5 Tips to Finding a Writing Coach Who’s Right for You

Do what you love may be the most overused advice in the career-improvement world.  A blogpost on the complexity of this directive went viral on Jacobin a year or so back, it was shared 57 thousand times on Facebook and riffed about in the New York Times Opinionator by Gordon Marino.

I know all this first hand. Once upon a time I turned my back on a half-finished MBA and a corporate job with its maddening pace and rigid hierarchy. The fact that my boss gave my job to her newly unemployed husband didn’t help. I escaped to do what I loved. In my case the passion was writing.

The act of quitting made me subversive. And that alone fueled creative expression. I mapped out chapters, the content. Figured I’d have the manuscript written in six months, employ an editor, find an agent, become a best seller, Oprah would call, the whole bit.

Four years later, I found myself gazing into my monitor not knowing whether to put a period at the end of the sentence or keep going with a comma. I’d lost my home in foreclosure, gone bankrupt, written 300,000 words, revised the body of work four times. And while I was slurping away at my second or maybe 87th Cosmo, I understood what I was really missing, a mentor. A guide. A coach. Someone who’d gone before, knew how to shape art into something saleable and would come along with a tribe of like-minded people with whom I could collaborate. I didn’t want to go back to school. What I was looking for was beyond the confines of academia. I needed someone to touch what the poet Mary Oliver called the “wild silky” part of myself and, finally, make it palatable to the world.

Mentors are necessary. Hemingway had Stein, Beethoven had Neefe. The true challenge once you know the secret lies in finding a mentor is how to find that coach who can make your passion work in the world. This is like how to find a raindrop in a rainstorm. There are thousands of coaches out there. They’re like doctors and lawyers. But here’s what I learned (the hard way): some coaches are competent, some are lousy, even soul crushers. I dropped coins in wishing well after wishing well. One wore a floral patterned dress that matched her bonnet and tried to make me into a mystery writer; another one was always throwing theories at me I couldn’t apply; one promised me the stars, took my money and then never contacted me again.

Suzanne, my mentor and writing coach.

How do you find your coach?

Here are five helpful hints for the girl or gal who wants to (or maybe has) dropped everything to do what she loves:

  1. Go with the gut. Have a bad feeling even though her website’s copy seems like a projection of everything lying dormant in your heart? That’s your intuit talking. Run. There are too many fantastic coaches out there who have integrity and know how to move you forward.
  2. She’s part of your tribe: if you see her write a post in a publication you love or show up in a group on social media with whom you share a vibe, chances are you have similar taste, so you might want to take a shot at it. I found my coach through my Reiki teacher. My coach had helped a fellow Reiki student get an agent and a book deal. She’s now distributed with Random House, has been on NPR, has speaking engagements, the whole nine yards.
  3. She has street cred and success: When I went on my coach’s website, she had testimonial after testimonial from people who had published books, made a career out of writing, had gotten bylines with top media outlets and had life changing experiences after being with her. She was also successful in her own right. An internationally-acclaimed author with lots of kudos to her name, she’s made her living writing, which is what I wanted to do and so I knew she could trail blaze a path.
  4. She gets you, every single part of you. The secret to my coach’s success is that she works in the Gateless writing method, a very specific method based on brain science, craft tools and community that moves creatives to places they’d only imagined. Through this method, she helps all of you rather than just the part of you working on your craft. That divorce you haven’t quite gotten over? Could be a barrier to next step on your career path. The trauma you suffered as a child might be the thing that needs to be coddled before you begin to really allow yourself to go big. Make sure your coach isn’t just about deliverables, numbers, list building, ideal clients and great gallery gigs.
  5. It doesn’t happen overnight: I know, this one sort of sucks. But anyone who promises you the world in thirty days or even six weeks isn’t really helping you make lasting change. It took most of us years to get here and the true unraveling and resetting can take a while to grab hold. Something magical did happen with my coach, everything my shaman has been teaching me about the process absolutely broke through, and while it felt like it happened overnight, it’s too deep and long lasting for that. Now I feel seasoned at this writing thing. But first I had to undo a lot of the conditioning I’d learned in my corporate gig.

