The Writing Sparrow Episode 32 | What Does a Writing Coach Do? with Rachel Grosvenor

For this week’s episode, I talked to Rachel Grosvenor, an author and writing coach. We had a chat about what a writing coach does, who the service is right for, and what to look for when you consider hiring one.

To find out more about Rachel, check out her website find her or Twitter , or follow her on Instagram.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[Writing Sparrow theme]

Sarina: Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow Podcast. I’m Sarina Langer. This podcast is all about writing, publishing, and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started. 

Welcome back friends and Sparrows, and good morning, it’s the 19th of April 2021. This is Episode 32. Today, I’m talking to Rachel Grosvenor, a writing coach from New Zealand. It’s 9 PM for her right now, so I really appreciate that she could meet me because it’s 8 AM for me. Big time difference. 

Rachel: Yeah, it is. 

Sarina: Rachel has made it her job to help writers and authors alike achieve their writing dreams. She’s here today to tell us all about how she does that. Welcome to my [00:01:00] podcast, Rachel.

Rachel: Hello, thank you very much.

Sarina: Thank you also for reaching out to me. It makes me feel like my little podcast is a lot bigger than it actually is probably.

Rachel: You are more than welcome. It sounded fun. I just wanted to get involved in more writing chat, really, so sounds good.

Sarina: It is quite fun. I was terrified when I did the first episodes by myself but I think that was partially because I didn’t know if anyone would hear it. The greeting that I’ve just done when you don’t have anyone listening to, it’s very presumptuous of me. 

Rachel: Then, you never know who’s going to listen back again.

Sarina: No, exactly. These chats have actually been really great, because I end up learning so much from all my guests. I meet lots of fun people. It really is very fun, for both of us hopefully.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina: It’ll also be very interesting for me, I think, because I’ve never really talked to a writing coach before. It’s a term that obviously, [00:02:00] I’ve seen floating around here and there. To be honest, I don’t really know what you do. This will be a great chance [crosstalk] to learn a lot.

Rachel: [crosstalk] -I do. I feel it’s a fairly new term, actually. 

Sarina: Yeah, I think in my head, I have a general idea of what you do but really, I have no idea because I’ve never talked to a writing coach.

Rachel: Yeah. Because it’s a fairly new term, a lot of people find it a little bit more confusing. If I said that I was a teacher, it would be more clear to people because they already have an idea of what that is in their head. 

Sarina: Yeah. For me, writing culture sounds like something that I would love to do. But again, I don’t really know, because I could have completely the wrong idea about what you do. If we start by getting stuck into that, talk me through what you do, say, “I’m an author. Rachel, I need help.” What would you do?

Rachel: Well, it completely depends really at what stage [00:03:00] of the writing process you’re at. What a writing coach does, that’s basically a personal trainer for authors, that’s the way to kind of view it. I help aspiring authors at all stages of the creative journey. That can be anything from, “Hey, I want to write a novel, but I really don’t know what I would write a novel about. I don’t know how to come up with an idea.” Or, it could be, “I’m a third of the way through, and I didn’t write a plot in the beginning and now I don’t know where I’m going.” Or, it could even be, “I finished my first draft, but now what do I do?” Or, it could be, “I’m at the end of my third draft, and I’m ready to publish, but how the heck does that work?” It’s really any part of that journey, or all of that journey. 

My background is, I’m a doctor of creative writing. I’ve got a PhD and MA and a BA in creative writing. I [00:04:00] was also a lecturer at university in creative writing in England. I used to tutor adults for many years. I’ve got a background in being a lecturer and a tutor in creative writing. Being a writing coach felt a really nice transition, where I could work with writers one on one, and really chat to them about their projects, and actually have that time that I never really had in the classroom with each individual person to help them achieve their goals. That’s what a writing coach is. It’s sort of anything you want it to be to do with writing in the same way that a life coach would help you achieve your goal by helping you decide your journey and helping you see the way forward. A writing coach would do a similar thing. 

Sarina: See, that’s another thing I don’t really know that much about life coach. Again, I like feel that’s also quite a new term. Still, really now I feel that’s something that we didn’t really [00:05:00] have to the same degree 20 years ago.

Rachel: I agree.

Sarina: I think because I know a little bit about writing, and I know nothing about life. 

