How to Know if You’re a “Good” Writer

When my first son was born, I was a prototypical first time parent. I asked a lot of questions at each pediatrician visit. After one particularly self-doubt fueled question session, I looked at our beloved doctor and asked, “How will I know if I’m a good mom?”

His answer?

“The fact that you’re even asking the question means you’re doing just fine.”

This morning, I took my youngest to the orthodontist. He’s never been a very dedicated teeth brusher and I’m paranoid he’ll end up with staining from not adequately caring for his teeth while he has his braces on. This was his first adjustment appointment after having the braces put on a month ago and so I asked the orthodontist how his teeth looked in regards to cleaning. He assured me he was doing okay but that there was definitely room for improvement. Then he looked me dead in the eye and said, “That you’re even asking means he’s going to be okay. Just keep paying attention.”

I believe writing is similar.

If you’re asking whether you’re a good writer, you’re probably better than you think.

If you’re asking it’s because you care about the quality of your writing.

If your’e asking, it means you’re paying attention.

And being curious and caring are truly half the battle. Chances are, if you’re asking if you’re a good writer, you’re probably open to learning and improving your craft, regardless of your skill level when you start.

Be curious.

Be inquisitive.

Dig deep into your craft and ask for feedback. Yes, you may get feedback you don’t like–been there–but in the end, it always makes the work stronger and by extension, makes you a stronger writer.

If you read a lot (and as a writer, you should!), then you will inherently know what a good story feels like even if you aren’t sure of the specific components yet. It may be hard to articulate at first when you start writing, but you’ll get a vague “it’s not there yet” feeling about your own writing. As you dig into those “not there yet” feelings, here are a few things to be curious about as you analyze your writing:

  • If you feel you can write a strong sentence but you still feel something is missing in your story, it’s probably a structure problem.
  • If you have a fast-paced plot but things feel a little flat in your writing, you may be missing a bit of character development or emotional interiority on the page.
  • If your characters are deep and voicey but even you’re getting a little bored on a draft re-read, you’re probably missing some cause and effect action.

Are you a “good” writer? Who knows. But if you are a writer who wants to know how they can improve, a writer curious about their skills, a writer willing to challenge themselves, then you’re in a great position to grow into your chosen calling as a writer.

Keep asking. Keep learning. Keep believing in yourself and you’ll only improve as a writer.

And hopefully, if I stay curious about my son’s brushing habits, he will also improve in the dental hygiene department. A mom can only hope (and nag).

Featured photo above by Katrina Wright on Unsplash

Writing a Novel: What’s Your Point?

We are big Ted Lasso fans in our house. I love the messages about vulnerability, the importance of friendships, the challenge to toxic masculinity in sport and the wide world, and Ted’s down home quips that remind me of every great aunt sitting around our family reunions growing up with similar silly sayings twisting their tongues.

**If you haven’t watched Seasons 1 and 2, there may be spoilers ahead**

Before the start of season 3, we rewatched seasons 1 and 2. I commented before we rewatched the first season how excited I was to dissect how the writers had set up Nate’s eventual switch to the dark side at the end of season 2. He protested. The writers didn’t know a second season would be picked up–not everything means something. (*gasp*)

Yes, Rebecca, let’s stop right there.

Indeed, everything in story does mean something. If it doesn’t, why is it there?

Readers (and viewers) are smart. Our brains are wired to look for story connections. If a character suddenly does something out of, well, character, then we as readers/viewers don’t buy it. It’s not earned. That doesn’t mean it can’t still be shocking–seeing Nate rip the sign at the end of season 2 was heartbreaking–but it wasn’t completely unexpected. I went to a workshop once where the writer discussed structuring your climactic moment. He said a climax should be fresh, it should be impactful, it should be surprising, but it should also be inevitable.

As we watched back season 1, moments of Nate gaining what I thought was confidence during our original watch suddenly took on a sinister tone. Each moment we watched through Ted’s eternally trusting and optimistic rose-colored glasses had a different side when viewed through Nate’s perspective. And the writers so deftly distracted us in season 1 that we didn’t internalize it, we found it funny, we cheered for his successes. But each of those moments made the culminating scenes of season 2 inevitable and earned.


Because the writers had a point.

Every subplot, interaction, scene, moment must serve your story’s point. The art is creating a work that isn’t repetitive and come across as a lesson.

How do YOU do that?

Easy. Know your point.

Chances are you sat down to the page to say something. Dig into that. Deep. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Why are you writing this story?
  • What do you want the reader to walk away from your story feeling/thinking/doing/understanding?
  • What excites you the most about this story?

Chances are, this story point may boil down into a cliche. That’s totally fine (remember those high school english classes sorting all stories into Man vs. God, Man vs. Man, or Man vs. Nature?). In fact, I find this can be helpful because it’s easy to remember as you’re writing. Maybe your story is good wins over evil or money can’t buy happiness. Yes, your stories will (and should) be more complex than these trite sayings, but if your theme is love conquers all, that makes it easier to see if a scene is love winning or being challenged in any given moment.

