Don't Just Edit - Coach!

Article 3 min
Coach writers to develop their skills, so there's less editing in the future.

The main goal of coaching is to improve a writer's skills. While it may go against the military stereotype of intense NCOs and red pen-wielding editors, it is a smarter way of getting your work done. Coaching takes more time in the moment, but it's all about how you spend that time. Good coaching is an investment that pays off later for both the coach and the writer.

Coaching involves:

  • Relationship-building
  • Direction
  • Development
  • Accountability
  • Results

Coaching provides specific, actionable feedback. Coaching is not fixing. Fixing solves the problem for one story, while coaching improves a writer's skills for future stories. Fixing results in dependency and frustration, while coaching allows a writer to work within his or her own style or idea. While fixing uses a one-size-fits-all approach, coaching tailors the conversation to an individual's skill level.

Use the following tips to have a productive coaching conversation when reviewing a writer's work.

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Coaching Tips

Sit on your handsPause

Writers need to know you respect their ownership of a story. Resist the temptation to start writing an improved version; that would be fixing, not coaching. The exception is a critical deadline, but even then, talk to the writer about adding your input.

Check your egoBe Humble

Through your coaching, writers discover better ways to craft their own copy. Readers compliment the writer, not the editor, on a good story. Your satisfaction will come from knowing you set the writer on the right path. Resist the temptation to rewrite and "fix" stories for the thrill of showing off your skills.

Discuss contentConfer

Ask the writer to tell you about how the interview or event went. Is he or she satisfied? Pay attention to how the writer relays the information and the information itself. What was the first thing said? What was the most interesting? What was the most surprising? Which emotion is expressed?

Read with a dual personalityReview

Read the story as a person who knows all the facts, since you just heard them from the writer, and then as a person who knows only what appears in the draft. This is tricky, but it is a skill that you will develop with practice.

Ask yourself questionsReflect

Does the story you’ve now read appear to be as strong as the story you heard? Often a story sounds good in the content conversation but gets lost in the writing. Ask yourself:

  • What changed between the writer telling you the story and writing the story?
  • Did the story include too much information? Not enough?
  • Did emotion come through too much? Not enough?
  • Did the story meet the expectations you provided to the writer at the start of the assignment or between the interviews and the draft?

Walk the writer through your process. Be specific in your analysis and provide actionable feedback.

Ask the writerQuestion

Keep in mind the writer may be feeling very nervous at this point. Remember to respect the writer’s efforts as you frame your questions. Ask the writer if he or she is content with the work. Often, when a story has holes, the writer knows it and will admit it, given the opportunity. That will bode better for a rewrite than your pointing it out. Ask:

  • What do you think of this piece?
  • What do you think you did well?
  • Where could you improve?
  • Does it accomplish your intent?

Provide balanced feedbackComment

Remember the value of legitimate praise. We all thrive on positive reinforcement when it comes to something of our own creation. Coaches identify successes and point them out specifically. This lets the writer know the praise is genuine – and, just as important, what worked. Even if the story is lacking, a coach should acknowledge and encourage effort.

Watch for nonverbal communicationNonverbals

Don't summon writers like they're in trouble or stand over their shoulders like they're subordinates. A conversation involves sitting or standing in a collegial fashion. Read the writer's body language and respond accordingly.

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