Have you ever wondered what a writing coach is?
As you can imagine, I get asked this a lot. I mean, it is baked into my branding, and I love sharing insights I’ve gained over my years of coaching.
Let’s start with the simplest, broadest definition of what a writing coach is and does:
A writing coach provides you with input and support designed to close the gap between where you are as a writer and where you want to be.
I coauthored the book On Being a Writer with Charity Singleton Craig (2014), and our editor used similar language on the back cover copy of the book and in marketing materials:
Let this book act as your personal coach, to explore the writing life you already have and the writing life you wish for, and close the gap between the two.1
That phrasing captures the foundational purpose and core intent of this coaching role in a writer’s life, so I adapted it here.
And as a writing coach myself for over a decade, I can confirm that this is indeed a high-level description of writing coaching.
Differences in Writing Coaches
Every coach approaches the work differently based on their experience, background, training, and philosophy. As a result, not every coach will feel like the right fit for you.
In fact, you may need one kind of coach at one stage in your writing journey and another kind of coach later.
Bottom line: you want to find someone ready to address your current goals and challenges.
Writing Coaches Are Not…
To begin to understand what a writing coach is and does, let’s look at what a writing coach isn’t.
➤ Writing coaches are not editors
A coach may have been and may still be an editor. They may offer both services and, thus, be both a coach and an editor. They may also offer editorial input within their coaching style. But these are two different services, so writing coaches are not editors while they are coaching.
➤ Writing coaches are not agents
A coach may have been and may still be an agent. But these two services must be distinct and separate, since authors never pay for representation. If you find an agent who offers coaching, be sure the service you’re paying for is coaching.
➤ Writing coaches are not ghostwriters
A coach may have been a ghostwriter and may still offer ghostwriting as a separate service, but a coach’s role is not to collaborate or do any of the writing for you. You’re the writer!
➤ Writing coaches are not social media managers or designers
A coach may have personal experience and success in social media, and offer ideas to increase engagement with followers. They may recommend social media managers and designers. But writers don’t hire coaches to set up marketing campaigns or design Instagram images.
➤ Writing coaches are not marketing and promotion specialists, publicists, or launch team organizers
A coach may offer marketing, publicity, or launch team services in addition to coaching. Authors who become coaches may pass along insights from their own marketing and publicity experience. But when coaching a client, they are not marketing or publicizing their client’s work or organizing a launch team.
➤ Writing coaches are not mentors
My writing mentors—I’ve had at least five—invested time in me, guiding and steering me through phases in my career, and from those relationships, I know that a coach’s advice might feel like the advice you’ve gotten from a mentor. A coach might even have a mentor. You yourself might have both a mentor and a coach. Despite the similarities, however, a writing coach is not the same as a mentor.
➤ Writing coaches are not teachers
A coach may have been—or still be—an English teacher or a professor, and a coach may also, separately, teach through courses, conferences, and workshops. I suppose a coach may informally teach through a one-on-one session. But coaches are different from teachers.
Writing Coaches Complement Other Roles
A writing coach is not replacing or competing with any of those roles.
In fact, you may need or want an editor, agent, or teacher at another stage of your writing life—sometimes you’ll need both at the same time: a coach and any number of these roles.
I plan to explore the differences between these roles in more detail in the future, but for now, let’s look at categories of coaches in more detail, so you can grasp the variety and land on the type of coach to best support your writing needs and challenges.
Not All Coaches Are the Same
As you research writing coaches, you’re going to see people with that title, but when you inquire about working with them, they don’t offer what you need. That’s probably because their core strength is not what you’re looking for.
Not all coaches are the same.
I see the term “writing coach” as the broadest label—an umbrella term, if you will. Under that are specialties.
You’re trying to align your needs and challenges and goals with their experience, training, philosophy, personality, and expertise.
Not all writing coaches are book coaches. In your search for a writing coach, you’ll discover some who focus on novelists, nonfiction authors, and memoirists. They may call themselves writing coaches or book coaches, or both, but their focus is on coaching authors—people working on book length projects. A book coach is a type of writing coach, but you may come across a writing coach who is not a book coach.
You’ll also find people who coach bloggers, copywriters, essayists, and poets. And you may see coaches who offer guidance to freelance writers, grant writers, PhD candidates working on dissertations, and professionals in the workplace seeking to improve their communication skills.
Another way coaches differ is through training, education, and experience, and that’s going to influence their specialties, style, and services even more.
Working with a writing coach who has training or background as a life coach may feel much different from someone who coaches out of experience as an editor, academic, marketer, or author. They may offer few resources or recommendations and rely instead on their skill in asking curious questions to free the writer to discover solutions to their own challenges.
A coach with an editorial background, on the other hand, may provide input on writing samples to point out areas of strength and weakness for a writer to improve craft. They may even assign homework to complete before each session.
