Do you need a writing coach?

Probably not.

I mean, let’s be totally honest: most people don’t need a writing coach any more than they need a running coach, cycling coach or swimming coach. (The last time I checked Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, coaching wasn’t explicitly listed, and it certainly didn’t exist in the lower levels, though it might be a good way of achieving the mastery listed in level four.) But that doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from a few sessions with a writing coach, whoever you are and whatever your experience level.

Like a sporting coach, a writing coach can provide encouragement and advice when you’re feeling stuck and not making much progress. She can discuss your ideas, help you plot your course to achieving your writing goals, and guide you through reflection on your progress.

A writing coach can also help you hone your writing and revising skills. No one would expect they could become a tournament-winning golfer without years of coached practice, so why should writing be any different?

If you’re just starting out in creative writing, you might need help with varying your sentence structures to give your words texture. A small business blogger might need some guidance on building a consistent style and tone. Maybe you’re a student who needs a more interesting way to structure her essay, or a self-published romance author who finds himself slipping into stereotypes. Even the most famous writers can develop unusual habits they’re oblivious to; these quirks of style may work very well for some purposes, but not at all for others. (Think Lisbeth Salander’s shopping lists in the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson.)

One of my clients used to write pages of run-on sentences without even recognising them; these days, she uses them only when she wants to create a certain effect. My own favourite quirk is a tendency to overuse dashes—like this—but because I’m aware of it, I work hard to use other punctuation instead. And that’s what a writing coach can do for you: help you train a more critical eye, so you can be the first line of defence against your own bad habits.

Where a structural editor might point out problems in your manuscript and even suggest solutions, a writing coach will walk you through these problems and arm you with the skills to identify and resolve them yourself. That means you’ll be ready to fix the same problems in your future work, and you’ll be on the lookout for new ones. You’ll still need editing and proofreading before you go to publication, but you’ll be making your editor’s job easier—and less expensive.

Not everyone is receptive to the idea of being coached; if you’re the sort of writer who prefers to go it alone, then coaching is probably not for you. But if you truly want to reach your writing potential, then working with a writing coach might help you get there.

Tips for working with a writing coach

Set clear expectations: tell your coach what you hope to achieve and how much time you can dedicate to your writing practice, so she can plan accordingly—and keep her posted if anything changes.

Try new things: coaching only works if you’re willing to change, so try everything your coach suggests, and try it with an open mind. Your writing’s not broken, so it doesn’t need fixing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve it. And if you don’t like the result, it’s easy to change it back—only now you’ll know for sure it’s the best solution.

Give honest feedback: everyone is different, and what works for other writers might not work for you. If you’re honest with your coach about what does and doesn’t work for you, she can adapt her approach so you’ll get more out of your sessions.

Editing pro-tip

The more time and effort you’ve invested in perfecting your writing project, the sharper any critical feedback will bite, no matter how constructive it is. There’s a simple workaround, though—seek feedback as early as you can in your writing process.