• 4 More Writing Coach Monsters & How to Avoid Them

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 5 comments

    game-asset-call-1296507__180Some of our most beloved fictional characters are monsters: Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, Mr. Hyde. Grendel. Cthulu! Who doesn’t love Cthulu?

    (Which is your favorite literary monster? Let us know in a comment below.)

    The real world is full of monsters too, a point we touched on a couple of weeks ago with Part I of this post. A couple of you even shared with us your own experiences dealing with writing coach monsters, including Tom, whose writing coach showed Tom’s work — without authorization — to a third party. The horror!

    But if you thought there were only four types of writing coach monsters, you were terrifyingly mistaken.

    Here are four more writing coach monsters, as well as some tips on how to spot them and how to avoid them.


    The Smoker

    The smoker is a liar. He wants you to like him, because he wants you to keep paying him. And he thinks the only way to get you to like him is to compliment your work, fawningly, and to never criticize it.

    He blows smoke up your ass.

    We all appreciate having our writing complimented. It’s an endorphin rush. And it’s helpful to know what in our manuscript is working. But in coaching, it is equally important — if not more important! — to discuss what is not working. This is scary territory for The Smoker, and so he does his best to avoid such ground.

    It’s a disservice to you. Yes, a writing coach should often act as a cheerleader; but he also needs to offer the kind of constructive criticism that will help you address whatever needs fixing.

    Avoid: Any coach so afraid of losing your business that he or she won’t acknowledge and discuss problems with your project.

    Find: A writing coach who can be both a cheerleader and an instructor.

    How: This kind of writing coach monster might be difficult to spot before your first meeting. But during that meeting, it will become obvious if you’re dealing with The Smoker. Why? You will feel (and smell) the rush of smoke up your bungus.


    The Pretender

    There is no such thing as a writing coach certificate. There is no official board of writing coaches that decides who is and isn’t qualified to become a writing coach. Someone who has never written a word in her life can claim to be a writing coach. Just like I can claim to be an astronaut instructor.

    The Pretender will publish a short story on her own blog and then hang her shingle. Her resume will show a B.A. in English and one year clerking in a bookstore.

    Not that there’s a problem with any of that. I have a B.A. in English and I’ve worked in bookstores. Doesn’t qualify me to be a writing coach.

    An inexperienced, unqualified writing coach can do serious damage if you follow his guidance.

    Avoid: Anyone with questionable, or absent, credentials.

    Find: A coach with clearly expressed experience and qualifications.

    How: This person’s website, if he/she has one, should include anything you need to know. But if it doesn’t, it’s not inappropriate to ask questions during your first conversation. Make sure the prospective coach has published widely, and has pursued studies in a relevant field. Ask him directly about his experience with one-on-one coaching. If you’re skeptical, ask if he is willing to provide references from former clients. If he’s not, wonder why.


    The Fame-Thrower

    This guy is full of promises, and he’ll use them to lure you into hiring him. “I know people!” he screams. “I will use my contacts to get you published! You’ll get a huge advance, and fame and more fortune will follow!”

    Maybe he does have contacts. Some Fame-Throwers actually do. Often those “contacts” are some agent with whom he once had a fruitless email exchange and some editor he knew in grade school. But even if his contacts are legit, it doesn’t mean shit. (Sorry, I had to go for the rhyme.)

    Why? Because if the book is lacking, five or ten or fifty years of friendship won’t make a difference. Nothing matters more to these alleged contacts than the finished product. And a Fame-Thrower is typically someone focused only on the product rather than the process. (Actually, the aftermath of the product.)

    He has visions of sugar plums but no interest in the recipe.

    Avoid: Anyone whose main selling point is “I know people.”

    Find: A writing coach who understands that it’s the writing process that is of utmost importance, and has the patience to stick through it with you.

    How: You should be able to identify The Fame-Thrower during your initial consult. If he leads with a rundown of his contacts, hang up. If he promises to “get you published,” call the police. If he mentions his contacts in passing, be skeptical, but listen to the rest of what he has to say and then use your best judgment.


    The Sneak

    Some writing coaches will make changes to the master file of your manuscript. Without your permission. They’ll just change what a character says, or alter the color of someone’s eyes, or switch the setting from Omaha to Miami because they think it sounds better. Some of them will even do these things without telling you!

    It’s an assault on your work.

    A good writing coach suggests changes; she doesn’t make them. Someone who tries to sneak changes past you is not a writing coach — she is … well, a lot of things. Untrustworthy, clearly. And condescending, for sure. It’s a blatant “I know best!” attitude.

    Never, ever forget: This is your manuscript! And your writing coach is working for you!

    Avoid: A writing coach who tries to leave his fingerprints on your manuscript, like a dog marking his territory. Remember — your manuscript, your territory.

    Find: Someone who offers suggestions rather than making changes.

    How: The Sneak is full of disrespect. These kinds of people are usually easy enough to spot during an initial consult; you can often hear it in their tone. Ask how he or she handles editorial suggestions. If he or she says anything like “I’ll make whatever changes are necessary,” you say, “How about changing yourself first? Oooohhhh, sick burn.” And then hang up, because after that it gets weird.


    Wrap-up and Discussion

    You now have eight writing coach monsters to be on the lookout for, and tips for defending yourself against them. Yay, you!

    We will remain vigilant and do our best to spot any new writing coach monsters on the loose out there.

    But we could use your help. If you’ve had a terrifying experience with a writing coach monster, please let us know, either in the comments section below or by email.

    The writing process is scary enough as it is. Your writing coach shouldn’t turn it into a scene from The Exorcist.

    If you want to learn about coaching and whether it’s right for you, browse our coaching services, or request a free consult today to discuss your goals and options.


    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

    David Duhr, co-founderWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes regularly to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, the Observer and other publications.


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    Hey David. Thank you so much for both posts on writing coach monsters. I’m happy to find that according to your descriptions, I’m not one of them. At least I don’t think I am, but I don’t advertise myself as a writing consultant or coach. I advertise myself as a writer and editor because that’s what I’ve done for years. I’ve also taken some courses in copyediting, but I agree—a certificate doesn’t mean proficiency. I’ve found this kind of prowess needs an intuitive as well as an analytical mind, and a mind that respects creativity. And I’m doing well with… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Thank you for stopping by, Sheri. You sure did nail it, an intuitive, analytical mind that respects creativity is essential in any kind of writing coach, consultant, what have you. And not *just* because we writers tend to be a sensitive lot. DD

    Ron Seybold

    Hey David. Your posts on this subject have been provocative and fun to read. I have another marker: ask a prospective writing coach how long they’ve been paid to write and edit. Salaried writing and editing, editorial projects, articles, books. Your coach should be able to answer in years. Like being an incumbent, that’s a record of work they get to reference, and you get to check. That number of years is not any more important than those hard-earned Masters degrees. But it’s no less important, either. I had the pleasure of working with Steve Adams while he was with… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Thanks for reading and posting, Ron. You’re right, it’s crucial to learn what sort of experience any prospective writing coach has. Most of these people, both in this post and the previous, can be discovered during an initial conversation (which should be free!) if you come prepared with the right questions and are seeking the right information.

    After that, a lot of it is instinct, gut, rapport. DD

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