The Unkind Editor - On Working with a Writing Coach
A question I am asked often is, How long have you been writing? The honest answer: For about two years, since all of a sudden this random story idea popped into my head and wouldn’t leave me alone. I picked up a pen and wrote the first scene of Only Child in one sitting, scribbling furiously in one of my kids’ school notebooks because it was the only paper around. It sounds cliché when I say, the story just poured out of me and it was all I could do to try and keep up. It was exhilarating and consuming—a creative outlet this full-time stay-at-home mom desperately needed, but never considered. But cliché or not, that’s how it was…until it wasn’t.
Because then self-doubt crept in and took over and paralyzed me. Was I wasting my time? I knew nothing about writing, how could I expect to just sit down and write an entire novel? I realized I needed a sounding board, a support system, to help me figure out if and how to carry on. As I considered my options (Should I participate in a creative writing class, where I would be one of many and share my work in a group setting? Or find a writer’s group; a smaller, more self-driven crowd, but, still a crowd? Neither of those options appealed to this “hermit crab” new writer,) luck would have it that I happened upon a Facebook thread of writers recommending writing coaches. And from those recommendations, I picked one immediately.
Her name is Allison, she lives in Dubai (!) and she calls herself the “Unkind Editor.” She seemed to be exactly the kind of person who would give it to me straight. No sugarcoating. I sent off a reading sample and asked, Should I keep going or should I file this under “nice effort, but don’t quit your day job”? Allison wrote back right away: Keep going. And with that I had found my support system in the form of the kindest unkind editor imaginable. She would help guide me through the entire process of writing my book, from piecing together a first draft all the way to querying agents and learning about the publishing process.
People sometimes seem taken aback when I tell them I’ve been working with a coach. The looks on their faces seem to say, “Oh, you needed to work with a coach? She helped you write the book?” If you think a writing coach will do the work for you—think again. But what he or she will do is help you figure out a way for you to get your work done, to reach your goals. I learned quickly that signing on with a coach is a big commitment. It adds an extra layer of accountability. I think that every writer faces different challenges. Some have trouble staying focused or disciplined. Many might need to move past other obstacles that are getting in the way of their success. Good coaches can help you identify your roadblocks and help you tackle them. They will teach you strategies to coach yourself through difficult times. They will create action steps towards specific goals, offer a fresh perspective, and help you get “unstuck.” Because you will be stuck, many times.
For me, being disciplined about my writing was never the issue. I instantly fell in love with writing and wanted to do it all the time. One of my challenges was making writing a priority in my life. Allison helped me develop a game plan to do that. “Write down a list of five things the kids can start doing on their own to free up more time for you to write,” she would say. “Think about how you can rearrange your schedule to make time for writing. Your writing is worth it, you’re entitled to this time.” The other challenge I faced was my continued self-doubt. Allison cheered me on and she helped me find confidence in myself and in my ability to accomplish what I had set out to do—tell this story that had me in its grip and that meant to much to me. I looked forward to seeing my unkind editor’s smiling face on Skype, all the way from Dubai. And you can bet I had done my homework done before signing on.