I write, ghostwrite, edit, and advise writers. I also coach them. Coaching is the hardest, and the thing I have the most trouble with.
The challenge is the mindset.
I have a project and problem-solving mindset.
This is why I like writing and editing projects. The to-dos look like this:
- How can I help my collaborators and clients turn this concept into a workable, differentiated idea?
- What are the parts of this book?
- How can I write this chapter? (Subsidiary challenges: What is the main idea of this chapter? How can I get the right research to support it? How does this interview fit into this chapter?)
- What’s wrong with the writing in this piece, and how can I make it better?
- What remains to be done to complete this editing/writing project?
I typically price projects by the project. That is, you pay for me reaching or for helping you to reach certain milestones, and eventually, for completing the project. Clients like this. It gives them certainty about cost. And I like it, because it motivates me to be as efficient as I can be. It compensates me for my experience and talent.
I do hourly consulting, too, but that’s typically a follow-on to something and of limited scope. It’s not a big part of my work.
Coaching is different
I have two clients right now who have hired me as writing coaches. They proposed this arrangement to me; I didn’t push it on them.
Consider how the coach is compensated — by the session, like a therapist. It is in the best financial interest of the coach to keep the client dependent on the coach. This is true of executive coaches and writing coaches and life coaches and, I’m sure, lots of other coaches. Sure, they want you to grow, but probably not enough to outgrow your need for them.
My mindset is completely different. I want to help you to be good enough to write without my help. I want you to outgrow me.
Here’s how a typical coaching session goes, I guess (no one ever explained this to me):
- Hi, how are you doing, really cold here, hard week, blah blah blah.
- I looked at what you turned in and it was really good. (You can’t start by saying it was bad, that discourages people.)
- No, it didn’t suck. Honest. I liked it.
- I know it was hard for you to create. It was worth it, really.
- Here’s what I saw that wasn’t quite right, and that you can work on.
- Sure, we can talk about how you perceive the problem, too. Let’s see if we can get a shared understanding of what it takes to go to the next level.
- OK, work on it for next time. When should we get together next?
- Keep up the good work. You’ll get there!
It involves a lot of careful listening and reassurance.
I can certainly listen, and if necessary, reassure. But that’s not what I really want to do. Something in me wants to be project-focused. So while I do the warm friendly thing, my coaching sessions typically look like this:
- How’s it going, good work, let’s get to it.
- Here’s what you created. Here’s the job it needed to do. Here’s what it did well, and here’s what it still needs to do that it isn’t doing yet.
- Here’s the work you need to do to get to that next level. Here’s how to do that work.
- Talk to you next time.
This is right for some people. For example, one of my clients is a new author. They are growing by leaps and bounds with this method — each session reflects enormous growth. I’m absolutely certain that in a small number of sessions, they won’t need me as a coach any more. That feels glorious to me.
From a financial perspective, for me, that’s a failure. But based on they way I like to think, it’s a success. The client is like a project, just like the editing or writing projects. The job is to get them from where they are to where they need to be. It is collaborative. It’s human, too, but it has an endpoint.
If you’re a coach — or someone who has hired one — help me here. Am I doing this wrong? Or am I doing it right, and lots of other coaches are the ones with the wrong mindset?