling like a lunatic because who has two MFA's in the same subject, when it occurred to me that I could get what I was looking for at vastly less expense by simply hiring a really good writing coach.

Stijn Hommes
06-08-2009, 01:44 PM
If you ever consider trying a writing coach again, I'd recommend you to make an agreement beforehand (in writing) in which you both agree to what the expectations are - what the coach is supposed to deliver and what you are supposed to do in return (besides the payment). That way, the wanted outcome is clear for everyone involved.

Cybernaught
06-08-2009, 08:49 PM
I would never pay $360 for a brutal critique. I get plenty for free right here and in my college workshops.

scarletpeaches
06-08-2009, 08:54 PM
I'll kick you in the teeth for free. :D

scarletpeaches
06-08-2009, 08:55 PM
A beta reader gives you feedback on a manuscript, but they don't help you whip yourself into shape on the back end, where the actual writing gets done.

Mine does and I don't have to pay her a penny.

aadams73
06-08-2009, 09:18 PM
I'm sorry, but a "writing coach" sounds pretty dodgy to me. Most of us learn to write by reading and writing as much as humanly possible. Then there are betas and whatnot after that. Maybe I'm way off base, but I'm thinking if you need to pay a person to coach you, then this might not be the industry for you. Motivation comes from within. Editing comes with practice. If you need someone to do those things for you, then...

Can anyone think of anyone successful who has employed a writing coach? I'm serious, because I've honestly never heard of such a thing as a writing coach.

(No offense intended to anyone out there who is a genuine "writing coach" and not a leech looking to make a few bucks off someone desperate to be published.)

Medievalist
06-08-2009, 09:25 PM
flags. And "writing coach" is just a new word for something that has existed for a long time, namely a specific type of mentor who combines literary skills of their own with the ability to challenge you not just to really push your writing skills, but also to find ways around your own less-than-helpful habits (a grab-bag term that includes procrastination, writer's block and what have you).

Personally I find the idea of not eating if I don't write works astonishingly well.

Ken
06-08-2009, 09:57 PM
... bottomline as always: whatever works. We're all individuals and have to map out courses that suit our own needs. If I was to follow Med's stragegm for instance I'd be sitting at my desk and thinking about pot pies and apple turnovers the whole while, instead of focusing on my stories ;-)

Eldritch
06-09-2009, 01:44 AM
This thread makes me SO thankful for my writers group. They've given me loads of encouragement and advice. They've also opened up a fair share of canned whup ass on me when needed. And all for free!

Noelle, get thee to a writers group ASAP.

Yeshanu
06-09-2009, 02:00 AM
I'll toss out an opinion here as a professional counselor as well as a credentialed writer. I think a person needs more than just writing experience/credentials to be a coach. I am a cognitive therapist, which has given me the skills to "push" people when needed and to know how to do it most effectively. That is a whole skill set unto itself. I've kicked around the idea of becoming a writing coach but haven't ever done anything with it. But if I were actually looking for my own coach, I'd want them to have some solid cognitive coaching or therapy skills.

This is an important point. It doesn't sound to me like the coach hired is a scam artist, exactly, but a coach has to tell you what to fix, and how to fix it, and do it in a way so that the writer can hear it. It's more about psychology than it is about writing, in a way.

It doesn't sound like this one has the guts and know-how to tell you what exactly is wrong with your work and how to fix it. Some coaches work on the premise that you've hired them only to say good things about your work, and for some writers, that's exactly what they want from a coach--encouragement. It sounds like you need something different.

That being said, I've never paid someone to beta read my stuff. I've put short stuff up in SYW here, and had longer stuff critiqued by friends I've found here, and it's helped a lot. But what's helped me the most is going through my own stuff and applying what I've learned here and in books to my work.

scarletpeaches
06-09-2009, 02:19 AM
Yeshanu! Where ya been, girl? :D

Medievalist
06-09-2009, 02:23 AM
... bottomline as always: whatever works. We're all individuals and have to map out courses that suit our own needs. If I was to follow Med's stragegm for instance I'd be sitting at my desk and thinking about pot pies and apple turnovers the whole while, instead of focusing on my stories ;-)

I admit to writing about food a lot . . .

Ken
06-09-2009, 02:29 AM
I admit to writing about food a lot . . .

... in that case, I would be very much intersted in reading your stuff :P

scarletpeaches
06-09-2009, 02:30 AM
Especially her essay on rhubarb crumble?

Ken
06-09-2009, 02:49 AM
... just googled an image of rhubarb crumble.
*salivates profusely*

Libbie
06-09-2009, 05:33 AM
Personally I find the idea of not eating if I don't write works astonishingly well.

My husband has adopted a policy of "I can't have any beer if I don't walk a few miles that day." He doesn't always stick to it, but it seems to be slimming him down some. :D

ideagirl
06-10-2009, 07:57 AM
I'm sorry, but a "writing coach" sounds pretty dodgy to me. Most of us learn to write by reading and writing as much as humanly possible. Then there are betas and whatnot after that. Maybe I'm way off base, but I'm thinking if you need to pay a person to coach you, then this might not be the industry for you

I'm curious why paying one person to provide this service is suspect, but paying to take a class that provides you the same service is not suspect?