[laughter] 

Sarina: Writing coaching makes more sense to me just on those term because, it’s also maybe a bit more limited, because I know writing, I know a bit about marketing, and I know bit about publishing, but life can encompass so many different things, I think, and obviously writing is quite broad, ultimately, as well, because it is, of course, a lot more than just the writing.

Rachel: Oh, yeah, absolutely. That’s part of what it’s about, really. There’s a saying that always goes around, everybody’s got a novel inside them. I’ve always said, “Well, that might be the case.” Everyone’s got a story inside them, certainly. Does everybody have a novel inside them?” is such a big question because it’s like does everybody have the ability to sit down and work on an idea until it’s finished? Does everybody have the ability to do the second draft? It’s such a [00:06:00] big process of writing a novel, [crosstalk] which is why, everyone might have a story, but not everybody does write a novel, because it’s really hard work. It’s really hard work. [chuckles] 

Sarina: It really is. 

Rachel: It’s such a lovely dream. It’s such an amazing dream. Sometimes, people say, “Oh, all I want is to write all week, every week just on my own in a farmhouse.” That is an amazing dream. The reality of it is not like the incredible sort of drinking coffee, and all the ideas are coming and everything’s flowing, and you feel wonderful. It’s very different. So, yeah, I think a writing coach also helps you basically through that process of the reality of writing an awful.

Sarina: I imagine there’s some interesting chats that have come out of that when a new writer approaches you and says, “I just want to live the writer dream on the farm and do nothing but write,” and then you have to come in and say, “Actually, [00:07:00] here’s what’s really going to happen.” [chuckles] 

Rachel: Yeah, but it’s also, I’ve met people who have retired and then that’s their dream to write a novel, because it’s so many people’s dream, which is amazing. I think it always has been, and it’s lovely. I love to also keep that enthusiasm alive. I’m a very positive person. I love writing. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s my favorite thing in the world. So, talking to other people who also love it and keeping them in enthused through the difficulties is a really cool thing.

Sarina: Yeah. Do you find that writers ever get maybe a little bit defensive when you tell them that maybe the dream that isn’t as realistic and actually, there is a lot more work in there than they had originally anticipated?

Rachel: That’s a good question. Yeah, I think, there are obviously different types of people, and part of being a [00:08:00] writer is that you have to develop a thick skin anyway. That’s tough because I also think that being a writer, I think introverts are naturally attracted to the idea of being a writer. I know I’m an introvert. It’s funny, isn’t it? Part of being a writer these days is different to how I think it used to be. Now, it’s more like, you want to market your book, but you’ve got to get that out there. You’ve got to put yourself out there. That’s hard for introverts. It’s not that easy. Yeah, I do think that being a writer, nowadays, you have to develop a little bit of a thicker skin. That’s something that we talk about as well. You have to have peer review and feedback to improve your work. That can be tough to take on board as much as realizing the reality of writing a novel. The first class when I lectured would always be, “All right, this is how we get feedback. [00:09:00] This is how we speak to each other. This is how we deliver criticism, because it’s going to happen. Let’s prepare ourselves.” [chuckles] 

Sarina: Giving criticism and feedback in itself is a skill really, and not everyone that writers are going to talk to and give their book to will know how to do it in a respectful and polite way, let’s say.

Rachel: Absolutely.

Sarina: I have had one very early beta reader on my first book who may be confused being honest with just being a bit rude.

Rachel: Yeah, some people get excited about how honest they can be. I’ve noticed that you have– when I lectured at university, I would sometimes have a student who was just really excited about the fact that they were being asked to criticize almost, and you have to be like, hey– I always used to go with the compliment sandwich. I’m a big fan of the compliment sandwich.

Sarina: Oh, I am. That’s how I edit. [giggles]

Rachel: [00:10:00] Absolutely, because you start off thinking, “Okay, awesome. Okay, so here’s something I can realistically work on, but I still feel excited and I still feel pleased about this.” 

Sarina: Yeah. I’m sure you are the same way, because I think that we’re quite similar with our optimism. When I edit someone’s book, then I want them afterwards to feel positive and excited about the project, and not like, “I’ve just ruined everything and ruined their dream.”

Rachel: Absolutely, it’s important.

Sarina: You may need to make some cuts, you may need to change your point of view maybe somewhere which is just going to take a lot of work, but hopefully, book is also going to be a lot stronger afterwards. Hopefully, I can then help them make them see that so that they can get excited about making all these big changes–

Rachel: Absolutely.

Sarina: [crosstalk] -you probably work the same way.

