Traveling by Coach

AmyGreetings, humans! I just got back from the Alaska Writer’s Guild Fall Conference (and am exhausted out of my mind), but I haven’t gotten all my notes and thoughts together enough to form a coherent blog post. That will come later, I promise. (Spoiler alert: it was awesome!)

In the meantime, I attended another AWG monthly meeting last week and learned about a writing profession I’d never heard of: writing coach. Since I’d never heard of it, I was eager to figure out the dealio, and even to do a little sniffing around before the presentation.  To do that, I got to hassle our presenter, a local writing coach named Amy Jane Helmericks. (She also published her first book, Lindorm Kingdom, earlier this year. Congrats, Amy!)

So what is a writing coach? What do they do?

To help me figure that out, Amy was kind enough to stage a twenty minute session she might go through with a new client. We emailed beforehand to set it up, and she sent along a list of questions to think about in preparation for our session.

Amy was incredibly fun to work with, and asked super helpful questions. (In fact, her very first question completely stumped me. I’m still working out a good answer.) She raked my story idea over the coals (in the kindest, gentlest way possible) and then turned to my synopsis. I actually had given her three things: a logline, a 100 word pitch, and a half-page synopsis. She talked about what worked in each of them, and what didn’t work, and how each of those things could be tightened up even further. But above all else, she asked questions, questions, questions. And without fail, the questions that I was the worst at answering correlated to the weakest parts in my story.

But Amy never gave specific advice. As precise as her questions were, her advice was very broad. As Amy herself put it in her presentation later that week, “I didn’t tell him what to do… We stir things up and then we hand it over.” If I had a bad answer, she wasn’t going to fix it for me. That was my job. She just pointed out where the work needed to be done.

I have actually had very similar sessions in the past with writer friends of mine, where we pick apart each other’s ideas and tune them up. And I always found them hugely helpful, even vital. I never have good story ideas until I’ve chattered them to death with fellow writers. Amy was able to echo that same feeling of cozy friendliness, but to imbue it with professional quality questions, prompts, and guidance.

As Amy mentioned later in her presentation, what a writing coach does is based on what the writer needs. “It depends on what you want help with,” she said when someone asked at what point to bring in a coach. “I help with organizing ideas, editing, querying…” Likewise, her presentation ran the gamut from finding inspiration to writing and organizing, on through editing and pitching. And she knew her stuff on all those points. It was a great presentation, folding together several posts’ worth of themes and how-to’s, most of which can be found on her website. We even talked about the value of NaNoWriMo and how to prepare yourself for it so you can draft effectively!

In short, it was a great session and presentation. Amy is very thoughtful and thought-provoking, and incredibly generous with her time and expertise. If you’ve found that your writing has stalled, maybe even before you’ve had a good run at it, consider bringing on a writing coach. It could be the jumpstart that you need.

To learn more about Amy and what she does, visit her website at Happy writing!