Also, if you truly believe everything you said in that paragraph above, I'm not sure how you can be sincere in the parenthetical you ended with: "(No offense intended to anyone out there who is a genuine 'writing coach' and not a leech looking to make a few bucks off someone desperate to be published.)"


Can anyone think of anyone successful who has employed a writing coach? I'm serious, because I've honestly never heard of such a thing as a writing coach.

If by "successful" you mean "published in reputable places," I'll raise my hand: I've published four articles in nationwide magazines, one short story in a literary journal, two poems in literary journals, one poem in a nationwide newspaper, and two scholarly articles in academic journals. And I just finished what I think is the submission-worthy draft (i.e. a draft suitable for sending to agents) of my first novel. And I have an MFA from a program that consistently ranks in the top ten.

The point, for me, of a writing coach was basically just that my beta readers weren't giving me what I needed, and I didn't want to push them for more since after all they're doing it for free.

aadams73
06-10-2009, 05:23 PM
I'm curious why paying one person to provide this service is suspect, but paying to take a class that provides you the same service is not suspect?


Because it sounded like--from the various descriptions--that what this person does is hold your hand and motivate you. A class doesn't do that (not that I'm particularly fond of most classes either). And I'm fond of motivation coming from within, and improvement coming from that same place.


Also, if you truly believe everything you said in that paragraph above, I'm not sure how you can be sincere in the parenthetical you ended with: "(No offense intended to anyone out there who is a genuine 'writing coach' and not a leech looking to make a few bucks off someone desperate to be published.)"
I said that because I've been around the block or two and never heard of a writing coach as an actual job. I've also never seen a two-headed goat, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.


If by "successful" you mean "published in reputable places," I'll raise my hand: I've published four articles in nationwide magazines, one short story in a literary journal, two poems in literary journals, one poem in a nationwide newspaper, and two scholarly articles in academic journals. And I just finished what I think is the submission-worthy draft (i.e. a draft suitable for sending to agents) of my first novel. And I have an MFA from a program that consistently ranks in the top ten.
By "successful" I mean an actual name I can Google. Somebody near the top. Although, congratulations on your success so far. I wish you much more.

If I've pegged this whole thing incorrectly, I do apologize. I'm not trying to be an ass. I guess I'm trying to figure out if a legitimate writing coach is really a productive and beneficial thing to have. I'm wondering what they can honestly do for me that I can't do on my own.

inkkognito
06-11-2009, 02:55 AM
This thread makes me SO thankful for my writers group. They've given me loads of encouragement and advice. They've also opened up a fair share of canned whup ass on me when needed. And all for free!
Hang on, Eldritch. You mean you didn't get my bill yet?!

Eldritch
06-11-2009, 11:59 PM
Hang on, Eldritch. You mean you didn't get my bill yet?!

Oh crap.
(Does Dr. Barb offer Cast Member discounts?)

Susan B
06-12-2009, 02:50 AM
That same reasoning could lead you to say, "I would run like hell from a 'psychotherapist'--listening to you and giving you advice is the function of friends." Most professional services you could name can also be done at least somewhat well by nonprofessionals, but that's not a good reason to operate by some blanket rule that you should always "run like hell" from the professionals.

.

Well, as a psychotherapist (psychologist) who also worked with a writing coach :- ) I may be a little biased. I had a great experience with the woman I ended up working with, on and off, over about 5 years. I don't know that I would have ended up writing my first book, a music memoir (not to mention finding an agent and then a publisher) if I hadn't done this.

I agree that you need to check credentials, and find someone who can both write and teach. No question about her credentials. She's a graduate of the Iowa Writer's workshop, has published two nonfiction books, taught creative nonfiction in the UC-Berkeley extension, and is currently on the faculty in the MFA program at USF.

Consulting with her individually did evolve out of working with her in classes and then in workshops she led. Perhaps "coach" isn't the best word for it. (Although that's how she describes her role, when she works individually and privately with writers.) It's a combination of consultation, mentoring, beta-ing, editing. I think many writing teachers do this kind of work.

I think we all learn to write in different ways. Some people go to MFA programs, some don't. Some like to take classes, some like writing groups, some work completely alone. There is no one path.

With the book I'm writing now (fiction) my process is completely different. I read books about writing fiction, did NaNoWriMo, get feedback from my (leaderless) writing group. I have to say I like the feeling of autonomy. But my experience working with my writing coach was invaluable.

Team 2012
06-12-2009, 08:16 AM
That same reasoning could lead you to say, "I would run like hell from a 'psychotherapist'--listening to you and giving you advice is the function of friends."

And not a bad thing to say, actually. For some different reasons, and some similar ones, to the reasons to avoid writing coaches.

You don't hear people saying that about dentists or surgeons or attorneys (even) or fire fighters.

There's a reason for that.

Catadmin
06-12-2009, 10:29 PM
One of my fellow writers group people is both a teacher and a writing coach. She's also a published SF author (TOR has taken her on). At least one of her students has joined our local group and sings her praises as helping her learn a lot of technique.

So I can't agree with the "all writing coaches are crooks" theory because this one in particular is very honest, very good at what she does, and very willing to help other writers.

Storyfixer
06-13-2009, 04:21 AM
Sorry about your experience. As a writing coach myself, I do agree: beware. Check your coach out thoroughly. Most will give you references. Don't look at what they've written, talk to who they've coached. Different skill set. I hope you get satisfaction.

Larry (the Storyfixer, at storyfix.com