Rachel: Yes, I do. Yeah, I am very positive. Actually, that was always my feedback in my observations was, “Rachel’s a very positive person.” People [00:11:00] leave feeling enthused. It was great, because the same people, when I taught adults, would always come back again and again. That was because they really enjoyed the dynamics and atmosphere. That’s really important.

Sarina: Yeah, I do think it is. Something that you’ve said about some writers coming to you and saying that they want to live the dream on the farm and just writing all the time, reminded me of something I had some years ago, when I left uni– I studied photography. 

Rachel: Oh, lovely.

Sarina: I eventually realized near the end of my degree that I wanted to get back to writing again. By the time I graduated, I hadn’t quite got back to what’s now my debut novel yet. We were all exchanging our plans for the future. I said, “Oh, I’m going to want to try being an author. I’m going to write, I’m going to get back to that.” One of my friends at the time was saying that, she feels that she might want to write a book at some point, but she felt that she hadn’t [00:12:00] experienced enough yet, at the time to really write a book, which seemed a bit odd to me, because I think at the time, we were all about roughly 21 to 24. Some of us were older, but at this point, you’ve already experienced quite a lot. You’ve just finished uni, you’ve lived in halls at some point. That comes with so much stress, so much pressure, so much excitement. There’s so much in there, what else do you want to experience? 

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina: You’re never going to be in an actual battle probably. Certainly not a sword battle because that’s a– 

Rachel: No, you’d hope not. 

Sarina: Yeah, hope not. What would you have said to her, just out of curiosity?

Rachel: I would have said, a phrase that I do love is thrown around a lot when you talk about writing, that you write what you know. That doesn’t mean that you’re writing about if you’re a 21-year-old woman living in university, it doesn’t mean that’s what you’re writing about. [00:13:00] It means that you’re drawing on the emotions and the experiences that you’ve had so that you can feed your characters and storylines. I would have said that anybody can write whatever age they are. I’ve read some awesome stories by children because they think in a different way, and they come up with some really outlandish things. You think, “That’s amazing. I never would have thought of that, because I’m too young to focus in reality, but that’s awesome.” 

Yeah, I would have said, “You know enough already to begin, so write what you know.” But also, research is our friend.” 

Sarina: Always. [chuckles] 

Rachel: Yeah. It’s one of my favorite bits of writing a novel is the research. I absolutely love it. I can just fall down a rabbit hole for just days researching, and I just love it so much.

Sarina: I do, because you get to learn so many things, ultimately doing that, things that you’re probably interested in, [00:14:00] because they wouldn’t be in your book otherwise. Yeah, it’s such an exciting thing to do. I think that’s also where the advice of just write what you know, if you don’t break it down, gets a bit misleading. In my books, I tend to have a lot of magic in them and I tend to have, as I said, some sword fighting but I’ve never done those things, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t write them. I can’t shoot fireballs– [crosstalk] 

Rachel: Exactly.

Sarina: -from my hands and burn my enemies with them, but my characters can and you still can write it. I think it’s fantastic advice to write what you know, but also as you do, you need to break it down a little bit, so that people know that you can also approach other things, but maybe draw from your emotions and some of your backgrounds and start there, and see where it takes you, because otherwise you wouldn’t write [crosstalk] novels or fantasy novels, and what a shame that would be.

Rachel: Yeah, I write fantasy, and I’m sure, [00:15:00] part of writing what you know, for me, is my background in having read a lot of fantasy, played a lot of fantasy games like Skyrim and all that stuff. 

Sarina: Yeah. We have a lot to talk about. 

[laughter] 

Rachel: Yeah. I ride horses all the time. It’s like my other passion. I use all of these things in my fantasy writing. Yeah, also, I live up the road from Hobbiton, so that helps. [laughs] 

Sarina: That’s [crosstalk] inspiration. [laughs] 

Rachel: Absolutely.

Sarina: To get back to doing what you do, writing coaching. Is there a cutoff point where you would say that author has nothing to gain from working with me, or have you found that you have been able to help every author who has approached you?

Rachel: It’s up to the author. [00:16:00] Coaching is very much led by the person who is being coached and not the coach. It’s very much up to the person being coached to say, when they feel they want to go it alone essentially, and when they feel that they’ve achieved the action points that they’ve set. A coach essentially helps guide you to your goal, and helps you be able to view your blockages as well. They help you notice what they are and work out how you can clear them. My skill sets in being a writing coach is that I’m not just a certified professional coach, but I’m also a lecturer and writing tutor, so I can give you not just the coaching element to help you work out where you want to go on the journey, but I can also give you the benefit of my experience, and my [00:17:00] lecturing experience as well. All the classes that I’ve taught, everything I’ve ever taught to writers. I give both, I merge the two together. 