Since working with my coach I’ve been shortlisted for prizes, published in the top online media outlets and have been picked up by prestigious lit journals, but more than that? I understand that often those who fail at doing what they loved just didn’t have the guidance they needed to learn how to soar.

What will you do today to obtain the guidance you need to succeed?

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Lisa holds a Master Certificate in Reiki. She has been publishing essays for five years on reiki, the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. One of her essays appeared in the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, published in 2017. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents and is at work on two sequels. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.

How My Writing Was Rejected with Sarcasm Then Got Picked Up Elsewhere

How many times have you heard an editor’s rejection of your work is subjective? Especially from prominent, published writers? You know, the really really big ones?

Receiving rejection, especially over a piece we hold near and dear, is most difficult. Some editor’s feedback is simply cruel and it’s difficult to push through it, their words forming a dark cloud in the writer’s already self-deprecating mind.

There is truly only one super-negative rejection I have received and whenever submitting that piece thereafter (yes, the one near and dear to my heart) I hear that particular editor’s indelibly negative words as I hit the send button, dooming any future hope of publication.

Employ Constructive Feedback

I am here to tell you writers to hold fast – an editor in receipt of that 100-times-rejected piece may someday take the time to shed some constructive feedback that doesn’t shoot a hole in your heart. And Kendra, the editor of The Fiddlehead, did that for me concerning my essay Saboteur. Her feedback triumphed over the not-so-great feedback I had previously received from the editor at The Tishman Review, which read:

Hi Lisa-

We publish prose at The Tishman Review that we feel speaks with emotional depth and substance and that sheds light on the human condition. When I saw your email, to be quite honest, I could not even remember your essay and had to glance over it to remind myself of it.

There is no sense of conflict or tension that has a true stake for the narrator. I could not find a hook to draw me in. The essay is primarily about lusting after someone, and it is a play by play of how this works out. The hotel scene in particular is not very engaging.

For the reader, the friend’s behavior did not seem a betrayal but predictable. Maybe something is missing from the essay to show the friend felt the same way about the essayist or maybe I did not understand this from what is present in the essay.

However, the writing at the sentence-level is strong.

This essay is just did not a good fit for TTR but may well be somewhere else.

Stephen King was told, “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

I’m sorry to disappoint you.

Best, Jennifer

Now, Kendra’s feedback which renewed my hope:

Dear Lisa,

Thank you kindly for offering “Saboteur” to us here at The Fiddlehead. I found your handle on word choice made the piece (while already intriguing at its plot) extremely gripping and rich in description. I’m afraid, however, we’re not able to accept it for publication, mostly due to the overwhelming amount of submissions we receive regularly. With that said, I think it has really strong features: the characterization of Lexi, the chemistry she and the narrator have seemingly immediately, the interwoven themes of statistics and its practice. As well, its narrative is very vivid, has great word choice, and is fluid in its movement from one space and time to another. My only suggestion would be to pare back on descriptions of space, namely near the middle to end of the piece (around pages 11-12 particularly) to keep the momentum the piece gains in the first few pages. You’ve got a very strong handle on your craft, so I wish you the very best in finding this and other pieces of your work a good home.

Sincerely,
Kendra Guidolin

Don’t Give Up on Submitting Your Work

Writers, I beg you, keep the faith. Push through the criticism; incorporate meaningful feedback into your work. And don’t kill your darlings! Just rework them!

BTW, Saboteur, has recently been picked up by a new literary journal. The editor advised cutting the last paragraph and I agreed, it read much better!

And take a glimpse at “JK Rowling Posts Letter of Rejection on Twitter to Help Budding Authors” here.

Lisa holds a Master Certificate in Reiki. She has been publishing essays for five years on reiki, the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. One of her essays appeared in the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, published in 2017. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents and is at work on two sequels. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.