Why You Might Want a Writing Coach, Instead of an Editor

When I speak to groups about writing and editing, people sometimes ask about what an editor can do for them. If you are closing in on a finished manuscript (fiction or non-fiction) or proposal (for a non-fiction book) you may want to look for a line editor–someone who can sort our tangles of sentences; re-order your paragraphs; suggest cuts or alternative wordings; and generally polish your work. And/or, if you have a more polished version of a manuscript almost ready for typesetting, you may want to find a copy editor (and if you are being traditionally published, your publisher will find one) who corrects grammar and punctuation; makes sure that there are eight steps when you say there are or that all your characters have retained their final version names and biographical details in a novel–details like that.

But, if you’re not at that stage, if you’re stuck in the middle or at the beginning of a new project, or don’t know if you’re writing a memoir or a novel, or need some motivation and direction, you might benefit from a writing coach. Like life coaches, writing coaches do a lot of different things, but what they mostly do is encourage you, find ways to allow you to be  your better self and write a better book.

In my consulting with writers, one of the things I do is to ask a lot of questions. I read the first 25-50 pages of a novel, maybe an outline if the person has one, or a chapter or two of a non-fiction book. In my first meeting, I’m generally trying to help writers clarify the scope of their project. We talk about structure, how to tell the story, what to leave in and often what to exclude. We agree to next steps–goals if you will, or assignments.  When we meet again, and these meetings can be in person or by phone, we review progress, set more goals. I continue to read and comment on the manuscript in progress. I make suggestions about possible avenues for publishing. And I continue to ask the questions and suggest the goals and deadlines that will get the book done. I’m on the virtual sidelines cheering, cajoling, coaxing you to get that book done.























Researching Your Memoir

Say what? Yes. Research your own story. Everybody has a story. And everybody’s story fits into some larger picture–family, community, corporation, school, world. How does yours fit in where?

Here’s an eclectic, but much thought about, list of things you might want to research as you figure out how to frame and position your story. I’ve also found that research can be a good cure for writer’s block or bump in the road.

  • Top 40 songs the month your memoir starts.
  • Headlines from your local newspaper or Time magazine for the period you’re writing about. What was going on in the world?
  • Everyday things–grocery prices, inflation rates, gas prices, college tuition.
  • The town(s) your ancestors/relatives emigrated from.
  • Who you were named after.
  • What your grandmother or grandfather did for a living. (I, for instance, come from several generations of crafts people and entrepreneurs. It turns out that not everything they did was entirely legal. Interesting for memoir or fiction. And good luck getting to the not entirely legal parts. It’s all whispers and innuendo.)
  • Family secrets.

You get the idea. Here’s a few things you might do with that research.

Hypothetical: you’re writing about the time you made early career and relationship decisions, right after college. You graduated from college in say 1970. You probably remember how much you made at your first job and how much you paid in rent. But do you remember how much a gallon of gas was? Or a pound of hamburger or brown rice? What was happening in the world the month you graduated? (I happen to have graduated in 1970 and many campuses around the country were shut down. But I don’t remember the exact sequence of events, and if I were to be writing about my personal history I’d want the details of Kent State and campus protests to be woven accurately into that story.)

Hypothetical: you’re writing about an event in your life that could be affected by your family history–perhaps how old your grandmother was when your mother was born. And the family Bible, your Aunt Edith, and your childhood memory of grandma’s stories are all slightly different. To my way of thinking, there’s a couple of ways of researching this part of the story and deciding what to do with it once researched. You could dig to the bottom per official records and go with that story. Except people often lied about their birth date or their children’s for a variety of reasons. You could gather all the information, pick one version, and write that into your memoir. And you could tell the story of your research and the conflicting stories that you remembered and found. A, B, C or all of the above!

What story about your life do you want to tell? And what’s the surrounding story? Research can help you find a way into your story. Research can help you find bits of your story that you don’t know you know. Research can be fun!

Write on!

How to Write about Sex–Let Me Count the Ways

Okay, I’m not actually going to write about how to write about sex here. I’m not even sure I can put the word “sex” in a blog headline. If the blog police don’t blow the whistle my Catholic upbringing might. But, as Noy Holland points out, there are a lot of ways from the explicit to the barest innuendo, the down and dirty to the sublime, to write about sex.   See the article here.

I’ve read many, but not all, of the stories and novels Holland mentions in the article. And I recommend them to you. It’s been said many times and many ways: if you want to write fiction, if you want to write a particular kind of fiction, reading fiction–studying it–is one of the best things you can do. Besides writing. Dive in and try it!


YA Books That Strike a Chord

It’s a good thing I clean out my email inbox every once in a while. I see the most amazing things there. I found an article about a Women’s Media Group meeting last month where editors and agents gathered with interested others to talk about YA novels (mostly) and what’s hot and what’s not. And what’s interesting to them right now and why. See the article here. If you write (or read) YA fiction, I think you might like this article.

A Treasure from the Top 100 Websites for Writers

One of my favorites is The Book Designer, started by Joel Friedlander, a San Francisco Bay area publishing fixture. This site, with its newsletter and monthly magazine “Carnival of Indies” really does have something for everyone. Independent (self) publishing has come a long way in the last decade. The Book Designer has kept up with the times. You’ll find articles for newbies, writing tips, and in-depth how-tos for typesetting and cover making and e-book conversion. Check it out here.

