Do you remember last November? Do you miss that heady rush of racing through thousands of words each day, and the thrill of seeing the page count rise as you chased down the dream? Did you fall in love with your main character? Were you filled with triumph—or crestfallen—around Thanksgiving when it became glaringly apparent that you only had a few days left to win the challenge?
If you’re a writer then you already know I’m talking about NaNoWriMo. And if you completed the challenge then I’m willing to bet that you have that sloppy first draft manuscript shoved away in a drawer somewhere. You said you were going to get to it, clean it up and edit it and really make something out of it because you know it has promise…but somehow the days slipped away and now here we are at the end of March and you still haven’t touched it.
Believe me, I know how it goes. So many of my clients come to me with sloppy first drafts that need love and attention, but they have no idea where to start. The mess of pages is overwhelming, the storyline convoluted and confusing. The characters need to be fleshed, or cut, or blended or transformed.
The whole thing just needs work.
This is when it’s time to hire a writing coach.
In cases like these I begin by reading the manuscript the entire way through, suspending all judgment and just enjoying the story. Some of my clients cringe when they hear I’m going to read their entire sloppy first draft. They warn me that it’s scary. But as a writing coach, I’ve seen A LOT. I’ve seen manuscripts that aren’t even manuscripts yet, just fragments pieced together. I’ve seen crossed-out sections, and characters and storylines that disappear into thin air halfway through the book. I’ve seen sentences that contain 12 adjectives and still don’t describe anything. There is nothing that can spook me. I have seen every misshapen monster and I know that they all just need a little love.
I know from experience that every manuscript has potential.
After I read the entire sloppy first draft I then go back and read it a second time, and this is when I make comments and suggestions, and ask questions. I include all of my notes in the margin so that the writer can go back later and read through them at their leisure. After the writer has had a bit of time to digest the feedback, we start scheduling calls. Doing a one-hour session over the phone moves us through the pages together, so that I can help the writer tease out where the story is going and what needs to be done to get it there.
It usually takes a few months to work through all of the notes together, and by that time the writer is ready to jump into revisions. We take a break while they work on the manuscript, although some writers do prefer to keep going with our sessions in the meantime to talk out any difficulties they’re having or discuss ideas for new work. After the writer is done with the first big round of revisions, I’ll read their manuscript again if they’re interested in me taking a second look, and we’ll start brainstorming possible candidates who can act as beta readers for them.
Working with writers like this has enabled me to see the magic in how a book comes together and takes on a real life of its own. Every book is messy, and crazy, and looks like a lunatic might have written it, in the very beginning. And every book—if the writer sticks with it—gets better. Yes, revisions are tedious and it’s only a very small slice of the writing population who enjoys them, but it’s significantly easier to get through it if you have someone on your side cheering you on, holding you accountable for the work, and helping you to figure out a path through the tangle of words.
This is only one of the ways in which I work with writers and push them to level up their writing game. It is also one of the most effective. If you already have a manuscript stowed away somewhere just waiting for you to give it the attention it deserves, you’re halfway to being the writer you always wanted to be. You just need to pull it out and get serious about making it happen. And hiring a writing coach is one sure way to show the Universe how serious about this you really are.
If you’re interested in learning more about how coaching works you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love talking with writers at any time. You can also check out: