You’ve been coaching writers for years but made this a full-time business about 8 months ago. How has it been going?
It’s been really fantastic so far. I was a bit nervous because I have traditionally coached people in person, and I was worried that I might lose something of that personal connection if I worked with writers via email or Skype. But that actually hasn’t been the case at all. In fact, I’ve noticed that writers who are more on the introverted side have been seeking me out and I think it’s precisely because the option is now open to them to do things over email. I’m an introvert myself (although because I have very strong people skills I’m often mistaken for an extrovert) so it’s been really wonderful taking on more introverted clients.
Writers seem to be like athletes – they come to you in different shapes and with different talents. How do you customize your coaching based on that?
My first rule for coaching writers is: You are where you are right now, and that is exactly where you are supposed to be. Almost every writer who comes to me is focused on the future. They want to finish their novels, get published, gain more confidence, etc. That sort of drive is excellent when it comes to goal-setting, but it’s essential to accept yourself as an artist in this moment. Maybe you haven’t finished your novel yet, but you’ve shown the stamina to get those few rough chapters down. Maybe you haven’t even started your story, but you’ve got the creative brain churning out ideas. By constantly bringing the artist’s awareness back to the present and the positive as touchstones, I can help writers train themselves in resilience and solid self-esteem.
How do you conduct your writing groups? Do you set goals for the groups?
The writing groups I lead meet and write silently together for one hour. I don’t set concrete goals at the beginning of that hour because it’s not about meeting a certain word count or hitting manuscript milestones. However, I do conduct my groups with an emotional intention. My goal is to trust the writers who show up to write. I trust them to be present and do the work. I also put trust in their hopes for themselves and their dreams of a successful writing life. And the writers who show up respond to that trust almost immediately. Struggling writers are usually struggling with whether or not they have “the right” to call themselves a writer. My function is to really see their creative essence, and to recognize them as writers, along with giving them a time and place where they will be welcomed and encouraged to continue creating.
You have a great blog. It’s chock full of wonderful advice! How do you determine what you write – do you map out where you want your reader to go, or is it more spontaneous?
It’s totally spontaneous. I either write about about something that I’m currently challenged on, or an idea I’ve come across in something I’m reading that sparks my creative flame. I read a lot of fiction, and also a lot of material on human consciousness, psychology and personalities, and seekers throughout history. I don’t map out where I want my reader to go, but I do craft the emotional tone of each post on my blog to open up the heart. When the heart is open it’s much easier for writers to come away from my blog feeling like they can express themselves with true honesty, which is really the key to brilliant writing.
Dostoevsky has had a great impact on your work. Who do you see as the modern Dostoevsky?
Roberto Bolano is my modern Dostoyevsky. I read his 2666 this past year and it changed the way I thought about my own writing, and what is possible in writing. I really don’t even have the words to describe what an incredible writer he was.
What was the most notable book you’ve read this year?
Prisoner of Love by Jean Genet was a book that completely blew me away this year. It’s a memoir of sorts, about Genet’s time spent in the Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan in the 1970s and his time spent with the Black Panthers in the States. It’s a phenomenal recording of the instability of time and the unreliability of memory.
Do you write fiction every day?
I don’t. I actually write once a week. I’ve tried to push myself harder in the past and it just doesn’t work. I’m a very slow writer, in fact. I think of myself as this big sponge walking around, collecting all sorts of stuff and soaking up the world, and then once a week I wring myself out on the page and see what floats to the surface.
How do you set the stage for your writing practice (by editing, pacing, chewing fingernails, etc.)?
I treat it the same way as balancing my checkbook. I just sit down and make myself do it. There’s nothing romantic about it for me, it’s pure work. Work that I’m very grateful for and that I love after the fact, but work all the same. It’s like doing sit-ups. I’m not having so much fun when I’m in the middle of it, but I’m willing to put in the time to get the results.
You are based in San Francisco. How does “place” affect your writing practice?
When I moved here ten years ago I felt like I had finally come home. San Francisco is filled with eccentrics, artists, weirdos and people who just want to walk around in the streets naked. It’s also filled with ambition, innovation, and business mavericks. I love all of these things. I had been searching for a mix of exactly these things all of my life. Every picture I use on my blog is a picture I took just walking around the city, looking at stuff. I walk around San Francisco a lot and I can never get enough of it.
Do you have any writing goals for this year?
My goal is to finish the novel I’m currently working on and start another. That’s my goal every year and I do usually hit it.
How do people get in touch with you? What are your fees? Do you just work with novelists, or also with screenwriters, non-fiction writers, poets, etc.?
People usually contact me through my website, although I am also extremely active on Twitter. I work with all types of writers, but if I don’t think it’s going to be great fit, I usually know someone I can recommend for what they’re looking for. Fees vary widely. It really depends on what the writer needs and wants. Some writers are only looking for help editing a finished manuscript, while others really want to dig in and work on themselves as part of the process. I do a free consultation to determine what would be most helpful and the scope of the work.