Friday Salon Tweet chat 27th August Fear of Success – Fear of Failure with guest, writing coach, Jenna Kalinsky

Participants: Sandy Stuckless, Maria Johnson, Marianne Scott, Anita Belli, Rik Lonsdale, Beth Hudson, Marian Thorpe, Kathleen Marple-Kalb, Gerald Hornsby, Cheryl Whiting, Karen Heenan, Annie Whitehead, Deborah Klée (host), Jenna Kalinksy (guest).

Thank you so much for be in the conversation today! I’m really looking forward to hearing from everyone. ~Jenna

Please introduce yourself and tell us about one thing you have mastered or overcome recently in your writing journey.

Jenna: Hi, all! I’m Jenna Kalinsky, and I’m the owner of One Lit Place, a writers’ center that specializes in supporting creative, academic and business writers through their writing process and with all the writing they do. We offer writing programs and one-on-one support.

Rik: Hi All, I’m Rik in Dorset, UK. One thing I’ve overcome? Decided the thing is finished and sent out the query package.

Jenna: Always a quivering finger before hitting “print,” don’t you find? Finished is relative, but at some point it has to go!

Karen: I’m Karen and I live outside Philadelphia in the US. I write historical fiction and one thing I have gotten over in the last year or two is my need for outside (agent/publisher) validation. I believe in my work, and I can pay for editing/covers on my own.

Jenna: Karen, that’s fantastic. Agents and publishers aren’t even necessarily looking for the best work; they’re looking for what the market would support. I think it’s terrific self-publishing has become so big and a great way of getting your work out there.

Maria: Hi, I’m Maria in NW England. I write historical fiction and fantasy. This time last year I had a bit of ‘editor’s block’ and was struggling with the beginning of my 3rd historical fiction novel. However, I rewrote it, edited, proofread etc – it’s now with publishers!

Jenna: Congratulations, Maria- that’s wonderful!

Beth: Hi! I’m Beth Hudson, fantasy author from the American Midwest. I keep having to tackle different problems, but last year I successfully split my WIP in half, which meant a complete restructuring so that the main subplot became the main plot. It ended up better.

Jenna: Beth, that’s wonderful- and that you were able to step back and re-see the draft to make such a drastic change is also wonderful. So glad to hear it’s working out.

Beth: Thanks — I was about to tear my hair out when I realized I needed to do it.

Jenna: so glad you caught it in time! (It’s my personal theory that writers have great hair. Totally unfounded, but I roll with it …)

Deborah: Hi Beth. It sounds as though it was worth the work. I love how our work evolves almost as though it has a life of its own.

Jenna: The fact that you can say “every time” is extraordinary!

Marian: I did something similar with one of my books, and ended up with two better books; one was pure backstory, and became a novella, which let me focus on the real story in the second.

Beth: I’m glad you were able to do that. It absolutely terrified me.

Marian: Oh, it did me too. And this was after throwing out first 20K and then 80K and starting again. I needed to pull out that backstory piece, which was clogging up everything I tried. Once I realized that, things fell into place.

Kathleen: Hi, I’m Kathleen and I write mysteries. In the last year, I’ve started writing short stories, which I never did before. And even got a couple accepted for publication!

Marian: Marian here. I’ve stopped worrying about what genre my books fit in. They are neither true historical fiction, nor true fantasy, in that there is no magic…so I just call them non-magical historical fantasy, market them to both readerships, and hope for the best.

Jenna: It’s such a shame writers need to fit their books into pre-set genres for sales purposes; I love to see writers let their books fly and cross multiple genres! That’s where the risk and art happen.

Sandy: I’m Sandy and life distractions have been a problem for me lately. Finding a space where I can be alone with silence and the manuscript has helped a little.

Jenna: I hear you, Sandy- having fractured attention is one of the greatest destroyers of art (Joyce Carol Oates has said something to this effect more eloquently 🙂 Are you finding you can get to a quiet place more often?

Marianne: Writers start out with lofty ideas of writing a ‘best seller’. Hah! Not that easy. It’s hard work and involves many stages before its complete. I stumble and shed a lot of tears during the process. Full discloser – Jenna is my editor, sometimes my therapist.  I’m a ‘pancer’. I write inventing the story as I go. It has it’s pitfalls. It’s nerve racking as the characters develop and do horrible things. No wonder, its traumatizing.