If ever I was stumped or had a specific question, especially about book production or design, about new software resources, I’d start here.

Writing the Memoir: Disclaimers

I just stumbled across this valuable and interesting piece. If you’re writing creative non-fiction you’re going to want to read it more than once.

Cate Macabe

thinker2Though a disclaimer is no guarantee against a lawsuit, most authors and publishers of fiction and nonfiction use them in an attempt to cover all bases, to have some claim to a defense just in case they are sued.

Penguin Books uses its own particular disclaimer: “Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers; however, the story, the experiences, and the words are the author’s alone.”

Writers of fiction have it easy. We’ve all read the disclaimer on a novel with some form of, “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.” But a disclaimer for a memoir is a different beast. Readers of memoir don’t…

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Beating the Bushes for Readers

I came across this post quite a while ago. It’s on Jane Friedman’s site, and it’s a guest post by Angela Ackerman. It’s one of the best marketing essays–or lesson, or maybe blueprint–I’ve seen in a good long time. Read the post here. 

In fact there’s so much good information here and on Jane Friedman’s site and on Angela Ackerman’s  One Stop for Writers and her main website that I can’t say a lot more. Except check them out. Put them in your quiver for when you have specific questions or need inspiration. You could do worse!

One Journey to a Writer’s Life, and Teachers Along the Way

I’d never heard of George Saunders until he published Tenth of December a few years back. I daresay many people hadn’t, even though it was by no means his first book, nor even his first prizewinning book. Saunders has been a writer for a long time. He is not one of those “overnight sensations,” who are most often no such thing. What he is is a writer who’s stuck to it and who had some good teachers. In a recent piece in the New Yorker he wrote about those teachers. You can read the article here.

Hope you like it!

What’s a book? Who’s an author? What’s a publisher? A Rant-let!

Years ago, an old friend/colleague, a sales and marketing director in various well-respected, even high-toned literary, houses, once told me this is what publishing is about: what do you buy and what do you sell. In those days, as an editor, I was buying projects that interested me, that I thought fit in with our publishing program, and that had merit–were well-written, presented new ideas, etc. And none of that mattered to my colleague if he couldn’t sell the idea of the book, the author, the book. (And in those days there wasn’t as much direct selling to the reader as there is now. So we were selling to people who were going to sell the book. And of course that still goes on too.)

A few weeks ago I read this article posing the question: is Twitter a book publishing company? Now if I had a dollar for every publishing is dying/changing/being disrupted article I’ve read in the last forty years I could go on a very nice vacation.  (And yes, these articles have been going on for forty years. Those of you who are old enough may remember publishing jobs that no longer exist–typesetters, keyliners, typists.) So why do I keep reading these articles?

Because we are in a sea change. (Not the only one in history, maybe not even the biggest one–printing presses people!) A more recent sales colleague said, somewhat bitterly, he thought there may be more people writing books than reading them. I’m pretty sure that’s not literally true. But a lot of us have a story to tell, information to share. And everyday it seems there are more mystifying, sometimes scary, sometimes exciting, ways to get the word out.

I don’t think the name of the game is keeping up with technology. I don’t think anybody can. In the past week I’ve heard of at least seven new (to me) on-line marketing sites, at least three new independent/self-publishing companies. I’m happy to know about these things exist. I’m excited that there is a revolution in communicating, telling stories, writing the news, writing to celebrate nature, kids, animals. All of that and more. It’s a great time to be alive. But it is not a great time to think any one of us knows it all–the present or the future.

So I’m not going to tell you what a book is. Who an author is. What a publisher does. But if you want to write, and if you want to share your worldview, your story, your dream with readers, you will figure that out for yourself. You’ll spend time surfing (and yes going down rabbit holes) and trying things out.

Oh, yes, and you’ll probably spend hours tearing your hair out to get the structure just right. And more hours in the pure pleasure zone of seeing your ideas and stories come to life on paper or screen.

Write on!

Websites Galore, or Keep This List Handy

Okay, old person alert. When I was young I wrote my first stories and poems on a manual LC Smith typewriter. Then there was a little portable electric, a Royal maybe. Then, oh Frabjous Day, an IBM self-correcting Selectric, at least I think that’s what it was called. And then an Apple, Two-ee was it’s name I believe, followed by a long string, Macs and PCs both. Who knew there would come a day? A day when there would be so many websites and resources for writers of all ages and stripes that someone would think to name the 100 best, for several years running, in fact.

It’s a huge list–an ice cream super duper sundae with three flavors of syrup and whipped cream and a cherry on top kind of list. I’d bet my IBM Selectric (if I still had it) that no one person is going to find use for every website on this list. But I’d also bet that if you’re a serious writer and you’re looking for one sort of resource or another–from help with independent publishing to research ideas to editing help to finding a writer’s group to who-knows-what–you’ll find something on this list useful. So pin it up on your cork board, or maybe just bookmark it. You might find it useful.

And here it is: 100 Best Websites for Writers

Write on!