I have been working with writers for well over 40 years. I sat down recently and counted out the time bemusedly. This wasn't a role I ever consciously chose; rather, it seems to have chosen me.
Since I am a serious student of Positive Psychology, which emphasizes the usefulness of identifying your greatest strengths and developing those as fully as you can, I have spent some time pondering how I came to do this kind of work.
The positive psychologist Alex Linley, in his new book Average to A+, explains how you can recognize your own greatest strengths as well as those of other people. He calls it strength-spotting. Simply put, when you are using a strength, it will feel natural to you. You will be "irrevocably drawn" to use it almost in spite of yourself.
When I read those words, I realized that one of the things I have done consistently over the years is gravitate to people who want to write and automatically reach out to help them. It's as natural as breathing for me. There's a sense of flow and rapport between a writer and me. I love nurturing that sense as we work together.
It helps that I have written for my own pleasure since I was very young, before children were encouraged to do so. I also immersed myself in books once I learned to read. I am in love with language, the sound of words and sentences. I seem to have an innate sense of logic about the way ideas develop and are expressed.
Beyond these things, which I think are absolutely essential for anyone who works with writers, I am curious about the writing itself. What is the writer trying to say? I ask questions to elicit writers' ideas, to stir their juices, and encourage them to articulate where they feel blocked. The ongoing dialogue--the dance--between writer and coach is crucial to the writer's flow and ability to move forward in the work.
I also try hard to be completely trustworthy. I don't lie but I am not cruel either. If something doesn't seem right, I share my gut reaction. I act as a mirror, in a way--as a second pair of eyes.
Finally, I care about the challenging process every writer must go through: the hours spent doing the actual writing. I know what it is to sit and stare at a computer screen or piece of paper. I understand how hard it can be to carve out time for oneself to write. Helping others create a writing space and time, as much as doing the same for myself, is one of life's most satisfying achievements.The bottom line is this: if you want a writing coach, find one who is passionate and knowledgeable about the whole process of writing. Writing is hard work. It's easy to lose motivation. Work with someone whose strength lies in their alignment with the kind of coaching they choose to do. (Or that has chosen them.)