Jenna: Pantsers are brave souls, Marianne- you’re letting the story take the driver’s seat. That requires a lot of trust (and guts)!

Anita: Hi all. I am Anita from Essex UK; author of 5 novels. I am still working towards mastering how to write a character-driven story. I thought I did this already, but now I realise there is more to it!

Marianne: I’ve learned to go with my instincts. Writing a novel takes a long time and writers have to get the raw messy idea/s on the computer. Then you have something to work with. But, I admit, it sometimes makes me wonder what I’m thinking. Who would read my crap!

Jenna: Marianne, that thought of “who would read my crap” has stopped many a talented writer. I like to lean into it and think, that’s not for me to worry about right now. If I like it, if I’m finding meaning, then it’s doing as it should-

Gerald: Hi Deborah! Sorry, I’m a little late. Forgot the #Prosecco from the shop earlier. One thing I’ve mastered recently is being able to conceptualise, create, write and publish a novel in 3 months. I’m really honing my planning technique and processes.

Marianne: I’d never have a single finished project if I didn’t have coaching. Thanks Jenna @OneLitPlace . Honestly, I need a lot of hand holding. Fly with the eagles is what I say.

Cheryl: Hi I’m Cheryl, I think I’m mastering the art of sitting down and actually writing rather than procrastinating. Getting into a routine and learning to roll with the punches, accepting some days will be better than others.

All writers have moments of self-doubt. At what stage of the writing process do you typically experience self-doubt?

Jenna: one of the things we do as writing coaches and editors is to respect the full process a writer experiences and to work with it. It’s a matter of finding ways to feel doubt or uncertainty and carry on regardless. Knowing you are valuably adding ideas to the canon is a way to ensure you carry on- everyone’s story is important. 

As a writer, I remind myself that while I may not like standing out in the rain, rain is essential for the natural world to thrive, something of which I am part and respect. Fear is normal because we’re putting ourselves out there, which is vulnerable! It’s not going away, so I visualize myself walking alongside it. It’s there, but I still make myself carry on

Beth: For me it’s usually all the way from about a third of the book in through the editing process. All I tend to see are the errors. I push through it because I know it’s a perception problem, and rely pretty heavily on others for accurate feedback.

Gerald: It starts when I finish the planning. I’m concerned it’s not good enough. That self-doubt continues through crafting the manuscript, and then through the various edits. Every time I find something to improve, I chide myself.

Jenna: Gerald, one of the best things ever said to me was by Ron Carlson: “Make friends with doubt.” I carry that idea around with me at all stages of the writing. It helps.

Gerald: Thanks, Jenna. Yeah. I’m not scared of it – I see it there, and find it interesting to observe. But it doesn’t stop my writing

Anita: The first round of doubt is when I try to explain my story to someone and it sounds trite. So, I try not to talk about it until I know what I am doing. Then there is always an undercurrent of self-doubt.

Maria: For me, I struggle most/have most doubt when I near the end of drafting. Most scenes are there and I know where it’s going, but I’m not sure how to tie all the scenes into one cohesive story. Or if I know where I want it to go but not quite sure how to get from A to B.

Jenna: Maria, in those moments, do you ever try something so outrageous that it makes you laugh? I find having the characters do something ridiculous lightens the burden of having to tie things so neatly and sometimes opens a door to a good option.

Maria: No, but that’s a really good idea, thanks for the suggestion! It’s feeling a bit dark and serious too what with impending war and complicated love, so a bit of lightness might be exactly what my characters need. Thanks!

Jenna: To Maria: Absolutely- I think it’s very easy to think about our work as if it were on a level of heart surgery. I like to roll my eyes at myself (keeps me humble) and do a mental Cher smack: “snap outta it!

Rik: To Maria: ‘Transition doubt’ could be a new writing phrase (copyright rik2021)

Maria: Very good way of putting it- O promise I won’t try to steal it 

Rik: There’s a few. From the concept to the final edit. Including ‘this plot hole is impossible to fill’, ‘this character is unreal’, ‘nobody will believe this’, this writing is awful (all the time)’.

