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I can’t tell you how many nonfiction writers I’ve seen get stuck on their first draft.

Sometimes it happens in the middle of the book, sometimes right at the beginning, sometimes at the very end. But it happens a lot.

In fact, I don’t know any writers who haven’t been stuck at some point or another. It can happen for many reasons:

But no matter what got you stuck, if you’re having trouble breaking through, you might benefit from a good writing coach.

Not to be confused with an editor, a writing coach helps you with the emotional journey of writing a book. They help you keep going, and they help you make your book more authentic and engaging.

This post walks you through:

  • What a writing coach is
  • What they do (and what they can do for your book)
  • How to decide whether you need one
  • How to hire one if you do

What Is a Writing Coach?

A writing coach works collaboratively with an Author to help them take their book to the next level, even as they write it.

A writing coach is NOT an editor or a ghostwriter. They don’t do line-by-line editing, and they won’t write the copy for you (though they can overlap and do both jobs, remember that they are different jobs).

Instead, they coach you through the process of writing your book.

Like any coach, a writing coach helps you give it your all, so you can push through the pain and get better at what you do.

But very little of a writing coach’s work is about the specific words on the page. Instead, the best coaches help with things like:

  • Where your book might need to dig deeper emotionally
  • Identifying and overcoming your fears
  • Figuring out why you’re stuck and breaking through writer’s block
  • Recognizing where you’re sabotaging yourself
  • Helping you be authentic and effective in your writing
  • Making sure you aren’t leaving important things out of your book just because they would be hard for you to write

That said, many writing coaches won’t help much with the emotional side of writing a book because they don’t know how. They don’t know how to build trust with an Author or how to coach high-performing individuals.

Even worse, it can be tempting to hire those coaches because they won’t push you beyond your comfort zone.

Nobody likes venturing outside their comfort zone. But that’s exactly what you have to do if you want to write a great book.

So, before you hire a writing coach, make sure you know exactly why you’re hiring one and what you want to get out of it.

What Does a Writing Coach Do?

A good writing coach helps you with the writing process. They help you figure out:

  • why you’re writing your book
  • your book’s positioning
  • your target audience
  • the right mindset for you
  • daily or weekly writing goals
  • any fears getting in your way
  • everything else that comes with writing a book

These are all critical to your book’s success.

You don’t necessarily need a writing coach to figure them out, but you DO need to figure them out—before you write even one word.

That can be hard to accept (and hard to accomplish), especially for first-time Authors. It’s extremely tempting to just sit down and start writing. It feels like the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll finish. It even sounds logical.

But it isn’t true. In fact, if you do that, it only makes you more likely to NOT finish your book.

If you want to finish the job, and if you want your book to be good, you need to get clear about a few things first:

  1. Why you’re writing your book
  2. Who you’re writing it to
  3. What you want your book to do for them
  4. What you want to get out of it for yourself

And although some developmental editors might help you with a few of these, at least on a high level, they won’t get into the trenches with you for what comes next:

The emotional grind of exposing yourself on paper day after day as you write your rough draft.

Do You Need a Writing Coach?

If you’re thinking about hiring a writing coach, you need to understand what you want first—and what kind of help you’re willing to accept:

  • A coach will help you work on yourself as an Author, making your book more compelling
  • An editor will help you work on your completed draft, making it feel more polished

Coaches and editors can both improve your writing skills and make you a better writer—but in different ways:

  • A good coach helps you write more honestly and authentically
  • A good editor makes your writing more clear

You can absolutely benefit from BOTH a writing coach AND an editor, but you want to work with the writing coach first. Write your first draft in the most compelling and authentic way you possibly can; then use an editor to polish it.

But, to do that, you have to be willing to let that book coach help you.

A great writing coach gets behind the text and inside your head. If you want their help, you have to let them in to do that work with you.

If you don’t want to work with anyone that closely, don’t waste your money. But, before you walk away, ask yourself why that is.

If you don’t want to dig deep, you’re not going to write a great book.

And, if you’re already stuck, you’re probably not going to finish your book at all.

Look, I’m not trying to be harsh. It’s just that I’ve written several nonfiction books myself—all of them New York Times bestsellers—and I keep digging deeper every time.

It’s hard, and it’s scary. But that’s the nature of writing a compelling nonfiction book. You have to put yourself fully into it. It’s a process that’s going to expose you to the world in a way that isn’t always comfortable.