Nail down that story point and use it as your third rail. All the choices your protagonist makes, all the subplots that reflect or challenge, all the moments of transformation should somehow relate to your story point. If they don’t? Why are they there?

Back to Ted Lasso. If the show’s theme is about optimism and friendship, how does Nate’s arc relate to the story point? He’s rejecting the theme and therefore learning his own lessons as a result.

Now look at your own story. Do you know your story point? Is it clear at the end of the story? (Hint: ask a beta reader what they think the theme of the story is to see if you hit the mark). Are there scenes or characters that aren’t serving your story point? Is your point lost somewhere in the middle of the manuscript? If you haven’t started writing yet, know your point before you begin.

I’ve shared my love of Ted Lasso before in my newsletter. Not getting my monthly missive filled with tips, thoughts, and recs? Sign up below and unsubscribe any time!

Featured photo at top by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

Starting Your Novel: Prep for Success

You’ve decided you want to write a novel.

You probably have a great idea. A scene that’s played in your head during your commute, a question that bugs you, a character whose voice echoes in your head in the middle of the night.

You find some quiet time one Sunday afternoon or set the alarm for a 5 am wake up call. You brew your coffee or steep your tea. Maybe don a cardigan or light a candle.

You boot up the computer and start writing.

One of two things will probably happen here:

  1. You get stuck. The idea is just an idea. Now what?
  2. The words start flowing and you write and write and follow them until suddenly a character enters from stage left and uh-oh. She might be your actual protagonist (ask me how I know this?) or she kills someone turning your romance into a thriller or you follow her down a dark alley that pulls your story off course and you aren’t sure how to return to the main plot.

There is an easy way to avoid this: Planning.

I hear you pantsers panicking. Deep breaths. A little planning is designed to set your story up for success without stifling your creative freedom. How?

Let’s use a metaphor (my favorite)!

What if I knocked on your door and said: “You have 30 minutes to create something, go!” Ack! I don’t know about you, but I just froze. Create what? Out of what? To do what? And why?

Now, what if I knocked on your door, handed you a cardboard box and said: “You have 30 minutes to create something out of this box, go!” Okay. Now I may still be panicking (because I do not love a ticking clock and unclear expectations), but I may be inspired looking at that box. Maybe I make a race car or flatten it out as a canvas to paint a landscape on or I cut it into long strips and weave a mat or I write a poem about confinement on the inside and a poem about freedom on the exterior or…

We tend to encourage people to “think outside the box,” but I find there is freedom in constraint. My creativity pushes against those boundaries in order to find a way around it. Just like a deadline makes me more productive, a plan can spur my ideas as I bump up against its barriers, like a bumper car, and I can change direction if needed.

Before you start your novel, there are a few key questions you need to know the answers to:

  • Who is your protagonist? You need to know who this person is you plan on spending 80,000+ words with. How do they look at the world? How do they respond to conflict? What scares them? What makes them happy? Who do they love/hate?
  • What do they want? The most important question to know about your protagonist is what do they want? What is their story goal? Something happens in the inciting incident that kicks off your protagonist’s journey and that journey is typically in search of something physical: a new job, the girl/the guy, the solution to a murder; and/or emotional: money, revenge, love, respect. This want may change throughout the story as the character grows, but be clear as you start about what they want and will do anything to get.
  • What do they need? Your protagonist wants something, but chances are they need something else to grow. What ultimate lesson will your protagonist need to learn? Perhaps they need to learn to trust others or accept love or give up a relationship or use their voice. Gaining what they need is more important to the story than whether they get what they want or not.
  • What or who stands in their way? What are the obstacles preventing your protagonist from getting what they want or need? Look at this in two ways: the physical thing standing in their way (the antagonist, the environment, etc) and their own emotional hang-ups preventing their growth (think Lisa Cron’s misbelief).
  • What is at stake if they don’t get what they want? What is driving your protagonist to keep going after the thing they want? What propels them to keep choosing to move in that direction despite all the obstacles standing in their way? The protagonist stands to lose something and it needs to be big enough TO THEM to scare them into perpetual action to get it…until they do, or they don’t.

These are the bare minimum of things to know about your story before you begin. Be clear and intentional about them so that they create the third rail of your story. These questions are the foundation of your story and a strong foundation will give you the freedom to decorate the rooms however you want. The answers to these questions are your box. A box that you can turn into anything you can dream of.

As an Author Accelerator certified book coach, I use the Blueprint for a Book tool to delve deep into several additional questions with writers to help them clarify their story before writing and/or revising. The Blueprint is designed to help you write forward efficiently and intentionally, not stymie your creativity. If anything, the exercises within the Blueprint challenge your creativity in order to make your story stronger.

If you’d like to learn more about working with me on a Blueprint for your story, whether you are starting with a new idea or want to use this tool to structure your revision plan (I use it for this purpose and it has changed my revision process), set up a free discovery call with me and let’s chat about your project.

Featured photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash

Knowing Your Writing Process: Plotting vs. Pantsing

I came across an advice column recently where someone wanted recommendations on books and resources as they considered whether to have children or not. They wanted to be prepared.