Beth: I get you on the “this writing is awful” thing…

Karen: Somewhere in the later middle of every project, I realize it’s too long, I don’t precisely know where I’m going, and most of the words aren’t right. And then I remember that I hit this realization every time at about the 60% mark and I keep writing.

Rik: I think this is quite common.

Marianne: To Karen: I know exactly what you mean when you say “most of the words aren’t right”. That phase of writing when you have to get the story out but don’t like how you’re telling the story.

Karen: And it’s mostly experience that makes us realize we can edit those wrong words, but if we wait for the right ones to show up initially, we’ll never have a book

Sandy: For my current short story, I’m really struggling with setting and emotion description, and those stupid transition paragraphs…

Beth: I hate those. You have to have them, but they don’t scintillate the way the high points do.

Jenna : Sandy, what in particular is buggy? Is it you don’t want to slow down the action with description?

Sandy: I think the biggest thing is I’m trying to fit a quest story into less than 15k words with a cast of four (plus the antagonist). I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this story… 

Jenna: I love ambitious. Ambitious is risky. You’ll find a way- I have only known you for 92 minutes, but that’s my suspicion …

Beth: Sounds like you need to strip the story down to the bare essentials and figure out which parts you need and which parts you simply want.

Annie: Annie here. I can’t say I’ve mastered or overcome anything recently, but each time I put a new book out I learn something new. This time, it was how to set up a preorder. I am a complete technophobe so this is a small triumph for me!

Karen: I’m with you on technology. I learn things when I have to, but I can’t imagine doing it just because.

Kathleen: The first time I show it to someone. My beta readers are very honest…and they’ll tell if I’m missing it!

Sandy: There’s always a flutter in my stomach when I hand it off. I expect brutal honesty, but sometimes, it still is like a shovel to the face. 

Marian: After my first three books, I’ve changed structure and narrator(s) with each new one. So that’s always the first moment of self-doubt: can I do this new structure? Can I find my narrators’ (who were supporting characters in previous books) first-person voices?

Maria: Yes, you can and yes you do this extremely well. Can’t wait to read your next POV I relate too – I’ve moved to dual POV for my 4th book. Tricky trying to balance getting used to new voice with giving MC from 1st 3 books enough agency.

Marian: Oh, yes, the agency issue – luckily my husband pulls me up quickly on that. He’s a major ‘cheerleader’ for one character, and he will NOT let me underrepresent her.

Sandy: Depends on the project. Some, the 1st draft doesn’t talk to me or it all seems cliched and I think I’m a hack. Others, I’ll have a half dozen rounds of revision and still think it’s garbage. Very rarely do I have that- angels singing feeling about my work.

Jenna: I would really like to meet the author who gets the singing angels ..

Marianne: I always find the ending to bring together. Often, I get all of the complex subplots confused while drafting.

Maria: Same! That’s exactly what I’m finding at the moment while writing the 4th in my series.

Cheryl: For me it’s about half way through every chapter. I always feel excited about starting a new chapter, but as I progress do wonder who would be interested in reading it, and whether I’m telling people things they already know.

Rik: Maybe think about those things after you’ve finished the first draft?

Deborah: I think we all do this. Sometimes it’s hard to turn off the inner critic and just write.

Marianne: I’m editing a current WIP that has Indigenous characters and traditions. I’m fearful of offending or dishonouring which is an important political issue at the moment in Canada. Could have serious back lash if not careful. Scares me.

What coping mechanisms have you developed to overcome your fears whether it is fear of failure or success?

Jenna: As a coach, I remind my writers of the democratic playing field. Every single writer ever, from household names to your neighbor, goes through this exact same process. No one gets out unscathed. The difference is those who write in spite of their fears. 

Many people fear success insofar as the work involved that would get them to that point. There’s fear in the unknown: not only about plunging into a manuscript but what will happen after. Those big questions cause a lot of people to never write at all, which is a loss.

Beth: I break everything down into small steps and don’t think about the big picture. First comes the writing – I can always revise. Next comes editing – I can redo. Then querying or self-pub issues (depending on which I’m doing at the time). Then marketing, piece by piece.

