When is the best time to start working with a memoir coach?
The obvious answer is when you feel the need to, but “the need to” is not always obvious. Many times, writers will decide that they need to submit polished material to a coach and so will put off the coaching process. This is akin to putting off going to the doctor until when you are feeling healthy or putting off getting cleaning help until you have cleaned the house.
Difference between working with an editor and working with a coach
People who think this way are confusing the role of the editor with that of the coach. The two do not fill the same function in a writer’s life. An editor tends to work with finished text, to do the clarification and the polishing to get the text ready to go out into the world. At this point, the subject and the treatment are fairly well established. Editing occurs fairly late in the writing process. Every writer needs an editor but not every writer needs a coach.
A writing coach can help you at every step of the process. Having “been there and done that”—and being able to talk clearly about it, a memoir-writing coach can point you in the right direction and gently correct your course.
A coach is a teacher, a cheerleader, a critic, a motivator, a writing buddy, a person who holds you accountable for meeting your goals, a good listener, and sometimes an editor—and a coach can be more if you need more.
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Working with a coach usually should occur early in the process. Once on your writing team, s/he tends to do the work of helping the client to discover the subject of a memoir among all the possible topics, to help grow the story, detail it and structure it so that it encompasses the topic. The appropriate topic of a memoir is not necessarily when you did something flashy—although that flashy thing can fit into the memoir. The topic is generally about the hero’s journey you have undertaken.
An example of how working with a coach happens
One client wanted to write a book—“I’ve always wanted to write a book and now I have the time. It’s only that I don’t know what to write about.” She had a sense that a memoir would be an entry into the world of authorship but did not know what of her life to write about. We worked together for a few months before one day she knew what her topic was going to be. My work with her was to 1) help her write the best stories technically she was capable of (we are always in apprenticeship to our writing and the months we spend searching for our subject ought to be months of as good writing as we are capable of) and 2) to prod her consistently to question the importance, the centrality, of what she was writing in view of what she might want to write.
Every once in a while as I work with someone, I will catch a paragraph or even a sentence that feels vital, central to something, and I will ask, ”Ought this to be the subject of your memoir? Is this what you really ought to be developing?” There ensues, of course, a conversation if the question “rings a bell.” Often, what prompts me is a tone of voice, a quiver, as the client talks about a scene or a relationship.
So, coaching is a process that is best undertaken as soon as a you feel overwhelm, as soon as you feel that your yearning and your ambition, your skills and your emotional stamina, may not be up to the task you are undertaking.
What sorts of people need coaching?
You would do well to hire a coach if you have:
1. wanted to write a book for years but have gotten no inroads into the task.
2. written and rewritten the book many times and it still does not feel right or good to you.
3. started many books that all seem to “die” on you.
4. written a book and it seems to express nothing of what you wanted to say.
Working with a coach is a matter of working with a dream. A coach can likely help you to realize a goal in a shorter time than you can on your own. This is because the coach is familiar with the process you are now undertaking. A coach can help alleviate your worries and accelerate your learning new skills with just-in-time teaching. (Every coach is a teacher—it’s at the core of the process.) So…
When should you start working with a coach?
I would say the best time is when you are ready to make progress on your memoir and realize that you will take too long to learn to write it on your own—if you ever do. Most people I have worked with are new at writing. If you are new at writing, a coach may be your best bet for attaining success.
There is a story of Winston Churchill who was a devoted amateur painter, taking two years to learn perspective on his own. Subsequently, he realized that he could have learned to do perspectives in painting in a matter of weeks within the context of a course with a skillful teacher.
“But, aren’t you glad you learned it on our own!” someone exclaimed.
“I would rather have been doing more interesting things in those two years than learning to reinvent how to do perspectives.”
Painters have, after all, been doing perspective for 500 years.
And you? How long do you want to spend learning something your coach could help you with?