The Indiana Accords

I started drafting this post in the car during the twelve hours I spent hauling myself and a car full of stuff from Indiana post-GenCon to New Jersey, so if it’s a bit incoherent, it’s because I drafted it out loud in 45-minute chunks throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania.

As I’m told repeatedly, you can’t manufacture moments, you can’t force or make them happen, they’re a confluence of circumstance and things lining up with some coincidence. And every time I hear it, as you’d expect, I think that might be the third most-maddening thing someone can say to me, because what’s basically being said is that you can’t control a moment, and lacking control is one of those things that doesn’t go so well for me. I like control, I like order, and I like being charge of me and what I do.

So of course I love moments, and I chase them, because whatever’s uncontrollable and just out of reach is always the most desired thing.

I spent much of GenCon on a sly pursuit of moments. I wanted there to be little crystallized pockets of experience with specific people. To go to a meal with this or that person. To hug that person. To tell this other person I had missed them. To have, just between the two of us these little bubbles where nothing else mattered.

Now go contrast that with how badly I wanted to speak to rooms with 100+ people and make them all laugh and nod and walk out of the room thinking and feeling and energized.

This is the duality I think a lot of people struggle with, and my own struggle with it transcends the specific knowledge of writing craft of story development. It should, frankly, be bigger than what I know about query letters or marketing or dialogue, because life is more than the total of what you know, it’s the expression of what you know in way(s) that build(s) a bridge between you and the next person.

GenCon this year was about building a whole lotta bridges and moving away from demanding there be a-moment-or-else-right-now-goddammit.

See, there was this woman in the audience on Friday at my last panel of the convention,  I remember exactly where she sat: a row back from the front, on the the interior aisle. She wore a green dress, had dark hair, and kept her hands in her lap a lot. I don’t say any of this in a creepy way, I’m saying this because this woman changed the trajectory of my weekend, my plans, and my entire outlook on what I do.

It was a panel on setting goals and not giving up, and it had okay attendance for a Friday afternoon panel. Of course I would have liked to see more people in the room, but it’s okay, the people who were there were the ones meant to be there. And there was this woman. I cannot for the life of me remember her name, I’m not even sure she said her name, but I remember she was a seamstress, a costumer, and she was nervous.

Now I don’t know if she was nervous because she was asking a question of three people on a stage who had microphones or if she was just nervous in general, but she sticks out so sharply in mind. Now I’m going to paraphrase our interaction:

Her: I’m a costumer, and what do I do when I get discouraged about what I’m doing? I know the flaws in my work, and how do I keep going and doing this this when I know it’s  going to be tough and have problems?

Me: Tell me what you love about costuming.

And it was right there, everything turned. It was like a light switch flicked on her soul and she wasn’t this nervous person who sat quietly and timidly, she was this person who loved a thing and was excited about a thing and it mattered to her.

Her: I love that I can make a dress, an outfit, something out of nothing, and it’s really good and I love doing it, I love how it looks, and the work that goes into it because it’s fun and it makes me happy.

Me: Remember that every time you feel like it’s too hard. Can you do that for me?

Her: Yes. Thank you so much.

There was something about this reaction, this conversation, that wiggled its way into my brain and it took a long time the rest of the weekend to sort itself out. It wasn’t a bad thing, it was a great thing, the best of things, and I couldn’t stop seeing in my head.

The look she had on her face when she described how costuming made her feel. The eye contact when she said she could remember that. The way I asked her if she could do that for me.

Boom.

Moment.

See, up until that point, all the panels I was on were there to give information ahead of ego stroke. Yes, I’ll cop to it, I love the sound of my own voice, yes I love the fact that people come up and thank me. I love attention and I love the fact that I’m smart and good at a thing. And I know that this is not the healthiest space to constantly be submerged in for four days. I don’t want to be “on” for a whole weekend because it makes me an insufferable asshole who doesn’t relax and who is generally unbearable to be around. I’m conscious of that, and I wanted to avoid doing that.

But in the absence of that, I was feeling really lost. And when I feel lost, I try to focus on things that make me feel grateful, and things that make me feel like I still matter, because of course I need to ride the pendulum swing from it’s-all-about-me to I-don’t-matter-at-all and back again.

