Words on a Page Writings about writing

How to work with a writing coach

A group of people working together

Working with a writing coach can be a great way to improve as a writer. A good coach can help pinpoint your weaknesses and improve them, and help draw out your strengths as a writer.

For the last couple of years or so, I’ve been coaching a few writers both informally and professionally. When a few of them approached me, they didn’t know how coaching worked or how to approach a coaching session. It took a little work, but we came up with a framework for working together.

Here are a few tips that can help you get the most out of a session with your writing coach, whether you have one now or plan to work with one in the near future.

Set the focus of your sessions

You need to approach your coach with a specific goal or specific set of goals. Before you have your first session, make a list of your goals and share them with your coach.

Saying I want to be a better writer isn’t enough. You need to focus on the areas in which you want to improve. Here are a few examples:

  • Work on your titles and introductions
  • Learn to write tightly
  • Write better conclusions
  • Learn to better structure you blog posts
  • Learn to speed write

Come prepared

Remember that coaching is an investment in time that two people are making. You’ll have anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes for a session. So, you’ll want to respect your coach’s time, and will want to pack as much as you can into each session.

Come prepared with questions, a problem you’re having with your writing, or a piece of writing you want your coach to help you with or to critique. This goes back to focus. By coming prepared, you can jump right in and get to work. Neither you nor your coach will fumble around trying to get your bearings. You’ll get the most out of each session that way.

Take notes

During a coaching session, you’ll have a lot of information and ideas thrown at you. Sitting there, trying to passively absorb that information and those ideas won’t work. You’ll miss or forget a key point.

Instead, have a notebook handy. I recommend a notebook rather than typing your notes into a tool like Evernote because I believe that writing something helps you better remember it. After the session, feel free to type up your notes (I do that all the time). Doing that will reinforce the information you’ve taken down.

Don’t try to note down everything. Zoom in on the key points. Highlight them in your notebook. If any questions pop into your head after the session, contact your coach or mentor. Or, wait until the next sesssion to ask them.

Ask questions

Remember what I wrote about your coach throwing a lot of knowledge at you? You might not get all of it, or you might not understand some of it. You might want more details.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask for more information. Ask for clarification. Ask how to apply the information and knowledge your coach is dropping.

And don’t worry about whether or not everyone knows this. Not everyone does. You don’t. And you’re the person who’s most important in this situation. Your coach won’t think you’re dumb or naive. S/he’ll understand that you don’t know what they know and will help you along.

Ask for homework

Theory’s great. But until you put that theory into practice, it’s not incredibly useful. The way to do that with writing is by writing.

A good writing coach will always assign you some homework. It could be something to read, something to write, or something to think about. Often a combination of all three. If your coach doesn’t do that, ask them for some homework.

Don’t just ask for homework, actually do it. Then, go over your homework at the beginning of your next coaching session.

Don’t be afraid to fire your coach

Sometimes, things just don’t work out. The coach you’re working with, while they may be a good writer, might not be a great fit for working with you. And that’s OK.

If you find that your coaching sessions are going nowhere, cut your ties with your coach. Coaching sessions are about you. The purpose of the coaching sessions is to help you become a better writer. If that’s not happening, then you need to change something.

Thoughts? Let's start a conversation on Twitter.