So, whether it feels comfortable or not, you might need a writing coach if:

  • You’re stuck
  • You started your book several times and abandoned it
  • You wrote a draft and can’t seem to go back and self-edit it
  • You have a solid concept, but your chapters don’t feel compelling

If any of that rings true, it’s worth exploring your options for a writing coach.

How to Hire the Right Coach for You

If you’re hiring a writing coach to help you bring out your very best material—overcoming your fears and making your book bravely authentic—the work can get emotionally intense.

You’ll need to trust your coach on a deep level.

Because of that, I strongly advise you not to make the decision quickly. Your coach should have a proven track record (with some great testimonials), but that isn’t enough:

  1. Their coaching style needs to work for you
  2. They need to help you feel energized about your book
  3. You need to feel safe being honest with them about how you’re feeling
  4. You need to be sure about all 3 of those things ahead of time

So before you hire a writing coach, make sure all those things are true—and understand that you can’t get that information from a few references and some marketing copy.

Instead, here’s how to do it.

1. Get some face-to-face time

Speaking by phone is okay, but seeing your coach on video (or Zoom, Skype, or some other face-to-face video chat service) is better.

You want to feel like you really know them in order to build the trust you’re going to need.

You don’t necessarily have to talk to them–seeing or hearing them coach is often enough. This can be accomplished on a podcast or a YouTube video.

And it’s important to note: don’t just rely on what they SAY about book coaching. You want to actually SEE AND HEAR them coaching an actual Author.

Talking about something and doing something are very different things.

2. Examine their coaching method

Check out your writing coach’s method BEFORE you hire them. Make sure it resonates with you.

Any coach you’re thinking of working with should provide meaningful content about what they do—not just marketing copy that says, “I’ll help you write a great book.”

They should provide you with details about their process, ideally including videos so you can watch them do it.

3. Look for what they do (and don’t) do

Remember, a great writing coach helps you dig into the emotional journey of writing. They’ll push you to be more honest and to write a more authentic book.

Not every coach is willing (or able) to do that. In fact, most shy away from it.

Why? Because a writing coach has to be very comfortable with their own emotions before they can go to that profoundly authentic place with anyone else. And they have to know how to push gently—bringing out that authenticity in a way that makes the Author feel safe.

That’s why great writing coaches are so rare.

So, when you’re watching those videos, make sure they aren’t just talking about style and structure. Make sure they’re really getting to the heart of writing an authentic, compelling book.

4. Don’t trust “vetted” marketplaces

When you’re looking for a writing coach, you’re going to find a few marketplaces that claim they’ve “vetted” all their writing coaches.

But here’s the sad truth: they only “vet” those listings in the most cursory way. So being on that list doesn’t mean much.

No matter what coach you’re considering, and no matter where you found them, you have to do the work of getting to know them and vetting them yourself.

5. Exhaust your free options first

Look, hiring an expert for personalized time and attention costs money. That’s great if you really need it, but make sure you DO need it.

At Scribe, we believe everyone should write a book. We provide everything you need to know for writing and self-publishing your book—and it’s completely free.

So, if you’re only stuck because this is your first book and you don’t know where to start, check out our free guides first.

Scribe Book School is one of those free resources. It’s online, and you can stream ALL the videos as often as you want. If you want the companion book, The Scribe Method, you can get a free download of that, too.

We began offering the course during the height of the pandemic lockdowns to help people jump-start their books while they were stuck at home.

During that process, we learned that many people came out of it feeling like, “Hey, this is awesome, and I’m stoked to write my book. But I already know I’m going to need help.”

And, unfortunately, we also heard about a lot of writing coaching that wasn’t so great.

That’s why we created Scribe Writer’s Room, where you can get ongoing support in writing a compelling, authentic book:

  • Weekly Zoom calls with our coaches (Hal and Emily, from Scribe Book School)
  • Community & emotional support in a closed Facebook group
  • Scribe coaches in the Facebook group to answer specific questions
  • A group to make the writing process a lot less lonely and more of a team effort

You’re welcome to check it out, but there are plenty of Authors who wrote their book without Scribe Writer’s Room. You don’t NEED it to write a book.

But it’s there for anyone who’d like some extra help with the writing process.