Debut Penguin novelist Rebecca Done on coaching and creativity
"Pulled Gently Back in the Direction of Your Goals" - Rebecca Done on the value of Writing Coaching
Rebecca Done’s debut novel This Secret We’re Keeping will be published by Penguin in March 2016. Here she shares how coaching provided a sounding board for ideas and something ‘to pull you gently back in the direction of your goals’.
Coaching and Creativity
As a copywriter and novelist, I know there are times when writing can be tough. Whether you do it for pleasure or professionally, writing does have a frustrating little habit of throwing up obstacles along the way. Perhaps you’re experiencing writer’s block, struggling to protect your writing time, or finding it hard to reach your goals in the face of everything else life has to throw at you. Overcoming these barriers can seem like an impossible task, and that’s where writing coaching comes in.
Writing coaching is all about exploring how to overcome the challenges you’re facing and moving forward as a writer. That can mean different things for different people: finally nailing the plot of that short story, hitting ‘The end’ on your first novel, or finding new ways to develop so your work doesn’t stagnate.
The latter certainly rang true for me last summer. I was working full-time as an in-house copywriter during the day, and spending every spare minute of my own time putting the final touches to my first novel so my agent could begin the nerve-racking process of submitting to publishers. Essentially I was living and breathing writing, and doing little else. With a high volume of creative briefs to tackle at work – for a brand that has a very distinctive voice – the imperative to deliver something original and exciting day-in day-out was as pressing as ever. Finding different ways to keep my writing fresh was something I knew coaching could help with.
Heidi asked me to come to our first session with some ideas about what I wanted to discuss. Aside from anything else, it was fantastic to simply have some time in a room with someone sharing the ups and downs of writing life! As a practising professional, Heidi knew exactly what I was talking about. This helped to maximise our time during the session, as she has a first-hand understanding of many of the problems and issues that writers commonly face.
The great thing about coaching is that it’s very pressure-free. It feels like an exploration of ideas and possibilities, and it’s certainly not about being told what to do. Heidi began by asking me a series of open questions designed to be a jumping-off point for us to explore together what I could do practically to move forward. What’s brilliant about conversations like this is that they tend to throw up a lot of ‘Oh – I’d never thought about it like that’ moments, which for a writer is fantastic because it draws your mind along new paths and gets you excited about fresh ideas.
The main focus of my initial session with Heidi was to come up with new ways of approaching creative briefs at work – how to dream up different concepts, how to cope with self-doubt, what I could do to spark new ideas when a deadline’s looming and I’m against the clock. Together we created a list of things to work on and I went away re-energised, invigorated and brimming with ideas. This, combined with my follow-up session, helped me to compile what was essentially a creative toolkit that I now use whenever I’m writing.
As a writer you might routinely receive feedback on your work from a writing group, friends or employer – but it’s less likely you’ll be questioned about how you wrote something. For me, even just articulating out loud how I put the words together was fascinating – I’d never really pondered over it that much, and it definitely served to highlight where my strengths and weaknesses lay.
You might find you only need one coaching session – it’s amazing how just this short amount of time can focus the mind and generate solutions. For me, having more than one session was useful, because it gave me a timeframe within which to shape my ideas before bringing them back for more discussion.
Writing coaching is very much about manageable steps, which is great if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It breaks down the problem into mini-goals that don’t feel too daunting to tackle.
Although editing a novel is a different process to nailing a killer headline for an advertising campaign, I have found that I employ a lot of the same techniques for both. Many of the thoughts and ideas I discussed with Heidi in a copywriting context became invaluable during the editing process for my novel, and they’ve certainly helped my brain to fire in a different way. Thinking of new creative ideas when I’m convinced I’m all out of them is something that’s relevant to both walks of my writing life, and beyond. It really doesn’t matter what kind of writing you do: coaching is applicable to any and every strand.
As a result of these sessions, I was able to create myself a dossier that I could refer back to whenever I needed a little inspiration hit. Writing coaching isn’t only useful for now – what you glean from it is like a resource you can draw upon when times get tough or you feel particularly stretched. Something to pull you gently back in the direction of your goals. Whether you’re struggling for time or banging your head against writer’s block, coaching is an opportunity to share your difficulties with someone who understands, and who can help you explore ways of moving past (or through) them in a supportive environment.
I can’t recommend writing coaching highly enough. It remains one of the most valuable things I have done as a writer to date.
Rebecca Done is a copywriter and author living in Norwich. Her first novel, This Secret We’re Keeping, will be published by Penguin in March 2016. Follow Rebecca on Twitter @writerbex
Writers’ Centre offer various sessions with two professional writing coaches – Heidi Williamson and Katherine Skala. It is easy to book a session online, or contact us if you would like more information.
This article appeared on Writers' Centre Norwich website on 18.8.2015