Rik: TBH I don’t think I ‘fear’ these things. I may doubt my ability, skills, luck, concepts etc. But life is full of failure and has success sprinkled throughout. Welcoming both as imposters works for me.

Gerald: I think the first time someone told me they enjoyed my writing, I knew I was a writer. Nothing anyone (even that little annoying voice inside me) can take that away. Same thing when someone bought one of my books. I don’t fear anything now.

Maria: Sometimes I have multiple projects on the go so I don’t get too bogged down in a single story, eg starting something new in my notebook, or editing an already drafted project. Also taking a break is helpful eg going for a walk, or chatting it through with writers.

Anita: From WHQ: ‘pretend you’re a cantankerous old dear called Doris with purple fingerless gloves and a hat that looks like a cake and you really couldn’t give a**** what people think because you have been around the block long enough to realise that none of it matters. Then get writing!

Cheryl: I’ve learnt to own it, talk about it. Feedback has always been encouraging which helps increase self belief that it’s worth the effort and people are interested

Kathleen: For me, the fear is part of the process. If you’re not a little scared, you don’t respect what you’re doing. The trick is using it to improve instead of freezing.

Beth: I love this.

Jenna: That’s a fantastic way of putting it. It also makes fear pragmatic, even useful. Like actors who have crippling stage fright know that their fear means they’re invested.

Kathleen: Thank! It’s something I learned in my day job as a broadcaster…I’m nervous every time I open the mic. But it keeps me honest!

Anita: For me, it’s just part of the process of being creative and sharing work with others. If no one ever read our stuff, we wouldn’t worry but that would be pointless. I suppose asking ourselves what’s the worst that can happen? And growing thicker skin helps

Gerald: I think any time we let something we create out into the open, we get anxious – we’ve put so much into it. But you’re right, if we have any dreams of developing our writer career, we MUST have a thick skin. Remember – critique the writing, don’t criticise the writer.

Beth: Yes! So many people don’t understand that principle!!!

Gerald: I learnt that when I was developing my literary short fiction. We were writing and critiquing every week. And we were constructive in our critiques, not destructive. I’ve learnt the phrase “I think it would work better if…” instead of “That wasn’t very good.”

Beth: Some people want to play “find every problem you can” and forget they’re supposed to be helping, not just tearing down. In my experience, that’s destructive and doesn’t actually help anyone write better.

Jenna: Agree- there’s no point in anyone sticking a needle in your work on every point they don’t like; respecting a draft is about looking for ways it can become its best self and supporting the writer in that work.

Beth: And also, not trying to force others into writing the book *you* want them to write, but supporting them in what *they* want to write.

Rik: Yep. I’ve changed the way I give feedback dramatically after listening to John McGregor. I only ask questions now. Never state opinions or give unasked for advice

Karen: I don’t think I’ve ever suffered from fear of success or failure. I suffered from fear of publicly trying, though, which is why Songbird is as old of a debut novel as it is. But at a certain point, you realize all that’s in your way is you.

Deborah: I love that ‘All that’s in your way is you’ It may just become my mantra!

Marianne: To be honest, I lean on Jenna to mentor me. I believe that all writers have ‘moments’. Rather than give up or denigrate yourself, just talk the problem through. The draft will always be a mind bender.

Marian: First off, having a strong sense of what ‘success’ means for me personally, which was an appreciative audience and the respect of other writers. I’ve been doing this long enough to ride out the ups and downs of sales. The other is to have support; by the time my first draft is done, there are two people who have seen probably 75% of it, discussed backstory, motivation, etc. with me, and both are good writers, and honest, so if they like it, good; if they don’t, it needs work.

Karen: Absolutely also this, and not just because I’m one of the people you talk to. Being able to bounce your thoughts off another writer brain is amazingly helpful when you’re trying to make sense out of a plot or make a character cooperate. 

Marian: Honestly, the best thing about the pandemic and greater reliance on social media has been finding and developing this critique partner relationship with Karen and others!

Sandy: A strong support network is crucial. Absolutely.

Annie: I’m not sure there’s a fear there, as such, but there’s always some kind of plan, and sticking to it keeps things on track, psychologically as well as practically.