I look at the people who inspire me: here, here, and here (for starters) and one of the dominant feelings I take away is that they’re aware of the bigger audience, but they’re not talking to the group telling us that blessed are the cheesemakers, they’re speaking to each person one-on-one.

One-on-one, even when there’s this group.

One-on-one, just like the costumer and her question.

One-on-one, just like how a moment …

Boom.

Again.

The moments I felt best were not the moments where the whole room laughed or the whole room looked up at me. Those were nice, but they couldn’t touch the moments where a single person came up and said something nice.

Going forward, I’m committing myself to putting the one-on-one ahead of the group.

I’ll panel the hell out of everything every chance I get because I’m comfortable when I’m talking and teaching and encouraging, but I want anyone who comes in the door to feel like it’s just me and them.

I’ll put out videos and audio where the priority is one-on-one because that’s where the good connectivity and truly helping someone lives. Me talking to and with you. Not at you. Not over you.

And I’ll coach and edit with this same conversation, this same discourse in mind, because as a client, it’s me and you, riding to the end.

Because when I say I believe in you, I believe in YOU. You, person reading this. You, person wondering if they should get something edited. You, person who isn’t sure if coaching will help them. You, right there.

Let’s talk. Let’s work. Let’s get better and grow good things and expand and throw light out against the dark and be happy and make great stuff. Let’s be awesome.

Don’t you dare give up.

Happy creating.

Coaching, Its Benefits, And You

Good morning writers and creators of cool things, often with words. On Wednesday of last week, I announced the return of my Coaching program, and am happy to say that more than a few (certainly more than I was expecting) people have expressed interest. And although I answered everyone’s email over the weekend, I wanted to collate their questions and answers into a blogpost to talk more about coaching, why it’s different than editing, and what it can help you do. I’ve set the post up like an FAQ.

What is Coaching?
Coaching is editing and then-some. Yes, you end up with your MS worked on, but you also get a deeper look at the mistakes you commonly make, and most importantly why you’re making them and how to stop doing it going forward. Built on a simple premise that you’re always going to create better when you’re supported and when you’re aware of how you work best, coaching aims not to just produce a quality manuscript, but also produce a better overall writer (who produces quality manuscripts).

What are some things coaching can help me with?
(this isn’t a complete list)
Self-doubt
Self-rejecting (rejecting yourself before someone has a chance to)
Query letters
Proper grammar
Plot development
Character development
Procrastination
Transitioning from one genre to another
Transitioning from one writing style to another
Making time to write
Transitioning into other media
Finding inspiration to write new things
Dialogue
Finishing projects
Building a practical writing schedule that you actually enjoy following
Point of view efficacy
Correct use of tense

When does the editing happen?
The writing and editing happen WHILE the coaching is happening. (Not like at the same time, because I’m not standing behind you … or am I?) You keep working on your MS, we work on all this stuff together, as it comes up.

How do I know if I need coaching? Isn’t editing enough?
Editing’s enough if you just want to keep the focus on the current manuscript. Coaching is going to help you on the current one and the next manuscript(s).

What kind of editing happens during coaching?
It’s developmental, and it has to be. Just proofreading or even a line edit isn’t going to get to the hows and whys of writer habits.

Wait, remind me what developmental editing is?
It’s a comprehensive type of editing that looks at the MS in the broadest ways (who’s going to read it, what the author intends to do with it, etc), the craft ways (the characters, the plot, the dialog, the exposition, etc) and the technical ways (sentence structure, word choice, spelling, grammar, etc).

And what’s the point? Is this going to help me?
You’re going to get out of it whatever you put in. If you’ve been banging your head against the wall or desk about how you’re going to get yourself writing, or how you’re going to get your MS back on track if you’ve put yourself in a corner, coaching will absolutely help you. If you’re eager to get started and have no idea where, coaching will help you. In short – coaching can help you get writing, and writing well.

This sounds like it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg. Is it expensive?
As you can see on the Rates page, it’s $80 an hour. You pay for each hour of coaching, though if you want to  split the payment up, we can work that out. Just send me an email.

Is there a contract?
There is. It’s straightforward, and it spells out what we’re doing, how many hours we’re doing it for and all the payment particulars. It’s very similar to the contract discussed here.

As a client, how would we communicate?
We’d work in whatever way(s) work for you. Email, phone call, Skype, Google+ Hangout, Google Chat Window, In-person meeting (if you’re in NJ, parts of PA, DE, MD, NY, or CT) are all possibilities, though I’m flexible to others you may suggest.

When would the coaching happen?
We’d set up a date and time. I don’t do reminders, so that responsibility is on you, but we’d set up when a session would happen each time. I don’t schedule sessions on Sundays or holidays.

What if I need to cancel?
Cancel up to 8 hours before your session without a problem. Cancel sooner than that, and I invoice you for half a session. Exceptions apply, but don’t abuse the policy.

I get invoiced?
Yes, after every session, I give you an invoice.

$80 is steep for me. If I do half an hour, can I get a reduced rate?
Email me, and we can talk it out.

Is it possible to do a package of coaching?
It will be in the future (I don’t have that mapped out yet), but again, write me an email and we’ll talk it out.

What if I have questions?
Email or Twitter are the best places to ask them.

This Q&A is now also available on the Coaching page.


There are good coaches out there. There are bad ones. You pick the one who you think can work best with you. The goal isn’t just to feed you the same sort of info you can get with a quick Google search and then collect your money, the goal is to get you writing and get you writing better than you were before coaching started. That’s my goal – I want to see your stuff on shelves, in people’s hands, available for downloads, read in smoke signals and semaphore flags, or whatever you want to do with it. It’s your story, it’s your idea, get the best help you can to tell it.

As an editor, as a giver of workshops on writing and editing and publishing, as someone who pores over writing advice, it’s critical to me that people feel empowered enough to write. One of the most common questions I hear from people starts with, “Is it okay if ….” or “In my story, I have …” as people are just looking for the permission, the validation, to do a thing they think is cool. And yes, it’s cool that you did that. The word police aren’t coming to the door to take your keyboard and fingers away. As an editor and coach, my issue is not that you did it, but that you did it effectively, so it gets the desired result you want. I’m a huge fan of results and production, and I cast many side glances and headshakes towards those resources, people, “experts”, blogs, books, and videos that lose themselves in highbrow artsy discussions of what is or what isn’t writing. So many voices out there get silenced by the fear and doubt that some nebulous shadowy story-illuminate will decry their efforts because it’s not “legit”. Coaching isn’t about getting “legit”. It’s about remembering that you already are “legit”, and that there’s someone in your corner to keep you going.

You feel like you've been knocked around, it's my job to keep you fighting. I believe in you. You're no bum.

You feel like you’ve been knocked around, it’s my job to keep you fighting. I believe in you. You’re no bum.

I take this seriously. We can too easily make mountains of things to discourage ourselves, keep us from trying to do new things, keep us thinking we’re not good enough, or we’re too stupid. We are so quick to heap negatives onto our backs and in our minds that the positives become both mirages and oases in the vast wasteland of trying to get shit done.

It can feel a lot like this when you're trying your best.

It can feel a lot like this when you’re trying your best.

It can be tough admitting that you need help. It be can really intense and jarring to realize that you’ve reached some kind of limit and that you don’t know what to do next or how to do it. If I can tell you anything, it’s that you always have options, there’s always something that can be done, even if it’s unpleasant, scary, or embarrassing.

Writer, creator of things, you’re not alone. This is an opportunity to get your idea even beyond where you thought it could go. Taking control, not letting the doubt, fear, anxiety, frustration, naysayers, or lack of knowledge stop you is empowering. It basically makes you as cool as this guy:

Seriously, we all want to be this guy sometimes.

Seriously, we all want to be this guy sometimes. I mean he’s still wearing his pajama …

I’m here to help. I want to see you succeed. I think coaching is a great tool to have in your arsenal.

We’ll talk again Wednesday. Have a great day, write well, rock somebody’s face off.