Coaches who have been successful freelance writers might provide clients with a plan to launch their own business.
And book coaches may rely on a framework or process they’ve developed that adds structure, deadlines, input, and milestones so clients complete their manuscripts.
Coaches with experience building platform may work with the clients to develop a set of strategies to implement.
Add in their personality and their interpersonal communication style, and the types of coaches you could work with starts to seem endless, especially as this role is exploding right now, with coaches popping up everywhere with different kinds of certification as well.
Types of Writing Coaches
Here are some of the types of coaches you’ll find.
1. Coaches for academics
In your search, you’ll discover coaches who serve PhD candidates completing their dissertations or undergrads leveling up their essays and response papers.
2. Freelance writing coaches
These coaches equip writers to launch their own freelance writing careers so they can confidently present their freelance writing services or pitch and submit articles to magazines.
3. Coaches focused on mindset
Almost all coaches have experience working with writers who deal with writers block, perfectionism, imposter syndrome, fear, and other mindset hurdles, but people with training as a life coach often specialize in it. They might not supply strategies, provide publishing advice, or send resources, but they are skilled at asking questions that unlock and unwind your creative blocks.
4. Literary writing coaches
You can find coaches who support poets, essayists, or writers of short stories. Some may have earned an MFA, but they don’t need one to successfully review projects or prepare clients for submissions.
5. Corporate Communication Coaches
Some coaches serve professionals in the workplace determined to become more skilled and confident with written communication in the corporate world.
6. Coaches focused on grant writing
This is really specific, but there are people with experience writing successful grants who then offer that as a coaching service to support writers ready to craft their own grants.
7. Coaches for bloggers and digital writers
Some coaches serve bloggers and digital writers—people getting started online or seeking to improve their style and try new approaches.
These writers may be transitioning from print and need input to feel comfortable following best practices for digital writing. A coach who specializes in this may be just what a writer needs to launch a website, begin blogging, or understand how to write in the micro-essay form emerging on social media.
8. Coaches specializing in platform
You’ll find coaches who help people establish and expand their online presence and influence so they can reach readers with their message.
9. Book coaches
I saved this for last because it’s the biggest category. As I mentioned, we have this broader category of “writing coaches” that narrows to become “book coaches.” They may call themselves “book coaches” or “writing coaches,” but whatever label they use, their focus is on supporting authors working on book-length projects.
Book coaches narrow even further.
Book Coaches with Publishing Expertise
Depending on the publishing path you want to take, you could search for a coach experienced in self-publishing or traditional publishing.
Book Coaches for Authors of Nonfiction
Many coaches specialize in types of nonfiction, like:
- prescriptive nonfiction (some agents and editors call this “transformative nonfiction”)
Book Coaches for Novelists
You may discover a coach who coaches novelists in general or brings a deep understanding of specific genres, like:
- literary fiction
- women’s fiction
- genre fiction (like thrillers, fantasy, or romance)
Book coaches for Memoirists
There are coaches who work with memoirists developing their narrative arc to complete a full manuscript.
I’m going to add one more term here that you may encounter: “book doctor.”
A book doctor works with an author to revise an existing manuscript and make it ready for publication. A book doctor combines developmental editing with coaching gifts.
Keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list, but it reveals the variety of writing coaches. You may find one whose background—combined with personality and specialty—feels like the perfect fit for you and your challenges.
Be Open When Searching for a Writing Coach
While it may be tempting to seek a coach who has already achieved what you want to achieve, don’t limit yourself.
A coach’s own writing, editing, and publishing experience—their education and specialty—may matter less than if they can actually ask you the right questions and offer you resources to take the next step.
After all, in sports you’ll find plenty of coaches who coach Olympic athletes without having been an Olympic athlete themselves. I’ve coached bestselling and award-winning authors who have landed on lists and received honors I haven’t achieved or received.
You want a writing coach who sets you up for success.
That broadest definition that I started with works for every kind of coach:
They provide you with input and support designed to close the gap between where you are as a writer and where you want to be.
Find a Coach Who’s Here for You
Coaches love books. They love words. They love to empower writers to reach their potential. They exist to support you as you achieve your goals. Coaches identify a writer’s struggles and strategize next steps.
They see you for the individual writer you are with your own unique set of skills and gifts, challenges, and questions. They’ll hear your heart, your dreams, your goals.
Look for a coach who provides you with input and support designed to close the gap between where you are as a writer and where you want to be.
That’s why we’re here. For you.
Is there a gap in where you are as a writer…and where you want to be?
Source: Kroeker, Ann, and Charity Singleton Craig. On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts. T.S. Poetry Press, 2014. (Quote is from the book’s back cover copy.)