how I discovered that a writing coach can be helpful
I’m writing a supernatural thriller called THE DECADENTS. It’s a bit different from my previously published novels. It’s a book I’ve been carrying around in my head for a long time. I’m a little afraid to write it.
So I did something I’ve never done before: I hired a writing coach.
Her name is Rachel, and she wrote a book that I admire and deals with some of the same subject matter that I’m working with, if in a different form. I first saw her years ago at a Black Clock reading at a bookstore called Dutton’s in Beverly Hills (which is now, sadly, closed — the bookstore, not Beverly Hills). I liked what she read, and I also liked her fashion sense (she was wearing white jeans and a fringed Cavalli-esque poncho).
After her new book came out, I rediscovered her.
We had our first official work meeting last night. We tried to go to a restaurant called Wilshire, which was closed, so we walked to the speakeasy next door. The waitress’s name was Sophie and she wore glitter eyeshadow. (When I found out she had just moved from Boulder, I asked her, “Do you know a restaurant called The Kitchen?” She squealed, “I love The Kitchen!” My ex-brother-in-law owns that place, and one of the things I actually do miss from my marriage are the trips we took to Boulder and free meals at The Kitchen. But I digress.)
I had written 50 pages of DECADENTS and put the book aside for a bit. “You weren’t ready to write it yet,” Rachel observed, and this was true. I had this idea of what I wanted the book to be, told from the perspective of a particular character and covering three different periods in time.
But after those first 50 pages, I got blocked. What I’ve learned is that, as one writer put it (and I wish I could remember her name but can’t), a block can be your subconscious’s way of saying, Hush, child, I’m working on a better plan.
What I eventually realized was that a lot of the stuff I thought was story is actually backstory, and although the book is told from several different perspectives (I like multiple perspectives, think they bring a depth and richness) the story belongs to a different character than I’d originally intended, the young female character.
This now seems so obvious I wonder why it took me so long to come to my muddled senses.
The bones of the thriller, which is about — and I’m still refining this — how a legacy of psychosexual damage gets handed down through a family and plays itself out in other relationships — fell into place. I went back to those first 50 pages, cut about 20 of them, tightened some of the remaining scenes, jettisoned a point-of-view experiment that wasn’t working, and showed them to Rachel.
Rachel thinks the pages are strong and was surprised to hear about my hesitancy: “The writing is fluid and has a lot of authority.” We talked about the materials of the story and although I’m writing fiction, Rachel has learned me enough to make the connection between the book and life of the writer generating it. “No wonder you’ve been resisting it,” she said, and pointed out that I’m still working through some of the issues and experiences that inspired the book in the first place.
How true. And again, so very freaking obvious. Yet I wasn’t able to realize this on my own, partly because I’m way too close to the project, and also because the mind has a fascinating capacity to sidestep and overlook whatever makes it too uncomfortable.
Rachel and I talked about accountability: a big part of her job is to make sure that I write the damn pages. I’ll give myself deadlines and weekly page quotas, draw up a contract and sign it. Quite possibly in blood. And Rachel will nag the hell out of me.