I hate it when that happens. In this one, I am back at Southern New Hampshire University in the final weeks of my low residency MFA program in creative writing. I realize that I have not done any of the course work needed to graduate in a few weeks. I scramble around, looking for slips of paper with the professors’ assignments on them. My classmates graduate and I am left behind. All of the tuition money I spent is wasted.
I know why I had this dream. I am at a critical stage with my manuscript. I am fine tuning my query letter and plan to begin sending it out next week in search of a literary agent to represent me. I’m taking a leap of faith. Will my manuscript soar or will it sink? The prospect of rejection makes me anxious. I wonder how other authors feel when they get to this stage with their work. I’d love to hear from you.
Coaches are enthusiastic men and women who help us achieve our goals. One of the most visible is the sports coach who works with a team, evaluating athletes’ performances and giving feedback. There is the dialogue coach who works with actors to help them sound convincing before an audience. A dating coach helps individuals pursue healthy relationships. I worked with performance coaches during my broadcasting career to improve my on-air delivery.
But what about writers? Do they have anyone to coach them? If so, who do they go to? What happens to the writer suffering writer’s block, or the writer who can’t get motivated enough to sit in the chair and write the thing, or the writer who’s got a great manuscript but doesn’t know how to market it? That’s where a literary life coach comes in. Lisa Allen Lambert first discovered the lure of writing while researching and writing travel news at Yankee magazine. Later, she wrote, designed, and self-published Eating Clean, a cookbook based on the healing and healthful benefits of unprocessed foods. Recently, an excerpt from her MFA memoir thesis, “Paradise Not Quite Found,” was a finalist in the anthology contest “Times Were A-Changing.”In this exclusive interview, Lisa Allen Lambert, the Literary Life Coach, talks about being a motivator.
Lisa Braxton: What has inspired you to become the Literary Life Coach?
Lisa Allen Lambert: Two things: One, I believe everyone has a book in them. And, two, it was a matter of making official what has long been an avocation: talking with people about their book projects, problem-solving concept and/or structural issues, encouraging writers and following up on their progress. I am a cross-pollinator of people and ideas and love to bring people together; if you meet with me, be sure to bring paper and pen for note taking. As the Literary Life Coach I work with non-fiction writers, primarily business owners, who use a book(s) about their area of expertise to broaden their visibility in the marketplace — to help them make noise in the world. A book keeps your message fresh, long after a meeting or workshop has ended.
L.B.: How does a literary life coach differ from a literary coach? From a writing coach? From a book packager?
L.A.L.: The easy answer first — I am not taking on another author’s book project myself, or collaborating with a publisher, as a book packager would. I function as a writing coach, in that I provide a step-by-step process for growing an idea into a book. Also, I am an accountability partner, a customizable cheerleader. Although I do not proofread, copyedit or edit, I work in tandem with others who do. The word ‘literary’ is my way of implying quality for the end product, the book. In the excitement of seeing their names in print, it is easy for first-time self-publishing authors to overlook the fundamentals such as grammar and spelling. It is my mission to ensure that my clients’ books have integrity, from the inside out.
L.B.: So many authors slog away in privacy and do it all themselves, why would someone need a literary life coach?
L.A.L.: Because writing can be a lonely process, because figuring out how to develop an idea into tens-of-thousands of organized words can be overwhelming.
L.B.: At what stage must a writer’s work be for you to work with him or her?
L.A.L.: Think of my services like a menu — it is possible to order just an appetizer, or an entree, or even dessert, or all three courses. Any stage is the right stage.
L.B.: Do you help with the mechanics of the manuscript? Keeping the writer motivated? Guidance in finding an agent? Marketing the book? Self-publishing?
L.A.L.: All of the above.
L.B.: Tell me of rewarding experiences you’ve had as the Literary Life Coach.
L.A.L.: I’m working with the author of a children’s biography of someone famous. The manuscript has been edited, finely groomed, given the thumbs-up by important people in high places, yet the author needed regularly scheduled check-in sessions to override self-doubt. With the manuscript already in good order, we’ve brainstormed publishing options and marketing strategies. In September I’ll be meeting with the author and her illustrator, an accomplished artist. It is thrilling to seeing this project come to fruition.
I recently had a call from someone who has written several books but described her current project as “writing hell.” She had three versions of the manuscript with input from her team of advisors, and was absolutely stuck on how to organize the chapters, how to edit how some elements that should be used for a different project. How lucky was I that she was vacationing at her lake house, and that we could meet there for a day-long session?! Together we worked out the best flow of information for her book, and, the true test, after sleeping on it, she was energized and focused and back on track.
As the Literary Life Coach Lisa can help you with your nonfiction book or blogging projects. She is the managing editor for Tall Poppy Writers (web site launching in Sept.), a new online consortium that connects smart readers with smart books, and is the assistant residency director for a low-residency MFA program in creative writing.