The short answer is NOW! The long answer is NOW!
A writing coach may seem expensive, but the experience will be less expensive than hiring an editor to fix it (and who won’t coach you along the way). You also may pay the price of not seeing your book get picked up by a publisher. And the worst outcome: Your writing is so poor your readers won’t finish the book, and as a result, your message is lost. Imagine a bunch of eight-year-olds trying to learn soccer without a coach. You may be just as vulnerable.
The best times to hire a writing coach
Time #1: When you are choosing your Point Of View (POV). There are so many options now in modern writing that having a coach help you evaluate those options is paramount. Your coach may ask you to write the same chapter in one or two differing POVs. He may be able to point out nuances that you hadn’t considered. The end result of the coaching will be this: You’ll have the confidence and skills to maintain a consistent POV throughout your work. You’ll understand the strengths of your POV and lean into those to create a compelling story. (If you don’t know what a POV is, stop reading and hire a coach or attend a conference where you can learn.)
Time #2:Refining the POV and your voice for this project. A good coach will help you develop a style and utilize your POV to create a powerful body of work. She will work with you until you have a few chapters that captivate readers (and hopefully an acquiring editor). For those who are not naturally gifted writers (that’s me!), developing a voice often requires putting in your 10,000 hours, à la Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. A coach can help you shave off thousands of those “learning” hours.
Time #3: After you have written your outline. An experienced coach will be a sounding board for the entire scope of the work. The goal is to make sure that your efforts will lead to (a) fewer rewrites and (b) a riveting novel. There are some helpful novel-writing books that will help you do this. I recommend you read at least three before hiring a coach so you have some of the same language to discuss your approach. And learning to write takes TIME. No shortcuts exist. (See my blogs on Save the Cat and Story Genius to read about my two current favorite how-to-plot-a-book books.)
Time #4: To help you determine if your grammar, tense, style, tone, pacing (aka voice) are at a professional level. Trust me, if you can learn to write a great sentence, you can learn to self-edit. But you might need a coach to help you get there. Paying for an hour to have someone evaluate your overall writing quality may be a shock when you read his evaluation, but knowing where you need to improve can save hours and dollars down the road. (See my blog on writing good sentences for some advice in that area.) Most of my clients struggle with getting verb tenses correct. Having someone explain that one-on-one is more helpful than reading a grammar book.
Time #5: You might not need a coach today, but you most likely will at some point if you aspire to a professional and prolific career. I’m hiring a coach to help me step into the almost-but-not-quite YA writing space since I’ve camped out at the second-grade reading level for so long. I’m also trying to create a four-book story arc with multiple protagonists—and I’m definitely over my head. Having an established relationship with a coach who can help when you really need it is a plus. I’m thankful I know just whom to ask for that evaluation.
Writer’s Groups vs. Hiring a Writing Coach
You may think that being in a writer’s group offers the same quality of coaching as hiring a professional. I’ve been in three writer’s groups. Two were helpful. One was harmful to the point of being toxic. I hear you: writer’s groups are free-ish ad coaches are not. However, it does take time to read and give feedback on another person’s writing. They can be expensive—not in dollars, but in absorbing misinformation. Let me be frank, there may be no stupid questions, but there is plenty of stupid advice.
For example, many people who read my Imagination Station books offer me advice on how I create my speaker attributions. They want more adverbs—”Dragon’s blood is in aisle 7 next to the vampire’s emergency stock,” the grocery checker said wittily. One wanted more variety instead of using the utilitarian “said”—”Eating dragon’s blood will clog your arteries,” he expostulated. Or they want me to drop them altogether. But for my target audience (young struggling readers), “she said,” or “he asked,” keeps the reading predictable, and the readers can focus and absorb other information such as descriptions and dialogue. I just smile and nod when someone tells me to make changes or when I receive a well-intentioned letter from a home-school mom (whose 9-year-old kid is reading at the college level).
Getting a writing coach’s opinion on your work and comparing it to your writers group can help you evaluate the quality of advice you’re getting in your group.
How do I pick a fiction writing coach and what is a reasonable rate?
That will be the topic of next month’s blog. IF YOU HAVE HAD A POSITIVE OR A NEGATIVE COACHING EXPERIENCE, TELL ME ABOUT IT in the comments below or by emailing me at HeLovesMeBooks@gmail.com.
Marianne Hering was a founding editor of Focus on the Family Clubhouse magazine. Since then she’s been writing for children and editing Christian books for adults. Find out more about the Imagination Station book series that has sold more than 1 million copies at MarianneHering.com. (Unfortunately, her schedule is tied up until July 1, so she can’t offer any free consultations at this time. She can’t even accept clients now, so rest assured, this blog isn’t to solicit business.) Follow her on Facebook and Instagram. (P.S. She’s still waiting to hear back from a publisher about the Fiery Furnace manuscript she sent in February 18, 2022. Sigh and double sigh.)