Sandy: The biggest thing for me is remembering who I’m writing for, first and foremost. It’s me. I’m writing for me. Even if no one else likes my work. The stories I’m telling are the ones I want to tell. I want external validation, but I don’t need it. Oh, and whiskey.

Do you have any experience of working with a writing coach? Do you know how they help writers?

Jenna: One of the most rewarding things about working with a coach is it’s a partnership. Writing is a lot like calling out into the dark, but when you have a coach or mentor, there’s someone on the other side who hears you and can catch you. It’s highly reassuring.

Cheryl: I wanted to enjoy the journey, so felt support was necessary. Moreover, I’m writing a book on professionalism, part of that is pursuing excellence. It’s important to live by what you profess and I want my book to be professional. So needed to draw on other people’s expertise.

Anita: Decades ago, at London Film School, I had an awesome writing coach – a Hollywood Screen Writer who really taught me about narrative structure

Beth: Not with a writing coach, but I did take a couple of classes in college which helped me a great deal. Well, the first one did. The second one was a different demographic and pretty snobby about genre fiction. I’ve also workshopped for years on and off since I was 14.

Marian: Not directly with one, but my developmental editor sort of takes that role, in that his critique of any given book always influences the structure or plotting in the next. I act as a coach for writers in my RL community; so far, they seem to think it’s helpful!

Rik: This is an easy one Deborah. No and no.

Karen: I’ve never worked with a coach, but I have several writer friends who I trust to tell me the truth when I show them an early draft, or outline how the plot is going. 

Anita: Not yet, But I will be when I have planned my next book. I have been very lucky to get an award from Arts Council England @ace_national to develop my writing, hence the deepening understanding of character-driven narrative, with a mentor.

Deborah: I am looking forward to seeing how your writing develops as a result and the gems you can share. Well done for winning the grant.

Kathleen: I don’t…but I’m a big fan of constructive and supportive criticism, so I imagine the right one would really help.

Anita: A good writing group helps. We have one in N. Essex; all novel writers; honest and constructive feedback is invaluable.

Deborah: Absolutely – as a member of that writer’s group. I don’t believe I would have published a novel without the support of that group.

Anita: Since we began, many of us have published; we now have a wealth of experience between us. There are Indie publishers, small press contracts and one Sunday Times bestseller amongst us! It is an amazingly supportive group.

Sandy: Not to this point. I imagine it’s a lot like working with an editor. They help bring the vision you see of your work to life. You may not like everything they say, but you’ll be on the same page.

Maria: Not really but I do have some lovely writer friends I can ask for support. My hubs is also a great sounding board for the developmental stage and making sure the story makes sense etc.

Cheryl: I have a book coach. We share ideas, she helps me think about my approach and reflect. Guides me in the process of writing and transition to authorship. Its great way to introduce accountability and keep you focused on goal. I’ve progressed more effectively since.

Who are your personal support team and how do they help to keep you on track so that you deliver your best work?

Jenna: Friends and loved ones are wonderful for offering personal support and championing you and the work you do. Writers with supportive families and friends tend to have an easier time doing the work because they are bolstered by that love and that support. Not everyone has supportive family though, making it essential for them to seek out writers’ groups, workshops, other people who are doing what they do or who simply understand because they write as well, meeting up with them and sharing ideas or pages

When friends/family say “I love it!” after reading your work, it feels nice, but it’s also not very satisfying, right? That’s where having a coach/editor is so important.

Cheryl: FriSalon of course!

Maria: The hubs 1st of all. @ChristIndieWrit is a great podcast and it is a fantastic supportive community. My mum is an excellent proofreader. Then there’s the wonderful FriSalon family

Rik: The hubs 1st of all. @ChristIndieWrit is a great podcast and it is a fantastic supportive community. My mum is an excellent proofreader. Then there’s the wonderful FriSalon fam

Beth: My personal support team consists of our four-person workshop, which means 3 other people. My best friend is one of them, and she is incredibly good at spotting problems and suggesting fixes/helping me brainstorm, but the others also help me brainstorm.

Gerald: Firstly, my partner @anitabellibooks. She’s the best support I could wish for. Then the #FrintonWriters group – my first level of critiques. And, of course, the others in the #FourMarketeers: @anitabellibooks, @EllieHWriter and @DeborahKlee – brilliant support.