If a writer felt that they were nearing the end of their first draft, and actually, they’d asked me all the questions that they had wanted to, and they knew where to go from there, and they were ready to go alone, and that would be great, good for them. That’s cool. Likewise, if they felt like they needed somebody to hold them accountable for a little bit longer, then that is fine too, because that’s a really big part of it. Sometimes, people find it hard to hold themselves accountable. A coach will hold you accountable, and they will ask you to do homework, and they will ask you to check in with them. I find that is a really important part of it as well.

Sarina: Do some authors ever come back to you then say that– they have worked with you to just finish the first draft and then a bit later, they come back and then you help [00:18:00] maybe with marketing or with publishing the book?

Rachel: We can talk about marketing and publishing. Specifically, I’m not– I’ve worked in marketing, but I’m not someone who you would go to for marketing. I can talk to you about the way that I work. Publishing is a little bit different. I can talk about traditional publishing. I’ve taught lots of classes on traditional versus self-publishing and how that works. We could definitely talk about that. Yeah, marketing, I would say, if you’re ready to market your book, that’s awesome, but you need to go and talk to a marketing agent.

[laughter] 

Sarina: I had another question there, but I forgot what it was. Probably because I’m not quite awake just yet. For now, if we move on, and hopefully I’ll come back to that and I’ll remember–

Rachel: Okay. 

Sarina: What’s your favorite part about being a writing coach?

Rachel: Oh, that’s a good question. I love reading other people’s [00:19:00] work. I just love reading. I read all the time. It’s one of my favorite things. Yeah, I do love reading other people’s work. Actually, I just love chatting about writing with people. When I was teaching and tutoring and lecturing, I had a class full of people. Sometimes, people come before the class, and sometimes they would stay late and talk to me, but I never really got to sit down with them, unless we were doing some kind of review, to actually be like, “Talk to me about your writing process. How could we improve it? Talk to me about this.” I would be teaching as a class. That’s the best thing, is being able to sit down with people and be like, “Let’s get to the bottom of this and improve your writing life.”

Sarina: That’s kind of the question that I just forgot that I just remembered and wrote down. 

Rachel: Oh, yeah? Okay.

Sarina: How do you do the session? Do you set up a Zoom call, like we’re doing right now?

Rachel: Yeah, currently [00:20:00] in COVID, I do, with the Zoom.

Sarina: Yeah, obviously, right now, we can’t meet anyone in person.

Rachel: Yeah, that’s how I do it at the moment. Previously, I’ve gone coffees with people, and that’s nice. It’s always nice to go for coffee with people. Yeah, at the moment, Zoom works really well. Also, I just use things like Dropbox to be able to read people’s work. Google Docs is really helpful for that as well. Yeah, relying massively on the online world at the moment.

Sarina: That is very helpful. It has certainly made a lot of things a lot easier. But it’s then also a matter of finding the right program and finding something that both sides are happy with. I imagine there’s some– maybe not complications as such, but probably also some discussion around that. I imagine you’re quite flexible with that. If an author says, “Actually, I’m not comfortable talking on video, because I don’t know you,” [00:21:00] then is that something also that you’re happy to work with?

Rachel: Oh, yeah, absolutely. We can have a telephone chat. Absolutely. Also, email is fine as well. Some people find email easier, especially if they’re writers, because they can pause and think about what they’re saying and think about their words, and I understand that. I often feel that I speak better on the page than I do in real life. [laughs] 

Sarina: I always say that when you just talk in real life, it’s basically a first draft that comes out of you. 

Rachel: Exactly. [crosstalk] 

Sarina: We both know why first drafts are not necessarily what you want people to see or hear. [chuckles] 

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina: I suppose when you do it in emails, you then also have that backup of what you’ve discussed and you can come back to it more easily, so that’s also quite helpful, I imagine.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. I do take notes when I speak to people, so that we both know where they’re up to, what’s going on, and things like that. [00:22:00] I’ll always have notes on people and know what’s going on in their projects and things like that. But yeah, it’s really useful to have emails as well. 

