Choosing the Right Memoir-Writing Coach
Your relationship to your memoir-writing coach is likely to be a long one. There is no other way to make it effective. Coaching is like counseling in a way. Counseling requires an introductory, getting-to-know-you phase before both of you can move on to a productive phase. You can’t expect a counselor to help you with your core issues until the two of you have had some exploratory conversations and the counselor has gotten some bearing on your “stuff.” In a similar way, a writing coach has to get to know you before s/he can help you with your core writing issues.
A coach works with you in several areas including:
- technical skills. This includes sentence structure, how to write an opening paragraph, grammar, stylistic techniques.
- behaviors. This includes scheduling your writing time, setting up performance-maximizing behaviors (EG, let your answering machine pick up a call during your writing time), improving computer skills, etc.
- inner issues. This can include your feelings and fears, your relationships to the people you are writing about, and most of all, your relationship to yourself. Your coach is often a grantor of permission to tell the truth in your memoir. Writing a memoir is sometimes unsettling and your coach can support you in writing about fearful issues. (The language of abuse, for instance, is silence and writing for a public is a blatant case of breaking that silence. Ergo: frightening! Do you really have permission to speak? Your coach can give you the permission you need to speak out.)
People often come to a memoir-writing coach with acquiring technical skills and shaping behaviors as their presenting requests, but after a while, it sometimes become obvious that the inner issues are as important if not more important to the success of the memoir.
Selecting the right memoir-writing coach
The process of selecting the right memoir coach is an intuitive one in many regards but there are some guidelines.
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- Do a search of the web for a memoir-writing coach. Visit their websites. Look at the “About” page. Scrutinize the memoir-writing coach’s offerings and fee structures. Are you comfortable with what you learn? Do you like the tone? Could this person possibly be a fit for you? Sign up for a newsletter if there is one. Check out the blog. Buy a book or CD produced by the memoir-writing coach. If everything works for you, then…
- Request a complimentary consult. Most coaches offer a short free session for the two of you to get to know each other. Generally, you will not be able to submit a manuscript for review at this time. That is asking for a bit much—like going to a doctor and asking for a free physical. (Yes, I have asked doctors for a free consult to check them out, to present my needs, to assess whether we might be a fit, but I have not asked them for a free physical.) I would not choose a coach who does not offer a complimentary consult.
- Determine if it is important for you to have a similar life experience with the memoir-writing coach. A sexual abuse survivor may want to work with a coach who has had sexual abuse in his/her past. But the value of similarity can be overestimated. Remember that you are looking for a writing coach not a therapist. A memoir-writing coach who can work carefully with you on creating the best manuscript possible may be more therapeutic than a coach who has a similar experience but is not demanding of technique. Studies have shown that writing (especially in detail and in story form) is therapeutic in itself. Write long and deep about any topic and you will find yourself healing from negatives. So look for a person who is good writing coach over someone who is all feely-touchy.
Of course, a writer may have specific needs (I refrain from calling them phobias). A man who has lived a long time in a verbally-abusive marriage to a woman may feel criticism from a woman coach to be déjà vu threats and be unable to listen to her. A person who is an agnostic may not do well with a coach who declaims “All praise be God’s!” during the complimentary session.
Again this is not therapy, and a writing professional can likely guide you through many difficulties. If you think of your coach as a literary midwife, you can grasp that a midwife need not be Chinese to deliver a Chinese baby or Jewish to deliver a Jewish one. When I taught French (I am a native speaker), I often witnessed French teachers who were not native speakers outdo the native speakers in the enthusiasm they could generate in their students for a second language. A memoir-writing coach need not be a “native speaker” of your issue to excel at helping you. That said, however, follow your instinct.
Inquire about particulars such as
- costs and payment plans. Be prepared for a service charge on payment plans. (A plan does incur additional work for the coach.)
- procedures. How to submit a manuscript, how do you cancel a session, etc. These particulars can go a long way in creating a comfortable environment for coaching.
- access to the coach. Can you call with a specific question? I always take short calls (5 or fewer minutes). If the call is likely to take longer, I ask if the caller would like to make an appointment for a session.
2. Call 207-353-5454 today for a free consultation about how we can collaborate to write your memoir or email me at [email protected]
3. Sign up for a 3-hour trial of Memoir Coaching.