How I Coach An Amateur Writer


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[Note: I offer various services at a site called because I like to–certainly not for big bucks. Last weekend a mother/housewife asked me to critique her blog. Here’s what happened next, starting with my critique. Maybe my advice will help a few other writers, too]

Dear ___,

To be perfectly honest, I agree with your family and friends. Before the end of the first paragraph I recognized a born writer, with a genuine gift for crafting snappy, friendly, giddyup observations. I also like your imaginative POV: talking to intangibles, or sitting in your urine. This is good stuff, young lady. Do yourself a favor and keep writing. Do the rest of us a favor and do more of it.

To write really well means writing a lot, and making each reader feel close to you. The second one you’ve got covered. Here are a couple of signs that you don’t write as much as you should:

1) Long paragraphs and sentences. Find the old book on readability by Dr. Rudolph Flesch. His advice about writing short words and short paragraphs has never been as valuable as in the age of blogs. If you write more you’ll gravitate away from long-longs, but his book is a good shortcut.

2) Use even more visuals. You have a great eye, but it turns inward a little too often. Add atmospherics. The shades in a tablecloth in sunlight, the texture of the edge of a building, the tilt of a head, stuff like that. Trust your instincts about what’s worth noting in the visual world and write it down, before you can talk yourself out of it. (And don’t forget to read everything out loud to the great editors on your head)

Apply this test to everything you write: * Is this rich with relevance? * Proof? * Value? You’re weakest in the last, being a little afraid to let go. Knock our socks off with more pithy insights and little surprises. You’re capable of changing the way people look at everyday things and events, and that’s what made Erma Bombeck a very wealthy lady. And you already have enough for a book.

Finally but most importantly, congratulations on being such a wonderful Mom. I was trained as a parenting coach, and my three amazing grown daughters are the finest people I know. I can tell a lovely job when I see it …….

Dear Carey,

It’s taken me a day to get back to you, partly because I’ve been overwhelmed by your words and partly because I am trying to figure out how to convey my feelings without being too wordy!

I can tell you I cried when I read your message. I guess I just didn’t expect such a positive response and such a huge compliment. I am realizing how insecure I am about my writing. Or maybe it is just so personal to me and I feel really vulnerable. It was quite scary to even [ask you for advice] in the first place and I expected to hear something like, “That’s a nice little blog. You should just keep writing for your friends and family.”

I so appreciate your critique and I found it very helpful. I would love to have a writing coach, or I guess that’s called an editor? Wouldn’t that be nice! But for now I will just try to do more writing.

It’s actually pretty funny that you said I needed to write more, because that is all I ever hear from my ‘followers’ who tell me they love my writing, but it’s too infrequent. Maybe they aren’t just being nice. Maybe I really can do something with this writing thing.

My biggest hang-ups are a lack of confidence and not knowing where I fit in. Those are the things I will try to work on and figure out. Your kind and helpful words have allowed me to dream a little bigger and I really can’t thank you enough.

Doh! There I go getting all wordy again and going on too long. Sorry about that!

Just once more…thank you, thank you, thank you! (Okay, maybe thrice more).
Dear _____,

Thank you for asking me to look at your blog; it was a rare opportunity to encourage someone with real talent. Caring deeply is one quality that makes me a good writer, but it also makes me somewhat suspicious in today’s America–after all, I’m a man in his 60s (some people also turn afraid and suspicious when I try to say hello to toddlers, my favorite group in the world).

So it’s a treat to show you I care about your talent.

And encourage you to write more: Norman Mailer called writing a physical activity, because it involves keeping your butt in a chair, working at it until you get good at it. To do that, allow yourself the luxury of tinkering with ideas and words, like a grease monkey sneaks into a car engine every chance he gets. Confidence and recognition are side issues. As good as you are, you only shortchange yourself (and a public hungry for good writing, including your family and friends) when you procrastinate, pushing this creative act to the bottom of your to-do list.

I lie in bed planning the opening line of most pieces, then build on the pleasure it gives me once I get up and begin working on it. While the piece is taking shape I feel like I’m turning a large jewel over in my hands to admire facets of the evolving idea that I hadn’t consciously considered yet. One early goal is always to introduce something unexpected or “impertinent” as quickly as possible, which is what you do with those quirky POV statements. Considering the unexpected is about who you are, and that makes it valuable. It also makes your piece fresh and memorable. Free associate around the main topic until you surprise yourself with an association that makes you smile. Take it as far as you can before it starts to bore you.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Peter Elbow, but books like “Writing Without Teachers” may help you get around some of the ways you undermine your own productivity. Hope you can check him out, at least on line.

Now who’s going on and on? I obviously enjoy coaching and playing cheerleader (my girls tell me it’s always been important to them). The internet gives you a stage to explore and share your natural gifts, more than it offers retailers, managers etc. Like the song says, “I hope you dance.”

And thanks for playing this tune that I could dance to, for a little while, with you.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Carey Giudici
Betterwords for Business
Carey has a unique, high-energy approach to help small business owners, entrepreneurs and in-transition professionals make their Brand and content achieve superior results in the social media. He calls it "Ka-Ching Coaching" because the bottom line is always . . . your bottom line. He has developed marketing and training material for a Fortune 5 international corporation, a large public utility, the Embassy of Japan, the University of Washington, and many small businesses and entrepreneurs.


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