Sarina: Yeah, I’ll bet. Coming on to the last question. What would you like writers who are considering hiring a writing coach to know? Say someone like me who had no idea what they would be in for.

Rachel: That’s a good question. I think it would be that it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at. If there’s anything that you are struggling with, we can talk about it essentially and I can help. Yeah, it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at, it could be anything. Also, you don’t have to even have written down an idea yet. If you want to write a novel and that’s what you know, but you feel you need help, [00:23:00] then get in touch. As much as if you’ve already written a novel, and you need to know what the next step is, that too. I offer different sort of stages. I offer like an hour session that is just for somebody who needs to talk to somebody about creative writing and the issues that they’re having. I also offer a longer series of sessions as well, which is creation of a novel, and going through the process. 

At the moment, I’m creating an online masterclass, which will hopefully be available later in the year. That’s going to be basically an online course on how to write a novel from the very start, coming up with how to calendar block and all of that stuff, how to actually find the time to write, to the very end of how to find a publisher, so that’s something I’m building [00:24:00] at the moment in my spare time.

Sarina: If you remind me when the course is live, then we can link to that in the show notes as well. 

Rachel: Awesome, I will. Thank you. Cool.

Sarina: Yeah, we can then come back to that. 

Rachel: Okay, brilliant. 

Sarina: I’m sure there’s so much more that I could ask but, because it sounds like such a fascinating process, and also really fun, because you get to connect with so many writers. I know when I first started looking for an editor– I mean I got quite lucky in that really, because I just kind of stumbled on my editor on Twitter.

Rachel: That’s good.

Sarina: Kind of found each other. I know that lots of editors, for example, have genres that they’re not as happy to edit, where they say, “I’m a thriller author, so I edit thrillers exclusively,” for example. Are you happy to work with authors in any genre? Or, would you say that there is something that you don’t know as much about?

Rachel: That’s a good question. [00:25:00] I’m happy with any fictional genre. I would say that if somebody wanted to write a memoir or something like that, something nonfiction, obviously we could still chat, but my specialties are fiction. As much as I love to read nonfiction, and I do, my specialties are fiction, and that’s very much what my PhD was in. Yeah, any fictional genre works for me really.

Sarina: Well, that’s probably a relief then to many listeners, because I think a lot of us tend to gravitate more towards writing fiction, because we can be a bit more creative with that and we can sort of explore all those ideas a bit more, which is very exciting.

Rachel: Absolutely. I really enjoy fiction. But then, it’s funny that I also just really enjoy reading nonfiction as well. Yeah, [00:26:00] I do.

Sarina: I found something similar last year. I started listening more to audiobooks. When I sit down with an eBook, or a paperback or whatever, I tend to prefer epic fantasy, because that’s what I tend to write, so that’s my go-to genre, or maybe a bit of horror, but usually it’ll be more on that end. But then, whenever I listen to an audiobook, for some reason, I really struggle to focus on fantasy or sci-fi. I don’t know what it is. I then find it much easier to sit down with, say, a contemporary fiction instead.

Rachel: Okay, that’s interesting,

Sarina: I wouldn’t normally sit down with the paperback because I then might not be able to focus on that so much. For some reason, there is this interesting change in interest when I sit down with an audiobook compared to when I sit down with a paperback, and I’m not really sure why that is.

Rachel: That’s interesting. I find it depends also on who is reading it [00:27:00] in the audiobook. I’m listening to a nonfiction book at the moment. The guy’s so enthusiastic, but sometimes I’m just so British, I balk at it a little bit. I’m like, “Wow, you’re so enthusiastic, and it’s really early in the morning. I just need to turn this down a little bit.” Whereas I feel like if I was reading it, I’d be like, “Ah, I can deal with this.”

[laughter] 

Sarina: I think that’s probably a good place to finish the interview on. I’ve learned a lot. I have a better idea now on what a writing coach does. 

Rachel: Awesome.

Sarina: Hopefully, some of our listeners do as well and might be more inclined to work with one if they are stuck on that journey, which would be fantastic. 

Rachel: Great.

Sarina: Thank you very much, Rachel, for stopping by and having this chat with me. Thank you so much also to you, listeners, for being here and following along and learning with me.

Rachel: Thank you for having me.

Sarina: My pleasure. [00:28:00] I will speak to you later. Have a great day everyone. Bye-bye.

Rachel: Bye.

Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learned something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @Sarina_Langer, on Instagram and Facebook @SarinaLangerWriter, and of course, on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.


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