Anita: Yep: what @AuthorGerald said! We live and breathe writing and support each other. And next month we have our writers’ group retreat where we will write (?) share tips and feedback, eat too much and drink bubbles. We will also laugh a lot. I feel very fortunate

Deborah: I am looking forward too our retreat too. We are indeed fortunate to have this writing group

Gerald: Same here. And I’m looking forward to presenting my @EfficientNovels programme to one (maybe more) of our members who has requested I tell her all about it.

Marian: My husband. From doing the grocery shopping to letting me talk and talk and talk…and actually listening. @karen_heenan @bjornlarssen My two critique partners, alpha readers, beta readers, cheerleaders (and friends!). Everyone who wants MORE of my characters and world.

Karen: my husband is my chief support. He’s not a big fiction reader, but he reads mine and asks good questions. Writer friends @marianlthorpe and @the_eva_seyler, who I talk to almost everyday, and non-writer friend Dianne, who has always read my early drafts.

Kathleen: I’m trad pub so I have an agent and work with editors…but before they see anything, I run it past a few trusted friends and colleagues who beta read for me. It’s a really important first step!

Sandy: I have a book coach. We share ideas, she helps me think about my approach and reflect. Guides me in the process of writing and transition to authorship. Its great way to introduce accountability and keep you focused on goal. I’ve progressed more effectively since.

Rik: I’m lucky. My writing buddy and I shred each others work in a weekly workshop. I attend a couple of crit groups monthly, each of 4/5 people, who bring a variety of responses. Then, I guess, there’s you lot

Sandy: I still want to join an IRL (in real life) writing group and @marianlthorpe has been kind enough to offer an invitation to join hers. Unfortunately, due to other commitments, I haven’t been able to make the first couple meetings. Hopefully, she’ll still let me join! 🙂

Marianne: I love the @OneLitPlace writer’s lounge. I can chat with other writers. It’s a place where post what’s going on with writing, lives, etc. Sometimes, we just joke with each other.

Jenna: I’m always moved by how careful and kind our writers are with each other. There’s so much respect amongst the group in the Writers Lounge @OneLitPlace. Speaking of which, I’m off to there right now 🙂

If you can imagine yourself at a time when you were afraid or overwhelmed in your writing journey what would you say to that version of you?

Jenna: I would say if you hide in a closet because you’re afraid, then all you have is a life in a closet. Get the %^and* out there and live. Get messy. Effect change. Lunge and leap. And do it in ways that make you feel most alive.

Marian: What I used to say to my students wavering about post-secondary choices in their last year of high school, leaning towards choosing safe over their real dreams:

Rik: Another easy one Deborah ‘It doesn’t really matter much in the great scheme of the universe, so just get on with it.’

Gerald: Ha! Yes, Rik. No one has ever published

Anita: I would ask myself what I was so scared of? And then I would reassure myself that it would all be ok in the end; but only if you don’t give up. So basically: Just do it.

Gerald: As some great literary genius once put it: JFDI. I don’t get emotional about my writing. I put a lot into it, I try to learn more all the time, and I work at my career. I’m never afraid – I don’t have *expectations* of myself, so I just carry on writing and publishing, improving as I go.

Karen: What’s really the worst thing that can happen? Is someone’s disapproval actually more harmful than never trying? It may feel like it, but it’s not.

Maria: To cut myself a slack and not put as much pressure on myself. It’ll come together eventually. Go for a walk or have a cuddle and chill with the dog

Sandy: I’m bad for putting too much pressure on myself. It’s usually when I’m getting burnt out and need to take a break.

Beth: That’s pretty much all the time 😉 Basically the advice I’d give to proto-me is the advice I’d give to me-now and future-me — just keep after it, and try not to catastrophize.

Sandy: Sure, they can hate it if you write it, but they can’t love it if you don’t. Get to work!

Jenna Kalinsky

A final word from Jenna Kalinsky

Thank you for letting me spend an hour with you. You’re all an inspiration! Any time you want to chat about getting support with your writing in any way- personal or editorial- please reach out. I’d love to chat with you any time.

Before joining our tweet-chat I asked Jenna ‘What do the writers you support find most challenging in the writing journey and how do you assist?’ Jenna’s response inspired me and so I am sharing it here.

