• Is Your Writing Coach a Monster? Identifying 4 Types

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 11 comments

    zombie-367517_960_720In the seven years we’ve been providing one-on-one coaching services, we’ve heard an alarming amount of anecdotes from writers about other writing coaches they’ve hired and — for good reason — fired.

    These bad experiences are usually due to one of several writing coach monsters, four of which we want to identify today.

    How do you spot them and how do you avoid them? Read on to find out. If you’re brave enough.


    Tyler Rant

    Tyler (or Ty) Rant is a writing coach who doesn’t make suggestions — he makes commands. Instead of saying, “Consider doing this,” Ty says, “Do this.” If you disagree, he digs his heels in.

    “You have to write this way”; “You can’t have the character say or do this thing”; “You must switch from first-person to third.” These are the words of Ty Rant.

    Often he tries to pull rank. “I know best!” he screams, puffing out his chest. “I’ve been in this business for decades!”

    When Tyler tries to pull rank, realize it, and then remind yourself of one thing: You are the top-ranking person in this relationship. Your writing coach is working for you; you are not working for him.

    OK, remember two things: Your ranking, and the fact that this is your project.

    If a writing coach ever says to you, “It’s my way or the highway,” ask him for the quickest route to the highway.

    Avoid: A rigid writing coach who tries to make your manuscript his or her own by telling you what to change. Someone who commands rather than suggests.

    Find: A coach who proposes edits and suggests changes, and then leaves it alone if you disagree.

    How: This personality type is often identifiable in an initial consult. Ask the prospective writing coach about his/her process. Ask him what he does when he comes across something he thinks should be done differently.


    Jane Paycheck

    A client recently told Justine that her former writing coach said — and this is a direct quote — “I’m not excited about your writing, but we can work together anyway.”


    Look, I’m not going to pretend that every writing coach can be wild about every project. But! You should never hire a writing coach who isn’t excited about working with you on your project.

    In other words, a good writing coach will be excited about your book — even if he or she isn’t excited about your book. This relationship should be about more than just a paycheck.

    A writing coach should be a motivator, even a cheerleader. Have you ever seen a bored cheerleader? It’s not a good look. And it doesn’t motivate a spectator.

    Avoid: Any writing coach who is clearly in it for a paycheck alone.

    Find: Someone who takes a personal interest in you and your goals.

    How: Follow your instincts. It will become clear within the first couple of meetings (if not in your initial consult) whether your writing coach is someone who will inspire you, motivate you, and care about you as a writer and as a person.


    Dr. Byhand

    Many writers and editors work better by hand. I do. When I’m reading a printed manuscript and making marks with a pen, I feel sharper than when I read/edit on a computer.

    But here’s the thing: Nobody but me could possibly understand the scribbles and marks I make on that manuscript. It’s like trying to read the stereotypical doctor’s prescription pad.

    So I transfer those notes to a computer.

    WriteByNight delivers all of its work via Microsoft Word, using the track changes function. It’s simple, but most importantly, it’s legible.

    Many writing coaches deliver the ridiculous printout instead. We’ve heard way too many horror stories from writers who have received illegible handwritten feedback, and, worse, the writing coach being unwilling (or unable!) to clarify.

    Avoid: A coach who will deliver a pile of printed-out pages with illegible marks and notes scribbled in crayon.

    Find: A coach who delivers her feedback in an organized, legible fashion.

    How: Ask the writing coach up front how he/she delivers written feedback.


    Mr./Mrs./Ms. Myopia

    It’s a drum I pound on a lot, but there are right times and wrong times to address typos.

    When you’re creating a draft, nothing — nothing! — matters less than typography and line-level edits. What matters are the overarching questions of plot, setting, character, theme, direction, arc, tone, thesis.

    A writing coach who focuses on typos and copy editing is a writing coach who doesn’t understand the manuscript process.

    You know when I point out typos to my writing clients? When they’re amusing and can lead to a shared giggle. Like when a client wrote, “That Christmas, Satan brought me a new puppy.”

    (Turns out he actually did mean Satan, but that’s another story.)

    Avoid: A short-sighted writing coach who wastes time on piffle.

    Find: A coach who … well, a coach who knows what coaching is. Someone who understands the process and the big picture.

    How: Once again, discuss this in your initial consult. Ask the prospective coach how she will be treating the pages you submit. If she says she’ll be extra careful to make sure no typos slip through her filter and that she will fine-tune every sentence, say thanks but no thanks.


    Caveat Scriptor!

    There are other writing coach monsters to watch out for, but these are four of the worst. (In a future post, we’ll tackle the others.) Beware them. Do not let them into your life.

    The writing process is difficult enough as it is. Your writing coach should not make that process harder.

    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.


    Your Turn

    Have you had a bad experience with one of these four writing coach monsters? Or a writing coach monster of a different type? Tell us about it!


    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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    Tom Whittier

    I had a guy, not a coach so much but more like a consultant I guess, who told me “I had my wife read this chapter and she really liked it.” I was flabbergatsed. How DARE you show my work to someone else without my permission, even a wife! It seemed like such a breah of trust to me. I ended our working relationship immediately. He said in his own defense something like “Sometimes we need another pair of eyes to see problems. ” And I was like, “You ARE the other pair of eyes.” More like you WERE the… Read more »


    I don’t know the subject matter of your book but with my book I would have appreciated it. I need different viewpoints though. I don’t know if that is right or wrong.

    Tom Whittier

    Sure, different viewpoints and all that. But it’s the lack of permission. He didn’t ask me! That’s what had me so irate. Give me the option. “Hey, I think having my wife read this might help us. Here’s why. What do you think, yes or no?” Maybe I don’t want anyone but him and I to know what I’m working on or — especially! — see what I’m working on?


    Great post. I think it is hard for writers who are working with coaches to identify these types of people. If they do not come across as abrupt or present some signal, I think it can be hard to identify. I have no writing experience. I would not know if the suggestions of a coach was wrong. I would think that they are trying to help me create the best product possible. I think I have a great coach and have been happy with Write by Night.

    Tom Whittier

    I guess they’re saying suggestions are good, demands are not. I agree with that completely. Suggest some things to improve the piece, and leave it up to me whether or not they feel right for the piece. It should always be the writer’s decision, in the end, regardless of who (whom?) has more experience. Don’t just commandeer my writing from me, you know? I guess that’s the person who is Tyler Rant.

    Marla A.

    I had Dr. By Hand once. It was a nightmare. Not only was his notes impossible to read but also getting an answer from him afterwards on what he wrote was also nearly impossible. Surprise, surprise, he was harder to reach after he had his check! It was a nightmare. THanks to that, I will never hire someone again without getting a full accounting of how he or he delivers the response. Thanks for these tips, I’ll make sure to watch for these things in the future.

    […] 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, […]

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