Wrestling the Incomplete Manuscript: Book Coaching
“I’ve started writing a book, and I can’t figure out how to finish it.”
“I think I have an outline, but how do I go about writing a complete book?”
“Can anyone help me while I’m in the process of writing my book?”
Editing is great and all, but until you have a complete manuscript—a full story with a beginning, middle, and end—professional editing is of limited value to you. While you’re actively writing, other types of feedback pack a bigger punch, which is why some writers turn to coaches in their book creation process.
A book coach can help you during the writing process. Image courtesy of Big Stock. Some rights reserved.
Do any of the above scenarios sound like you? I’ve coached authors who’ve gotten deep into manuscripts and lost the thread, writers who want actionable feedback on how to make their story better, and would-be authors who seek accountability and ongoing support. All that being said, coaching is not for everyone—and now may not be the time you want or need it.
Book Coaching: The Basics
Most writers turn to coaches for a combination of accountability (that manuscript you started ages ago and never finished), and ongoing feedback (comments/revisions to make your work better as you’re writing it). Some level of cheerleading is also included, because every writer can use someone who supports their work.
All good coaching involves outline development. This means creating a structure you’ll use to guide you as you write. Your coach may work with you to create an outline, or if you already have one, review it to help you stay on task and on target. Don’t like outlines? We can guide you through using mind maps or other techniques that capture the big picture.
Coaching by definition is book development. We’re asking the same big questions the developmental edit asks, only we’re asking them over and over again.
- What is your concept?
- Who is your audience?
- What is the overall structure and how can you develop your ideas?
If you’ve read my blog post from last month, these questions might sound suspiciously like the Big Four Questions everyone should ask their manuscript.
In addition, coaching pays close attention to:
- Your writing strengths and weaknesses
- Strategies you can use to help you meet your writing goals
Depending on your needs (and payment choices), coaching can be very “high-touch.” You might be speaking with your coach or sharing revisions back and forth on an intensive basis. Or, you can decide on a less-intensive schedule of feedback, on a spectrum that suits you.
Coaching is a flexible arrangement. It’s also a great way to build accountability into your writing process and ensure you meet your deadlines, whether self-imposed or external. However, it is not for everyone, all the time.
When Book Coaching is NOT for You
Fiction authors, in particular, can go through a long process of story discovery. If you are playing with a variety of ideas and characters, and a big story arc or character hasn’t solidified for you as the central figure, coaching may be premature.
Alternatively, if you want to hone your craft and tinker with a variety of ideas big and small, coaching may also not be appropriate. In these cases, I recommend taking writer’s workshops, and/or attending writer’s groups in the genre of your interest.
And finally, if you want help writing your book, and what you mean by that is “can someone else write this for me?” the answer is yes. This person is a ghostwriter, not a coach.
When Workshops and Writer’s Groups May Be Helpful Instead
Nonfiction writers can also benefit from classes and writer’s groups. You can connect with like-minded writers who share personal experiences and best practices. And you can find workshops on book proposals and building your platform, all of which helps your book.
You can find literary hubs in many cities. In Denver, we have Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop; Minneapolis has The Loft; Boston has Grub Street; Seattle Hugo House; you get the idea. The Loft has a listing of literary organizations, as does Writer’s Market. Find a group that works for you, and work on your craft in a supportive environment.
In my experience, most of these hubs focus on traditional publication, and some may be more open to the idea of self-publishing than others. However, they have excellent instructors and you can learn a LOT about the craft of writing, as well as find a community of like-minded people.
The Bottom Line: What a Coach Can and Cannot Do
Know this: your coach will not write your book for you. If you begin work with someone as a coach, and your arrangement morphs to where they are doing the writing, instead of you, what you now have is a ghostwriter.
A book coach can be a great resource for you as you tackle a manuscript that doesn’t want to get done. Consider what you want from your coach: accountability, craft tips, help with the outline, and so on. Interview your coach just as you would your editor.
Coaches can’t make you do what you don’t want to do. We can give you lots of great advice about the writing and revision process. We can give you great feedback on your ideas, your arc, your characters and style. We’re a great source of tips on how to break through writer’s block. But we can’t make you write your book. You still need to put in the work.
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