When I say, "I'm a writing coach," people want to know what I do--exactly. I explain that I'm something like a writer's therapist (minus the couch, and with better lines than "how does that make you feel?"). I try to diffuse the angst-bomb that is always ticking loudly within a writer's gut, so that she can actually focus on her ideas, her art, her work, dammit! And by work, I mean the writing.
Just to be clear, I am not talking about the other form of work most common to the 21st Century Scribe: Posting about the work, or posting about not working. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't mind a status update as amusing as "On the Road to Revising...Really! But first need to take find out which Facts of Life character I am...". (For the record: I'm something of a Mrs. Garrett in the body of Jo.) But I see the epidemic of superficial chatting, mindless "researching" and constant multi-tasking as deadly to the vulnerable, lonesome, nervous, and innately excuse-making psyche of the writer.
A lot of what I do as a writing coach is simple. I help my clients to make decisions about what they are really burning to write, rather than what they think they should write, and then I threaten to break their legs if they don't set a real goal, a real deadline, and a real writing schedule ...right now! (What can I say, I became a "made" coach working with a certain Syndicate you may have heard of ... And I don't mean King Features. Bada Bing!)
Ideally, once a writer gets some momentum going with his initial draft, or his revision, a new problem arises. The "so-what" factor. That irritating feeling that what we are writing is good, really good, maybe, but not exactly delicious. Something that's just a little too intellectually boring to be Borges. A little too emotionally cheap to be Cheever. There's something safe or cautious or bland about it. And if we read our own work and say, "It's well-written enough, the story is intriguing enough, but ...so what?" then how can we expect our Uncle Monty, our pal Joey, let alone an agent, an editor and ultimately the reading public at large to want to pore over our prose?
That's when we really start to have fun. Good, dirty, subversive fun. Using tricks and sneaks, hooks and books, I push my client to push past his own inhibitions, fear of rejection, of being ignored, of that strange ache in the jaw that could be something fatal –– like face-opathy (we writers are terrible hypochondriacs) –– and ultimately I am there to cheer as he uncovers a much more fascinating place in his writing. And the ghosts of Borges, Cheever and a host of other spirit scribes cheer too.
And then it's back to work, for all of us.
--Jill Dearman is the author of Bang the Keys: Four Steps to a Lifelong Writing Practice (Penguin/2009).