The number one question I get about my change from freelance writer/editor to writing coach would be, what’s that? In fact, only when I decided to market myself as a writing coach did I realize that my editing style had always been more coach-like than otherwise.
My short answer is that a good writing coach is to writers as a good riding coach is to equestrians: someone to correct your style, explain why a different approach or technique works better that what you’ve been doing, and in general encourages and pushes you into becoming a better writer/rider than you were before.
What I do and why follows from that. My preferred editing style is collaborative. I certainly am able to take someone’s very rough draft, give them back a much-improved letter/essay/article/resume, and take their money with no input from the client beyond handing me the draft. However, I enjoy the process more, and would argue that I can give better results, if my client is willing to work with me.
Instead of giving back a finished, take-it-or-leave-it, all-changes-made edited version, I prefer to sit down with the client (who may be the writer or may be the person who assigned the writing) and discuss the points at which I suggest changes. That way, I can explain what bothers me about the original draft, and the client can tell me which of the suggested changes I offer will express what needs to be conveyed most clearly. Or (and this is where the real leap in quality comes in) we can decide that the best way to communicate the desired message is to completely rearrange a section—or even start over on or delete that part of the piece.
To me, that’s how editing should work all the time. But in classical editing terminology, that’s only one stage, development editing: something publishers have editors do early in a book project to improve an author’s product. Rarely do editors in other publishing venues get encouragement to take the extra time to explain their changes to the author. Imagine lengthy conferences between reporters and editors for a daily newspaper, for instance: not gonna happen. No time.
But whenever I proofread my sons’ school essays or papers before they turned them in, I made sure we had enough time to go over the spelling or grammatical mistakes I found, so they could tell me why they were wrong and how to correct them. At the same time, I could point out anyplace where I found the meaning of what they’d written unclear. Thanks to the miracle of word processing, they could easily fix such problems before printing and handing in a clean paper.
So that’s what I do as a writing coach: read, suggest, listen—all for the purpose of helping people write better. And because now know I love writing myself, after years of thinking I didn’t, I want to help other people understand how much fun writing (and writing well) can be.