Get Your Writing on Track: Tips for Working with a Writing Coach

by Jaclyn MacNeil

Published at 2022-07-13

Are you struggling with your writing? Are you worried about grammar and punctuation or structure and flow? Are you battling procrastination? Or have you ever felt “alone” in your writing practice? If any of these questions resonate with you, you may benefit from working with a writing coach! 



What is a writing coach? 


In many areas of society—sports, arts, business, research, or life in general—coaches are commonplace to provide direction, critique, and advice—so why not with writing? 


Having a writing coach—a designated person with experience and expertise to support you with your writing—can be immensely beneficial. Writing coaches can help writers sharpen their skills, refine their ideas, and elevate their words. 


A writing coach works one-on-one with you on your writing goals. They can help you identify your strengths and areas for growth and improvement, help you organize your thoughts and ideas, and help you create a writing practice/schedule to accomplish your writing on time. 


Like writers, writing coaches come from various backgrounds, with different training, experience, and expertise. Some specialize in book development, memoir writing, academic writing, creative writing, business and report writing, or in publishing platforms and marketing—there are endless specializations. Each writing coach will have their own approach and style (some might give you homework while others will encourage you to network), and because of that, not every coach will be a good fit. Do your homework! Read about your potential writing coach—check out their work, ask for testimonials, set up a meet and greet to see if you’re a good match. 


Although no two writing coaches are the same, be assured that regardless of their background, expertise, or level of experience, they do have one thing in common: writing coaches want to help you improve your writing and support you to achieve your writing goals. 



What can I expect when working with a writing coach? 


Working with a writing coach is beneficial regardless of where you are in the writing process. 


Whether it’s developing sound arguments, brainstorming ideas, plot, and characters, structuring your manuscript, or establishing a writing practice—a writing coach can help you plan and establish a schedule to achieve your goals, develop your skills, hone your craft, and support you through your writing journey. 


Writing can be lonely—it is a singular and solitary activity. Only you can do your writing. But, having support—an ear to bend, an eye to catch details, or a mind to share expertise—can provide comfort, community, motivation, and encouragement to continue and grow your writing practice. 


A writing coach will work one-on-one with you to discuss and develop your writing project. It’s common to have multiple sessions, but that’s not always the case. 


Working with a writing coach may

Bring clarity to your writing challenges and goals.

Introduce you to a new idea, work, perspective, or angle you hadn’t explored or considered before.

Involve self-reflection about your writing practice.

Generate ideas on ways to present your writing more clearly, logically, or creatively. 

Provide you with resources or references to explore.



Not all sessions will look alike, but some common things you can expect are

Open communication & dialogue: be ready to be open and honest about your goals, your strengths and areas you want to improve, your expectations, and your time commitment.

Expectation management & goal setting: be ready to discuss and plan for realistic expectations and goal setting for yourself and your writing. 

Writing resources: your writing coach may direct you to readings, resources, or writing exercise recommendations to help you improve your skills. An easy way to quickly improve your writing is simply by reading a lot—to write well, you must read well and widely. 


When working with a writing coach, it’s important to remember that you have to put in the work—it takes dedication, commitment, self-reflection, and goal setting.



What do writing coaches watch out for? 


As an academic writing coach, I work with students and clients at every stage of the writing process: from interpreting instructions, crafting thesis statements, and discussing arguments, to reviewing dissertations, journal articles, and grant applications, to providing suggestions on CVs and cover letters, book proposals, and conference presentation slides. No matter what stage or format of writing, a writing coach can improve your prose.


What writing coaches watch out for depends highly on the type of writing and the writer’s goals and timeline. However, there are five overarching areas that I always keep in mind when working with academic writers: structure & flow, style & audience, clarity & concision, grammar, spelling & syntax, and writing plan & practice. 



Structure & Flow

  • Is the purpose clear? 
  • Do ideas and arguments flow in a logical order?
  • Do ideas and arguments need more support? 
  • Are sections, perspectives, or points missing?
  • Are the writer’s ideas and voice present? 
  • Are visuals used effectively and placed logically?
  • Are headings and subheadings used consistently? 


Style & Audience

  • Does the writing follow a particular style guide? 
  • Does the writing conform to the proper style guide conventions and citation rules?
  • Does the writer know who their audience/reader is? 
  • Are the tone, lexicon, and diction suitable for their audience and discipline?


Clarity & Concision 

Because academic writing is formal, strives to be unbiased, and primarily uses third-person point of view, it can be prone to unnecessarily complex language and wordiness, making the meaning unclear. When reviewing academic writing for clarity and concision, I think about the following questions:


  • Are ideas, arguments, and points focused and clear? 
  • Are explanations long-winded with weak verb forms?
  • Can the writing be tightened for clarity?
  • Can the writing be phrased more simply while retaining academic style?


Grammar, Spelling & Syntax

  • Are standard English grammar rules adhered to? 
  • Do sentences vary in structure and length? 
  • Are signal phrases used to introduce quotes, paraphrases, and summaries?
  • Does the writer employ parallelism where possible?
  • Does the writing follow Canadian spelling or the governing dictionary? 
  • Is punctuation used correctly?
  • Does the writer consistently use certain punctuation rules incorrectly?
  • Does the writer repeat certain phrases or idioms frequently? Is repetition used effectively? 


Writing Plan & Practice

  • Does the writer have a writing plan? 
  • Does the writer have an outline? (Check out Lesley-Anne’s outline tips here.)
  • What steps does the writer need to take to accomplish their writing on time? 
  • How many days/hours/minutes will each section take? 
  • Has the writer scheduled ample time for editing, feedback, and revision?
  • If the writer is receiving feedback, who will they ask? how long will that person need? is this time factored into the writing plan? 
  • Is the writer interested in developing their writing practice? 
  • Are there areas of improvement this writer could work on? 



Why work with a writing coach?


Ultimately, working with a writing coach can help you become the writer you want to be. 


They can help you at any stage of the writing process: whether it’s talking through an idea or a proposal, developing a thesis, strengthening your argument, plot, or characters, providing suggestions about tone and style, reviewing the structure of a manuscript, or finding grammar and punctuation errors—writing coaches are here for you. 




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