What are the benefits of working with a coach?
I often get asked what a novel coach does. What do you do? Why do writers need a novel coach? The answers I give are varied as so much depends on the individual writer and what they want and need from me. But, very basically, a novel coach motivates a writer to reach The End of their novel (within an agreed upon time-frame or by a deadline) and then helps them get that manuscript submission ready (or ready for self-publishing). This means working with a writer on setting realistic deadlines and achievable goals and then encouraging them to meet and reach said deadlines and goals. It’s about motivating someone to finish a piece of work and giving them the confidence to do so.
Not everyone works the same way and some writers thrive on being accountable, wanting emails and messages from me to keep them firmly on track. (Where’s this week’s chapter? Please email it by 3pm.) Others need a gentler approach, with the focus more on writing daily, or problem solving when something hasn’t quite gone to plan.
With almost every writer I coach, I read their latest pages or chapters and provide feedback on what’s brilliant, what might need a tweak or what might need an entire rewrite. We then discuss this over Zoom – much more immediate and a great way to arrive at quick solutions – or via email.
Some writers, however, aren’t looking for chapter by chapter coaching but want an overview of their work in progress. Is my protagonist’s voice strong enough? Did you see my plot twist coming? I offer constructive, honest and useful feedback as well as problem solving. It’s amazing how often all that’s required to find a solution is a quick chat. Talking it over with an experienced writing coach – someone who is reading your work with fresh eyes and a unique skill set – always produces an answer. A writer friend of mine was stuck on a major plot point for a whole year. He couldn’t get his half-finished novel to make sense but didn’t want to change the set-up as he’d been thinking about this story for years and thought it was unique. (It is.) And so he put his work to one side. When eventually he showed it to me, the solution I came up with was simple: an early chapter had to be reworked, a couple of smaller plot points had to be reordered but that was it. It required a few hours’ of editing before he could continue. It was a very simple solution that he couldn’t see because he was too involved with the minutiae of the story, as every writer inevitably is.
I find that a lot with my own writing: talking about what I’m working on, gauging the response as I describe my characters and scenarios helps enormously. And if I have a question, it makes much more sense to ask someone who knows about writing and understands how novels come together. What if I did X instead of Y? Would it be better if Character A had never met Character B before this scene? Do I even need Character B? It saves so much time talking things through.
Being a novel coach is all about connecting with a writer. You’ve got to understand how they work and what motivates them. What does this piece of work actually mean to you? is a key question. Often I verge into life coach territory – writing is so personal whether it’s a warts-and-all autobiography or a fantastical novel set in outer space – as invariably, people tell me about their day, what has stopped them from writing this week, what has motivated them to write every day or why what they're writing has taken it out of them emotionally. I’m always mindful of how much effort, time and creativity it requires to finish a novel: It’s a huge achievement.
I love being a novel coach. It’s a privilege to meet people who let me into their stories and lives and who trust me to help them reach The End.
Sculpture by Daniel Arsham at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.