Wednesday, November 2, 2011

RTW: Sock it to Me! (With Lots of Padding)

Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic.

This week’s topic:

What kind of writing coach do you need? When you have to coach friends, what kind of coach are you?

Back in August, Sarah Enni posted about types of writing coaches and mentors—ranging from Always Positive Mr. Rogers to Boot Camp Tiger Mom. And she discussed the pros and cons of each type of coach. Here’s a quick recap:

1) The Positive Feedback Coach—Soothing and focused on a 'glass half full' feedback message. Always re-enforcing your strengths with the idea that positive feedback motivates (and it does!). But probably won’t tell you what’s not working with your story.

2) The Gentle Honesty Coach—still approaches critiquing with the Positive Feedback Coach mindset, but will share reactions and hesitations. This person may ask lots of open-ended questions that encourage the writer to explore the depths of his or her story.

3) The Brutal Honesty Coach—“this coach won't hesitate to push someone past their comfort zone with a mix of brutal critique and emotional honesty.” And while tough, this coach fully believes in you and gives you brutal honesty because he or she cares.

4) The Tear-You-Down-to-Build-You-Up Coach—no warm fuzzies here. This mentor “gives it to you straight” with no attempt to cushion.

While I do tend to be my own worst critic, I DO NOT need a Mr. Rogers coach in my writing life. Don’t get me wrong—positive reinforcement is something I need (ohmygosh yes!), but I need honest, tactful feedback when it comes to my writing. Not sugar-coating. Or somebody that will find the silver lining in everything. I can get that beta read from my mother. Or my daughter. (LOVE YOU BOTH!!!) And I do seek that from them at times because it’s nice to just have someone read my story and love it because I wrote it.

That being said, I am definitely in need of a mix of the Gentle Honesty Coach and the Brutal Honesty Coach. Someone who’ll point out the things that WORKED, things that made them laugh or cry. Things that show and don’t tell. Things that they LOVED.

But I also need to know what’s not working. I enjoy the reactive, thought-provoking questions that force me to dig deeper. But sometimes I need straight-up answers. And I need my critique partners to tell me when something just does not work.

And I need my Grammar Nazi Coach—someone to call me on my mis-comma use and to tell me to chill with all the ellipses and em-dashes.

As for Tiger Mom (the break-you-down coach)—sorry, I’ve got some thick skin and can tolerate a lot of punches, but all the time? No thank you. I’d probably shed way too many tears with that coach.

And I definitely don’t want this guy as my mentor.

I’m extremely fortunate to have found CPs and beta readers who are a strong mix of positive and brutal. They coach me through tough revisions and give me AMAZING feedback. And bonus—I know they all care about me, they want my story to be the best that it can be, and they want to see my stories and I succeed. THAT’s what I need most from a writing coach.

As for my writing coach style?

You know that saying, “Do unto others…” I am a complete combination of what I want in a writing mentor. Gentle and Brutal Honesty (or at least I think so). “Constructively brutal” I call it. I guess I give that kind of feedback because that’s the kind I’d like in return.

PS - GOOD LUCK to all my writer friends doing NaNo!!! I wish you ginormous word counts, superfantastical worlds and settings, characters the world will fall in love with, and stories that keep readers up way beyond bedtimes! I'm not participating this year (super busy revising), but I'll be YOUR NaNo cheerleader!!! Write, write, write!

So, how about YOU? What mentor-coaching style works best for you? Are you doing NaNo this year?!


  1. I laughed at the mom/daughter part b/c when I need a boost of "you are the most awesome-est," I have my mom read my stuff :)

  2. If I could, I'd set up a spare bedroom for the Grammar Nazi Coach. I need them on call 24/7!

    Past that, the coach I respond to the best is the one who's not afraid to throw a punch, but wears gloves made of down & silk. :)

  3. Gordon Ramsey as a mentor would be frightening. I have a Grammar Nazi coach and we're in constant disagreement about the serial comma.

  4. See, I'd be afraid for my mother to beta-read my novel because she is NOT of the "fluffy" mom variety. She reads even more than I do, and is a bit of a grammar Nazi. I think she would probably be my harshest critic! That said, I'm still kind of working up the courage to ask her to beta read for me, because I know that her feedback would be valuable.

  5. I love that, "constructively brutal." I'm more of a questioner. I write most of my 'constructive' comments as questions to soften the impact.

  6. This must be why we work as cps. Because I need the same kind of coach (constructively brutal--brilliant) and I try to BE that kind of cp. I know that there's a lot of value in telling someone what they're doing right, as well as what they're doing wrong. I also know that you can be brutally constructive without being a total Tiger Mom about it (or, delivery is way more important than a lot of people seem to think.)

  7. I think my mother would smile and say "very good, dear" regardless. My wife, on the other hand, will tell me things she liked and things she hated. She knows I value her opinion more than my own feelings, and so that's what I get. She's the best! :)

  8. I'm with you. I need a good mix. I mostly need positive feedback while I'm working on a first draft. It gives me the confidence to continue without doubting myself or turning into an editor. I constantly have to turn my inner editor off so I'll write and not nitpick, so having a cheerleader at that point helps a lot. But once I'm done I'm ready for total honesty--if it sucks, I want to know. I just don't need someone like a Tiger Mom or Gordon Ramsey telling me. There's a difference between hearing "I got bored here" or "this character needs to go" and hearing "you're a complete idiot if you thought this character belonged anywhere near this story. Get him out of here!!!!"

  9. Thanks for the recap. I like the #2-#3 coach definitions, and I agree with you (for myself) on the need for those two the most.

    The first draft needs positive feedback so you can go crucify it later to make it better.
    Wow--so glad you posted this.

  10. I still think of my college English professor as my grammar coach. I need to contact her and see if she'll catch all my comma splices when I get closer to a finished draft.

  11. I definately appreciate honest harsh critiques. I don't want people to tell me "it's good". Maybe I have to thick of skin, because I don't even like it when my agent says that. I always want people to tell me what part of my story sucks so I can go make it better.

  12. I called myself a mix of gentle and brutally honest...that's what I want in return too. Honesty being most important.

  13. I'm with you...I need a mix. I need that positive, but I need the constructive, too. It needs to be all mixed together.

  14. I like your point about needing a mix of deep questions and straight answers. I think that applies to a lot of things in my life.

  15. "I do seek that from them at times because it’s nice to just have someone read my story and love it because I wrote it." Awww that is so true! Lovely that have that resource also!

    I agree that I tend to be the type of beta reader that I'd want to have. It's a good thing, right? Like Beta Karma? ;)

    And I love the "constructively brutal" idea! That's my perfect combo too!

  16. :D If I need a dose of "You are not living up to your potential," that's when I let my mom read my stuff.

    Of course, if I ever need a dose of, "why don't you try writing something worthwhile, like nonfiction/realism, or just give up entirely since you're not very good, and doing nothing is better than wasting your time with schlock," then I'll let my dad read it. I haven't needed that yet, and don't plan to.

    Give me those punches! But above the belt, please.

  17. Great post Alison! I'm currently 3 but striving to be 2. It's always good to have a nice mix especially at least one in the group good at grammar! Good luck!

  18. I feel like I need some of all of these depending where I am in the process. I tend to want the harsh stuff because happy "I loved it" letters are really only awesome from agents/editors. :)

  19. Easy - the drill sargent from Full Metal Jacket.


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