Saturday, July 10, 2010

Writing Coach? I don't need no Writing Coach

I came across a writing coach on the internet. Give me a break. I imagined him blowing a whistle and yelling, “Write!” Does he give writers exercises to improve their creative juices? I have plenty of ideas and didn’t need some coach giving me bits of inspiration. Clichés don’t help me. And I’m an English teacher; I know how to write a sentence. I didn’t need some coach telling me what fragments and run-ons are.

Besides, I wrote a great novel – my writing group told me so. I went part-time for a year to write it (the luxury of being single). It was my third novel (none published) and by far the best one I had written. I honed my craft, writing four drafts. And I wrote about what I knew. I read plenty of books on the subject. I worked in the novel’s setting and knew people with the same job as the main character. What could go wrong?

The first rejection slip made me laugh. I pinned it to my wall. I heard stories of famous writers going through many a rejection. But when I got a dozen rejections without anything more than a polite form letter, I wanted an expert opinion.

I looked up the writing coach.

He published several books so I read them. He taught at a university in the masters of fiction department. Sure, his credentials were good, but what could he tell me? And for the price of $50 per hour, I was skeptical. I sent him my manuscript expecting him to praise it up and down. I thought he’d give me little gems of wisdom like “Keep trying!” And secretly hoped he’d say, “I know this publisher…”

I was wrong.

He sent me a twenty page assessment of my novel. He outlined why it would never be published in its current state. He gave me a list of several dozen books to read – fiction and on writing. He told me to read books in my genre or similar to my own. And then pick out passages and copy it down word for word.

Are you kidding me, I thought. It was degrading. My coach gave me his phone number and asked me to call him (I didn’t). He was worried I’d become suicidal. I guess that happens often in his line of work.

I was humbled. I realized my book wasn’t all that I thought it was. I re-read his email a dozen times and starting ordering and reading the books he suggested. After a couple of years of reading, I was ready to go part-time again and write another draft of my book (thank god I had and understanding wife and no children).

The next draft was better but it took several more drafts (and a couple grand) before I got my writing coach’s approval. He claimed it was the best book out of all the people he coached. It was good enough to be a thesis for my MFA, if I wanted to go that route. With a new touch of confidence, I took it to authonomy.

Authonomy….Not sure what that experience conjures up for you. For me, I got honest feedback and learned even more about my craft.

I used to be frustrated that I wasn’t published. I had this idea in my mind that I wrote well and it was only a matter of time before I was discovered. I wrote with flare and humor. Girlfriends loved my writing.

But things have changed.

As I learned more about writing, I now see weaknesses in my own writing. And as I’ve read more books, I learned there are lots of inspiring books out there that are truly excellent. I’m in awe of great writing.

The hardest part is to accept criticism. It’s a really blow to the ego but it helps immensely. I had to change from believing my writing was great to believing in my ideas. And then when I read some fiction that blew me away, I just wanted to write something decent. And I a stunned at how much great fiction is out there where the writer claims it's only his or hers first draft. I'm obviously not a very good writer, but I have written a pretty good book - thanks to my patience.

I still want to get published. I still have confidence in what I wrote. But after starting my book ten years ago (and nine drafts ago), my expectations are more realistic.