I loved the above tweet that Adam Grant recently posted. As stated, it’s a general concept, but I see exactly what he describes regularly playing out for beginner writers.
Newbie writers are constantly on Reddit and other online forums asking if they’re any good, how they can improve, whether they should keep writing, and if the work they’re developing is worth writing.
What they’re clearly looking for is a coach, someone who has deep knowledge about the area they’re trying to improve in (writing in this case) and is willing to take the time to understand the writer, make a plan for their development, then guide them through it.
The number of people willing to serve this role for a stranger on the internet is roughly zero. Oftentimes people explicitly paid to serve this role at universities or at writer retreats do a poor job of it or don’t bother. In one of his substack posts, Stephen Elliot wrote about disagreeing with Walter Kirn about how much they were being paid to teach at a writing program. Stephen Elliot thought they were making $100 per hour, while Walter Kirn thought they were making less than minimum wage. The clear difference, to me, is that Walter Kirn was working hard to coach students, while Stephen Elliot was phoning it in doing the bare minimum.
Rather than coaches, you’re more likely to find cheerleaders (to use Adam Grant’s term). These are people who will compliment you and your writing, say how excited they are about your work, how they can’t wait to read it, and get everyone they know to read it, then they’ll immediately forget about you.
They aren’t trying to help you improve as a writer or give you an honest assessment of your writing. Instead, they’re just trying to be nice by complimenting you.
It is nice, but it’s problematic if you believe your cheerleaders and it can be a rude awakening when you find the public isn’t as uniformly supportive. Many writers groups seem to be made up of writers colluding to be one another’s cheerleaders.
If someone responds who doesn’t want to build you up, they’re probably a critic: people who are trying to tear you down. Whatever you post, they’ll find something they don’t like. If there’s nothing easy to badmouth, they’ll make something up. These are the haters.
Just like cheerleaders, their feedback is pretty blind to the actual quality of your writing or skill. Instead, these are people who delight in tearing other people down and will try to find the aspect of their writing that the author is most sensitive about and hit them hard there.
Some of these people will talk about “tough love”, but there’s no love in it.
Just like cheerleaders, they immediately forget about you as soon as the interaction is over.
How Do I Find A Coach?
Honestly, you probably don’t.
If you’ve had good traction and get accepted by an agent or traditional publisher, they’ll likely coach you if you’re receptive to it. More success from their authors means more money for them. They have an incentive for you to get better. It’s still possible that they’re a cheerleader and not a coach, but you have a far better chance of finding a coach here than in writing groups or with random people online.
You can go to a writing program and hope, but it’s entirely possible that the people teaching you are phoning it in and will be cheerleaders or critics instead. The bitter, failed author teaching writing is a cliche at this point.
You can try to hire someone directly, but often these are just cheerleaders who want to be paid.