What do our writers struggle with their writing and where do we assist?

1) Perfectionism. Many writers accustomed to performing at a certain level of competence with their other work or in their daily lives find it frustrating or even debilitating to see their early drafts emerge and they’re rough, messy, or as Annie Lamott calls them, downright “shitty.”  

Many writers are also disoriented by the “translation” process: the effect of their beautiful, lush, fully realized thoughts shape-shifting in flight so they emerge onto the page wonky, half-baked, and missing teeth. That translation process from thought to actuality is inevitable, the first step in a long staircase, and it’s a matter of learning how to let go of what we think we want to say to trusting that this weird thing on the page bearing only a faint resemblance to our original idea is now its own organism, and from there, the work is to begin shaping it into what it’s meant to become on its own new terms.

What we do as writing coaches and mentors is unpack the process for the writer so they understand that their usual high level of competence is no good here and in fact, can be detrimental to their work. Giving them permission to lean into the mess, to encourage it even, is commonly the permission they need to write the gawky energetic early work that will ultimately become something interesting.

We coach them to do their worst, to let the writing all hang out, and to let go of feeling like they need to perform. There’s a lot of freedom in having someone encourage you to embrace the chaos and then be there for them to lean on through this process.

2) Knowing when during their writing process to ask for help:

Many writers will toil on their own for a long time feeling unsure as to whether they are going in the right direction or whether they are realizing their ideas as skilfully as they could. At some point, that uncertainty rears up and can either cause them to quit or to reach out for help.

I hear from writers all the time that they didn’t know coaching was “a thing,” but once we talk about how we support them as mentors, creative collaborators, and literary fairy godparents, whose job it is to support them in whatever ways they need, I almost hear a physical burden lifting off of them. It’s wonderful to hear them realize they don’t have to go through this intense work alone any more. 

From there, we get to know the writer’s process and what projects they are working on or want to work on, and straddle both holding them and pushing them toward what they want with guidance, skill-building, education, insights and strategies, brainstorming, and straight talk. We hold them accountable with schedules for their writing and meetings, give them micro assignments to inch them toward larger goals, and in essence are their partners, along for the ride.

As editors, we provide feedback or dive into the work to help make whatever they’re working on its best self, collaborating with the writer as much or as little as they need to ensure their work is authentic and maintains its integrity, purpose and voice.

3) How to get over the fear of the blank page and write a novel, memoir, or business book

Entropy is very very real. People walk around for months, years, decades, saying they want to write a book but very often never actually do it.

Where for a rare few who can plunk down at their kitchen table one Tuesday morning and simply begin writing, for most normal mortals, when they even imagine writing their book, they feel a great yawning chasm opening up in their chests (which some call writer’s block, but which is simply fear) and clean out the cupboards instead.

Like with any large-scale new project, when people have physical markers to light the way inside of a clear framework, they feel assured and far more comfortable treading in. Going from small chunk to small chunk is a lot easier than tackling the whole affair- at least mentally- at once.

We support writers embarking on books in highly personal ways, sometimes giving them schedules that work with their lifestyles or assigning pages, or prompting them from one chapter to the next. Many authors have written books with us in this highly customized way. But over the years, I realized we could project manage the writing of the books for our writers, and lay out clear definable steps they could see and understand, so they’d feel comfortable, supported, and freed up to do the writing inside of a controlled frame. 

I built our Write Your Novel in 4 Months Program (and our soon-to-be launched Write Your Memoir in 4 Months Program) and our 4-month business book program so people could see how the project lays out, what supports they get with lessons, writing schedule, and mentorship, and come into the process not by dipping in a tentative toe and winging it alone but with their full enthusiasm knowing they’re supported on all sides.

When writers have the dream of writing a book, I want them to know it can actually happen for them, that it doesn’t need to be a dream. Books are everyone’s shared currency, and if you can think and come to the work with discipline and desire, you can absolutely write a book. 

Everything we do comes down to people helping other people: stories are important and all writers’ work matters- both to the individual and to the collective. Stories are what make us our most human, and whatever we can do as coaches, editors, and mentors to support that in our writers is our deep pleasure.

You can find out more about the services offered by One Lit Place by following these links: