A writing coach?

I’m about 50% of the way through my first draft and I have stalled. I’m having a hard time staying motivated to get the manuscript finished because of work and family duties. So I have been considering hiring a writing coach to help me finish. (I figure that, at the very least, if I pay someone, I will have to do it!)

Have any of you ever used a writing coach?

If so, what was your experience?

Was it worth it to you? Would you do it again? Did you get all the various services that a writing coach can provide, like editing, proofing, and help with query letter and proposal creation?

My genre is self-help.

Thanks as always.

Hi Ted,

Just to ask - have you exhausted all the possibilities of beta readers, writing groups, seminars, evening classes etc? I ask because I expect that hiring someone to help you to the extent you’ve indicated isn’t going to be cheap – and may in fact make your whole project less economic and ultimately less satisfying for you. You’re almost but not quite talking about a co-writer.

If you’ve already worked through or rejected those other possibilities, I suggest you have a look at this recent blog post, including the comments. It doesn’t discuss the value of writing coaches, but it does talk about hiring an editor, which as I understand your post is part of what you’re seeking.

One role one of the comments mentions is “development editor”. I’m speculating wildly, but I wonder whether what you really need is (like many of us) confidence – the confidence that would come from having someone experienced look at, say, a 25-page outline of your planned work to tell you whether you’re on the right track, and make suggestions if or where he or she thinks you aren’t. At least this might relaunch your motivation, and wouldn’t cost as much as a full-on coach.


Following up on Hugh’s excellent post, another term used to describe writing coaches is “book doctors.” They are manuscript editors who will review your project and give you practical advice on how to repair or revise it.

Put that term into Google, and you come up with several individuals and agencies who are willing to serve in return for your hard-earned cash. You need to be careful about checking their credentials and track records; many are quite reliable, but beware the amateur who couldn’t write and decided to edit.

Personally, I think writing groups or classes are a better way to go. They will cost less and possibly give you the confidence to write on your own, and that’s the key to your continued success and well-being.

Why do you want to write this book?

Do you want to be a writer, or do you want to use the book for some other purpose, like marketing your self-help business?

If you want to be a writer, my advice would be to save your money, sit down in your chair, and write. You have now discovered why there are millions of half-finished books on hard drives all over the world. It’s hard. Figuring out how to do it – repeatedly – is a necessary skill that anyone who wants to be a writer needs to develop.

If you just want the finished product, then sure, hire someone. I make a substantial part of my income as a ghostwriter for people who want the finished product but aren’t able to produce it themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that, just be clear on what you’re actually trying to achieve.



I don’t know what beta readers are, but I will look them up. I have shied away from writers groups for this particular I haven’t found them to be structured enough this particular need. I hadn’t considered seminars or evening classes, though. I will look into those. I imagine you’re suggesting those alternatives because they could save me a lot of money? Wouldn’t be a bad thing…

What I’m really looking for is structure and guidance rolled into one. I read the article you linked to, thanks. A development editor sounds interesting. Confidence is something I could always use more of, but I feel fairly ok about what I’m writing (knock on wood). I feel like I need someone to help me shape the book for catching an agent’s or a publisher’s eye and to stay on my case so I finish the manuscript. I will look into development editors. Thank you!

Hi Druid,

Thanks for your response. Can you tell me more about your experiences with writing groups and classes? I’ve only ever attended one writer’s group meetings and have not taken writing classes.

As I wrote in my response to Hugh, I don’t think I’m lacking confidence in what I’m writing, but I am lacking structure and a sense of urgency. I am normally a resolute self-starter, but since having twins and getting expanded work responsibilities, I haven’t been able to discipline myself as well as I once have.

I agree that learning to write on my own is the long-term way to go. I made it to 37,000 words that way, but I know that I need help to get the rest of the way there. I have only about three hours a day to spend on writing in total (including driving to and from classes, etc) and need that to use that time to the fullest. That’s one of the reasons I am considering a coach of some kind.

You refer to driving to and from classes. Does that mean you are on a campus?
If so, check out the writing program and enroll in some fiction classes.
Most of them run in the workshop mode: others listen to and comment on your work.
Some find that intimidating, but you have to get used to readers some day.
Hiring a personal coach can be very expensive, and it keeps you in isolation.
Or look for writing groups in your area and stop by for some meetings.
Many of those are free or just take donations for coffee.

Go here: fmwriters.com/community/dc/dcboard.php

Best writing community on the web. Biased toward fiction writers, but loaded with critique groups, business of writing information, technique information, and on and on.


All the advice above is very good. Here are a few random additional thoughts.

About beta readers: these are people whom you ask to read your book and give you their responses to it. The name comes, as far as I know, from beta versions of software - ready for testing, but not for sale. In the case of written work, they’re often friends and family, but they can be people you know less well. They need to be (a) reliable, in that if they say they’ll read your book, they will (b) able to deliver criticism without offending © as representative of your intended readership as possible. However, in your case, on reconsidering, I think looking for and assigning such beta readers may be slightly premature, a task for further down the process.

About structure: I have a lot of sympathy. Structure in fiction may not be straightforward, but if all else fails, it has a basis: time. Chronology and cause and effect have a logic which you can tinker with, but which it is virtually impossible to ignore. Non-fiction structure (I think) is harder. Logic often suggests a structure, but that may not be the most interesting thread for the reader to follow. So the writer of non-fiction is confronted with all sorts of questions about structure that the writer of fiction has to worry less about.

For example, do you start with history? Or a case-study? Or the story of your own involvement in the field? Or a summary of what you intend to say? Or some of these, or all? Questions like these can cause the writer of non-fiction to end up confused and even bored (disastrously) by their own work, and to lack motivation to continue (I’ve observed).

Further down the process, it may be worth your while looking at some of Malcolm Gladwell’s books to see how he handles structure issues. Or Think Better, a kind of self-help book written by the Scrivener user Tim Hurson.

But first, your lack of urgency: my advice is to just get all the information down as quickly as you can in whatever order it occurs to you at the moment to lay it out. Just do it! Difficult, I know, but don’t worry about structure - yet. No piece of long-form writing is perfect first time: perfection is the enemy of finishing. You can always re-arrange the fragments later (thanks to Scrivener). Who knows, your instinctive structure may be the best one.

That would be much better than hiring someone to hold a metaphorical cosh over you; then you won’t enjoy what you’re doing and your writing will show it. And anyway if you do end up hiring any kind of outsider to advise you, the first thing they’ll want to see is what you’ve got to say.

One of my favourite writing quotes is from the screenwriter Robert Towne, who wrote among other famous movies Chinatown. He was nagged by a young would-be to tell him the secret of successful screenwriting. Towne gave him a small piece of paper on which were written two words --“Just finish”.

Great questions.

I want to use this book to start a self-help business. I love writing, and probably won’t hire the writing out, but I’m looking for someone to help me set milestones and guide the work for publication. I basically need a task master who can say “Look, you need 10 chapters by September, and you need to finish one chapter each month. I will follow up with you each week and review your progress.”

I think that without external guidance I will continue to prioritize my family and other immediately gratifying activities, like photography, over my writing. I hate admitting that, because it means that my book isn’t a priority, but I need it to be. I just need help giving it priority.

No, not on campus. I’m about 30 minutes away from the nearest university. I will check out the local writing groups, though. Thanks.

Cool. I’ve started perusing, thanks.

Thanks for this thorough response, Hugh.

So by structure I mean structure to my writing routine and schedule. I feel like the my and outline have enough structure to guide me for a while. What I think I really need is someone to hold the cosh over me, as you said. The funny thing is that I’m a self starter when it comes to my job and my kids, but I feel like I’m expending so much energy in those things I have little self-motivation to do the book. That said, I don’t think I’m lacking in motivation, just self-motivation, and I need someone to help me set milestones and remind me of what the end goal will look like and what I will get out of it. I think this will help me feel that urgency again.

I’m now looking into writers groups to see if I can get something similar from them. The only real drawback I see from that is that I should and would want to critique other peoples’ work, which I can’t afford to do considering I’m not even taking the time to write my own work now.

You’re right about Gladwell. He is masterful at structuring his work. Blink and Outliers are great pieces of non-fiction.

To give you the full benefit of my consultancy experience in providing generic sweeping answers to complex problems…
There are two classifications of motivator- the carrot and the stick, and in my opinion you need both to keep motivation levels up. There will be times when the lure even the orangest of carrots will be outweighted by the joys presented by some other activity. There will be times when the pain from the thorniest of sticks is less than the pain of proactivitiy. By making sure you have both, you will increase your chances of maintaining motivation.

Now comes the tricker bit. You need to make these things personal to you. Understand clearly why you are doing this. What is in it for you? Have a picture of it on your desk, in your wallet or on your fridge. It could be a mock up of the front cover of your book, or something more capitalist - the holiday you’ll buy yourself with the royalties!

You can hire a third party coach to be a stick through the shame of telling them you haven’t acheived as much as you can, or the knowledge that you wasted the money on them this month. However, I suspect that if you can afford it in the first place, that alone wont be pain enough. Also, if they are some disconnected individual, they won’t generate as much shame factor as close friend or family would.

So you should recognise that a coach won’t be enough by itself - you still need to find the personal motivation inside you. That might influence your decision to invest hard earned money.

In short, make sure you have something to run towards, and something to run away from and you will be fine!

I like how you put this pigfender. I agree totally with how you characterize the two motivators, the carrot and the stick. The joy of writing, which has only grown stronger for me over the years, is yet overshadowed by the fun I have playing with my twin toddlers, date nights with my wife when I’m off baby duty, and the interesting things I work on at my day job.

If I’m honest with myself and with you, the pain of not writing hasn’t been strong enough to compel me to get back on the horse and finish. That’s why I’m considering a coach. I think a coach could light the fire under my caboose and get the legs going again.

All in all, I believe I have the requisite motivation in me, but am enjoying family time too much and not hurting from the lack of writing enough. I need to hurt from it more and I need someone to help me keep my eye on the ball. It’s so easy to put off something that doesn’t have a hard deadline, and especially a deadline that isn’t held by someone else–like your wife or your boss.

Based on what has been written here, it sounds like the cost of a writing coach would be exorbitant. Is the range we are talking about thousands or tens-of-thousands of dollars? I haven’t yet solicited any quotes from coaches yet because I wanted to get some information from this forum before I did. I appreciate the concern you have all shown in me not blowing a bunch of money on nothing!

I took a minute and did a Google search on the phrase “writing coach” (with the quotes) and the word motivational (without quotes). Top hit: “The Writing Coach” http://thewritingcoach.co.uk/. A small quote from her page:

Having done that, I’ll also put in my oar…

This is my personal opinion. This is the way my head works. This is not meant to be a suggestion for how anyone else should approach their particular situation. This is just “my stuff”.

I started writing “with intent” about a year ago. (Where did six months go? I must have lost them somewhere!) When I started, I knew nothing. The last time I had written anything nontechnical and writerly was in college (mumble) years ago.

Over this past year I have bought and read about four shelf feet worth of books on writing. I’ve written to prompts and exercises in those books. I entered NaNoWriMo this past November and failed miserably. I entered Script Frenzy this April and won (100 page stage play). I am currently working on my first short story. When I finish it, I am going to submit it to some markets (I know the markets and I know the order in which I will send the story around). In the meantime, I will start working on my next story. I already have enough story ideas to fill my remaining time on the planet. And I’ll keep adding to the list. After I have a few shorts published, I will find an editor to look over my first novel. Then I will make the big decision about whether to find an agent to break into the Big Six or whether to self-publish. I have spent some money and am taking an online writing course. I have also started attending a writing group in my area every week. I critique stories by other writers while I am there and, when I have work ready, they critique me. The group is small, about a dozen people, and takes about two to three hours out of my week. I am learning a lot. And I won’t stop doing so. This (all of the above) is my Plan.

Obviously, somewhere along the way, I crossed some sort of Rubicon.

So I find the time. And here is ultimately my point: My desire to find the time is strong enough that I actually find it. And I make progress. I write. And I can say from experience, if I didn’t want it, a coach couldn’t help me no matter how much I paid them. If I didn’t want it deep down, in my heart, I wouldn’t pay someone to try and make me want it. If I did, I would simply be writing checks and wondering why it wasn’t working, why I still couldn’t or didn’t find the time, do the work, and love what I was doing.

Again and most importantly, that’s just me. And further, that’s just me today. I might lose the fire tomorrow. I don’t know. There are no guarantees.

Everybody’s different. Good luck.

It occurred to me while I was reading your last post that you may be writing a book on self-motivation, and are simply doing research on other people’s experiences of using external coaches to add anecdotal colour to your book. Assuming that is not the case, and if you will forgive me being candid, I’d like to make a few observations:

Firstly, you say you have the requisite motivation within yourself, but the experience you have described would suggest otherwise. If you were writing maybe twice a week but struggling to increase it further, or if you were having great weeks and bad weeks in waves, then I would be inclined to agree with you. However, the impression I’m getting from your description (apologies if I am reading this wrong) is that you are basically in an extended lull. This is why you need the external carrot - an actual real treat that you get for completing, whether it’s a favourite meal out if you meet your monthly target or something you buy yourself.

Secondly, I’d like to re-emphasise my point regarding the stick. Studies have shown that in order for such motivations to be successful they need to be more expensive than you can afford, and even then the brain becomes desensitised to the loss over time. In other words, you may be better placed by just using friends and family in the same role. A loving wife who asks you how many words you wrote this week probably has more incentivising effect than the most charming and well paid of strangers, and is significantly cheaper (Okay, that may depend on the wife!). You are lucky enough to have access to such people. Use them first.

Failing that, just pay yourself to be your own coach. Pick a sum of money you can ill afford to waste (but one that doesn’t rob food from your children’s plates) and put it in a separate bank account each week. When you have finished your book, pay it back to yourself as a reward. If you abandon the project, donate it to charity.

Thirdly, you should revisit the question: why am I doing this? Why do you want to write this book? You talk about the joys of spending time with your family and playing with your young children. Do you really want to sacrifice that? What is more important to you? Make sure you are honest with yourself.

In support of Pigfender’s post, I needed a “prod” to get my thesis written as it was taking way too long. In January this year I set myself a daily minimum word count and hung a wall calendar in full view of my desk. I place a big red X through every day that I write (my record is 55 consecutive days) - there is enormous satisfaction in seeing those lines of red crosses grow longer. That’s my carrot.

For a stick, I posted my intentions on Facebook and set up a blog. I invited friends and family to ask me how my writing was going and actively encourage them to ask how I am progressing. Many of them do (by phone, email, text, blog comments and Facebook messages). I don’t like to say that I have missed days, so when the carrot isn’t incentive enough, the stick usually is.

Note that, generally, immediate consequences (whether carrot or stick) generally work better on a daily basis than long term ones. As a case in point: If I don’t finish my thesis this year, I will run out of money and then struggle to complete by my university enforced deadline of next March. If I don’t finish by then, I will be unable to practice the profession I have invested 10 years of my life, and countless dollars, in training (that’s a BIG stick!). I love the profession, and the clients I work with, and it will pay well once I finish, so the carrot is good too. But on their own, these incentives weren’t enough to motivate me on a daily basis. Reflecting on them did motivate enough to design the wall carrot and online stick - and they have been working wonders.

I’m not suggesting that my method will work for everyone, but do think both about your long-term, big picture incentives (carrots and sticks) as well as the smaller, every day, ones. It seems that your idea of a writing coach was to act as a daily incentive so it may be worth thinking about the other resources around you (such as family and friends) that could fulfil this role.

Speaking from the editorial side of the argument, I think you need to decide whether you want to write a book, or simply want to have written a book. There should be as much if not more enthusiasm for the process itself as for the end result.

That’s a question I posed recently (think it was, in ‘Why do you write? thread’), but it didn’t generate much response.

There’s a saying I came across, over forty years ago, after meeting my future wife, a teacher. "There are those who just love to teach…there are those, in love, with the idea of teaching, and there are those in love with the, idea, of being a teacher. The inference being, that only those in the first of the three categories, will ever become a teacher, and unless those in the other two categories, actually love engaging in the the process itself, like those in the first, they won’t become teachers, or if they do, they’re unlikely to last long in that role.

If we take the paragraph above, and replace the word, ‘teacher’, with, ‘writer’,are not the sentiments expressed, equally as valid?

Even steeling yourself against so called, procrastination, aarrgghhh!!! is a part of, the process. How much of confronting your own character flaws and peccadilloes, in order to engage productively in the writing process…is… part of the process. The little ritual you engage in whenever you leave the house, of making sure you’ve got your Moleskin (real or 25p phoney), with you, for the obligatory jotting down of…and don’t forget the pens and/or pencils (sharpened of course),to do the jotting down, with. All acts which serve to reinforce the would be writer’s mind set, but isn’t worth a gorilla’s fart, of course, if you don’t love jousting with, the wordson the page or screen in front of you.

Ah well, off to the shops. Must make sure I’ve got my faux<–d’y’ like that :smiley: Moleskin. Mind you, I usually forget pen or pencil :frowning:
Take care