Does the word “coach” evoke for you the image of a buff man in sweats, carrying a whistle? Does it bring to mind long-forgotten gym classes—the sound of shoes squeaking on a basketball court and the smell of blue rubber mats?
We tend to acknowledge the importance of coaches for workouts, physical education, and sports teams, but when it comes to the hard work needed for our brain and creative muscles, we expect them to perform on their own.
This can be a big mistake, because there’s more to writing than just putting one word after the next. Like any contact sport, it requires the right form, support, discipline, and hard work. That’s where a book coach comes in: to be a partner that can help you get ready for all that, so you can train your book-writing muscles properly.
“Yes, but what does a book coach do?” I get asked, when I explain this part of my job.
Well, just like any coach, a book coach starts by listening―and asking questions. What are your writing goals? What kind of book do you want to create? What kinds of writing do you prefer to read? Since a coach has worked with other clients, they can ask the questions that unlock the work you’re meant to be doing. Think you’re writing a business book? Talking it over with a coach lets you ask the big “why” questions so you can figure out whether that topic and style are really what calls to you. Do you know what your goal is? Do you have enough material and passion to go the distance? Before you ever set down a word, a coach can help you look at the big picture so you’re not tripping yourself up at the start.
One of the best things about working with a coach, in fact, is that they can help you uncover what you might not have uncovered on your own. Coaching is like an excavation process, a way of digging deep to uncover what might be lurking under the surface. Why do your characters act the way they do? What causes them to be who they are? What lurks under the surface of the words you write? You may not think to dig in deeper to find the hidden motivations behind your prose, but it almost always means a richer, better work—one that helps you really connect to your best creative expression and reach out to readers. A coach gives you the courage to shine the light on what lies behind your writing, and the experience can be life-changing. Fair warning: these coaching calls and meetings can involve profound insights, inspiration, and even tears.
And beyond the inspiration, a coach is right there in the weeds with you. Once the writing starts, a coach has the tips and tricks to help you write like a professional—even if this is your first attempt. From getting help with an outline to figuring out how to accurately express what you would like to say to doing the appropriate research, a coach has done it before and can show you the way. A million questions can arrive when you look at a blank page: Do I need copyright permission to write this? How do I explain my passion for historic travel trunks? What is the history of the lightsaber? How much detail should I give here about 1800s moustaches? A coach gets you the answers you need so you can get back to it.
Best of all, a coach helps you with the support and discipline you need. Just like a trainer at your gym encourages you with the carrot-and-stick approach, a book coach keeps you accountable and ensures you keep plugging away at the words, even when it’s tough. And when it does get difficult, he or she is there with you to cheer you on to that final page.
Coaches give you feedback and keep you on track, so you don’t veer off on a tangent for three chapters. If a character falls flat or a plot point needs some polishing, they point it out before you share with an agent or publisher. Coaches are your first reader—and they are looking for ways to make your book or writing stronger. Just as a sports coach is looking for ways for you to elevate your game or get into shape, coaches whip your writing into gear. They tighten and reshape, but you’re the one ultimately in charge, so it’s your words and your work—just with a little guidance.
So what does a book coach do? They listen to you talk about your book and they read what you create, offering critiques and feedback. They call you back when you can’t drag yourself to the keyboard, and keep pestering you until you create more words and keep writing, writing, writing until “The End.” They believe in you, even when you have a hard time believing in yourself. They stand by you and your book until you become a writer yourself—no whistle or sweatbands needed.