• The Writing Coach: Therapy, Training, Editorial Guidance

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in ABCs of Writing     Comments 1 comment

    In our ongoing series addressing the role and duties of a writing coach, today we present a response from WriteByNighter Sid Kemp. Sid came to us in the throes of a battle with writer’s block, and began working with Justine through our writer’s block counseling service. Mere months later, Sid is once again writing regularly. The post below is his response to the questions we asked y’all about writing coaches: What is a writing coach to you? What role does your coach play in your writing life? What does your coach do that others in your life do not (or vice versa)? 


    Bored at WorkFor a writer with writer’s block as bad as mine, a writing coach is what a lifeguard is to a tired swimmer caught in a rip current. The writing coach is a lifeline who will help me get from where I am to where I want to be, when I can’t seem to get there alone.

    I myself am a spiritual life coach, so I understand coaching pretty well. Justine, as my writing coach, fills a truly unique role. Perhaps some writers can publish and achieve their goals without help – if so, more power to you. But Justine and I agree that, while it is wonderful to be a writer, it is also hard. Writing, as an art, requires sensitivity and incredible honestly. Living in this world, that is painful and often hard. I’m a big one for asking for help when I need it. What kind of help? I’ll answer that to distinguish a writing coach from other types of helpers:

    • A housekeeper will clean up after you.
    • A nanny will prepare food and wipe your mouth. (We all need to be pampered sometimes.)
    • A writing teacher will help you write better.
    • An editor will help you rewrite better.
    • A line editor and proofreader will fix what you could fix in someone else’s writing, but can’t see in your own.
    • A writing coach will help you to write when you can’t write. She (or he) will help you to overcome blocks and fears, help you to face what you can’t face, or don’t want to face. She will help you become a better person and a better author – one who deserves authority through expertise and cultivated and natural talent, and who claims that expertise, producing and delivering results, collecting rejection slips and growing to greater and greater publication of one’s work.


    The relationship between a writer and a coach is two-way, and the two most important elements are trust and faith. I trust Justine’s sincere views of my work, and I have faith in her knowledge, both its breadth and depth. She has earned that trust by proving herself valuable as I’ve faced issues overcoming my writer’s block and growing more confident to become a more capable and flexible writer. She has faith in me as a capable and determined writer, and trusts me to listen to her and improve. And I work to earn that trust. So a writing coach is a person who helps a writer be the best author (and incidentally) the best person he can be.

    What does a writing coach do?

    The writer needs to be honest about where he is and where he wants to go. The coach listens and guides, and, also, as needed, questions and challenges. Together, we clarify the place I stand today, including my limitations. We define the problems and challenges I face. We clarify my goals. And we plan a way to get from here to there. We even work to make it fun sometimes!

    How is a writing coach different from a therapist? Much of what Justine does, a skilled therapist could do. But the advantage of focusing on my writing, and not my relationship with my mother or my inner angst, is in the resulting productivity. My relationship with my mother needs no improving, for she has passed away. My inner angst is worked out through my writing. Justine helps me write more frequently and more authentically, and the angst takes care of itself. And when I publish, I know my mother is proud of me.

    How is a writing coach different from a writing teacher? Justine, whose formal education in literature and writing was better than mine (I’m an old dog, and writing programs were not so good when I was in college), does take the role of teacher sometimes, guiding me to books and exercises that will help me grow my craft. But our work also focuses on the practical aspects of life – such as learning to write even when I am busy or ill (or both). The writing coach helps with process and productivity in a way that the teacher does not.

    How is a writing coach different from an editor? Justine is my most important editor. She is the first reader of all of my works. But the primary reason for this is not to improve the work. It is to help me feel safe on the boundary between being a writer and seeking to be published. I can’t help but love everything I write, for I gave it birth. But I trust Justine’s judgment regarding what is publishable, what needs improvement, and what belongs in the circular file. And I trust her to tell me in a way that won’t hurt my overly sensitive writer’s feelings. So, when I think a story is ready, I send it to Justine. When we both think it is ready – and only then – do I share it with other readers, editors, and perhaps the wider world.

    Right now, Justine, as my writing coach, is a one-stop shop for therapy, training, and editorial guidance. I could have a separate person fulfill each of these roles, and some writers might just do it themselves. But what makes a writing coach is the flexible ability to do each of these jobs as needed. When I can’t write, a therapist and an enthusiastic booster; when I don’t know how to write well enough, a teacher; when I think it’s good enough to publish, an editor who will tell me the truth, for the sake of making the work the best it can be.

    And when the work I write is the best it can be, then I am the best writer I can be. And since writing, or any art, is about seeing and sharing the truth, that means I am the best person I can be.

    So a writing coach is someone who will keep a writer alive and help him (or her) to be worthy of the title “author,” truly authoritative, having earned it, and not let him or her get away with anything less.


    Many thanks for the great response, Sid. Make sure to tune in next week, when Justine will counter with her own experiences working with Sid and other WriteByNighters.

    For earlier posts in this series, visit:

    8 Differences Between a Writing Coach and a Football Coach

    What is a Writing Coach?

    No Really, What is a Writing Coach?

    To learn more about our coaching services, visit this page or request a free consultation.

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    […] Sid’s thoughtful blog post about what a writing coach is to him touches upon what is to my mind the most important aspect of a successful coaching experience: mutuality. I can’t be a coach without you any more than you can be coached without me. We enter into a healthy codependence in order to co-create an experience we can both learn from; in other words, we discover together what it means to be a coach and a coachee. […]

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