I have spent the last four months being coached by a developmental editor who used to work for a publishing house. It is very humbling to go from coach to coached, from the expert to the person asking for help. I have learned more than I could have imagined and not all of it relating to writing. Here are some of those lessons.
We don’t know what we don’t know
While I thought I knew a whole lot about story structure, style, and voice I had some things to learn about metaphor and word choice and being very intentional with each sentence on the page. Ironically, the same week that I commented on a client’s manuscript saying she needs to stop summarizing the story she is about to tell, I received the same comment from my coach. It’s not that we don’t know what works and what doesn’t work, it’s often that we are too close to our story to see what we’re doing.
Looking for themes and what’s really going on
In a memoir, we see what’s really going on in the story when someone else pokes at the writing to find the real facts, emotions, and lessons hidden behind what we remember. Because I knew my story so well, it took having to ask me “why did you do this?” and “why did you say that?” to truly find the theme that was flowing beneath the surface.
When writing business non-fiction books, we often need someone else who doesn’t know the industry inside and out to question our methods and pull forward what may be second nature to us. We can also hold a narrow operational view and need someone to see the full picture.
This is always a challenge for me. I am happy to write a first draft and say I’m done. Having a developmental editor look at every single word and weigh its value to the manuscript was tedious and frustrating. I wanted to be done in one month what took her four months to accomplish. I have learned that writing takes deep breaths and centering time as well as free writes and exploring our feelings. Yes, even in a prescriptive business book, we have to sit with some emotions that point the way to what is at stake.
This is part of slowing down as well, but I also needed to trust in my editor’s plan, and that we needed all four months to pull the greatness out of my writing. I needed to trust that my book would be better for the time and effort we put into it. Of course, there were times when I had to set a boundary about over-editing my voice out of the manuscript and had to find common ground on other edits. During those times I had to trust my gut. As difficult as it was to trust the process at first, I have an amazing product to show for it now.
Knowing when you’re done
While I’ve written a blog post on knowing when you’re done writing, this time I am referring to knowing when you are done the relationship with a writing coach or developmental editor. It’s not always when the work is complete. There are times when you will need a coach who is more directive or less blatant. Sometimes you don’t know what you need from your coach until you’ve worked with them and see that their style doesn’t jive with yours. There is nothing wrong with finding someone else that suits your needs better.
Tips for Choosing a Writing Coach
Some experience in the publishing industry is a great place to start. Someone who has published their own book or other authors’ books knows the process. Be careful if your coach’s only credentials are an English or journalism degree, as knowing how to write a school paper is very different from writing a book and getting it published in a competitive market. I like to offer my clients the best of both worlds. Not only am I a published author who has helped more than a dozen books get published, I am also a certified professional life coach, which means I come to the calls with extra tools that maintains momentum and help combat the inner critic. I have taken a structural editing course, but I am by no means an editor. Lastly, find someone with a passion for your topic and experience in your genre.
These are just some of the lessons I have learned as a coach and from being coached – there is plenty more to be learned! If you’re looking for writing support, I offer one-on-one support or take a look at my upcoming writer’s retreat. Either way, don’t let your inner critic, stop you from writing and stifling your dreams of becoming a published author.