Whew. That’s a big ask.

As a parent, I can tell you, no amount of research prepared me for the real life experience of parenting. Sure, there were books that helped me know when the color I saw in my baby’s diapers was normal or offered tips on new positions that helped with nursing, but the becoming a parent? The sheer weight of the responsibility? How that level of exhaustion feels in your bones? What my baby’s cries specifically meant? No one could have prepared me for them. Or for my youngest’s milk allergy. Or when he developed migraines as a toddler. Or my oldest’s refusal to nap after age two. Or the bonked head or the fire ant incident or the pain of recovery from labor with 17 stitches in my nether regions or a hormone triggered Afib incident landing me in a hospital twelve days after delivery or how to comfort your child after a code red lockdown in middle school or any number of the challenges we’ve faced (and continue to face) in the sixteen years we have been parents.


I did know myself. I became acquainted with my child. And together, we were able to cobble together something that resembled a parenting strategy. I understood what felt comfortable for me, what my child needed, how to give that to him, and how to ask for what I needed from others in return. I’m still learning these lessons, but having a firm understanding of my values as a parent helps me to navigate the never ending challenges that come with raising humans as well as understanding when something that worked before no longer serves that child. Or figuring out that just because sleep technique one worked with kid one doesn’t mean it’s going to work with kid two.

It’s similar with writing.

You can read all the books and try to implement all the grids and misbeliefs and hero journeys you want, but at some point, too many strategies can muddy the work and you’re left not knowing anymore how to tell a story.

These resources are important. I am not recommending that you give away your shelf of craft books (I mean, unless you want to send any I haven’t read my way), but I am suggesting that when you read them that you do so with your individual writer lens on.

Understanding your own personal process is important. Not only to find what works, but to eventually identify the parts of your process that aren’t working.

Let’s start with the dreaded Plotter vs. Pantser debate.

A plotter likes to outline. They sketch out their entire novel before they even start writing. They know where they are going and how they are going to get there. That might look like a chapter-by-chapter outline or even just a beat by beat outline to hit milestone markers in the story. A plotter has a vision and is prepared with line-by-line directions to get there. 

A pantser, on the other hand, starts with a character or a scene or a vague idea of their story and writes to find out what happens. Pantsers enjoy seeing where their characters lead and letting the story evolve on the page. They hop in the car without a map and enjoy the ride.

There is nothing inherently wrong with either approach. There are pros and cons to either process. But it is important to take a step back and see if your approach is still serving you as a writer.

If you are a plotter:

  • Does your outline leave room for creativity?
  • Does your writing feel flat because you’re forcing yourself to write a particular scene because that’s what you’ve plotted to come next?
  • Is your outline a fluid document or do you treat it like the Bible of your story with little room for change?
  • Do you fear the freedom of writing without a direction?
  • Does your writing still surprise you?

If you are a pantser:

  • Do you ever feel lost at points in your manuscript, unsure where to go next or what your character should do?
  • Do you follow every shiny object idea?
  • Does your first draft end as a different story than the one you started?
  • Do you lose track of subplots and characters as you write and struggle to figure out what to do with them in revision?
  • Do you feel an outline would restrict your creativity?

Again, there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Understanding the answers to these questions, however, will help you determine what is working for you using your current strategy and where there might be room for improvement.

Next week, I am going to talk about the importance of writing with a road map. I know it can scare a lot of pantsers, but I encourage you to think about your pantsing process and the specific places where maybe it fails you then come to next week’s post with an open mind.

And for plotters, this may seem like old hat, but the strategy I present may also open opportunities for experimentation. I also encourage you to see where your outlining strategy becomes a hindrance and let’s see if next week’s post offers some ideas on how to approach your outline differently.

Remember, every writer and every book is different. Just like every parent and every kid is different.

Get to know your process. When you get stuck look for patterns…is it always at the same part of the story or the same time of day or writing similar kinds of scenes? When imposter syndrome strikes is it because you’re writing a hard/emotional scene or because you just attended a conference and realize your process is very different from the NY Times bestselling author’s keynote process or did a friend just land an agent/a book deal/an award and you’re comparing your journeys? There are so many variables.

Understand your process. Dig into your writing goals. Own your title as a writer and hone your craft with intention.

So, this week, take a look and see where you fall on the pantser vs. plotter spectrum and come back next week and let’s see how we can start our projects with intention to make both processes more efficient.

As a book coach, I read a lot of manuscripts and see many writers making a lot of the same mistakes. In this free guide, I cover 5 Common Manuscript Mistakes.

Get your copy here!

Ten Tips for Generating New Story Ideas

Some writers have nothing but ideas. They may be barely halfway through drafting a story when new ideas are plaguing them, new characters vying for attention, new worlds springing to life. For others, like me, the writing is the easy(ier) part, the idea generation is a whole different beast.

For me, I need more than a snippet to know whether or not I want to stick with something for 80,000 words. I need to be intrigued as well as have an idea of where I’m going. Hearing a character’s voice, for me, is the start of the ideation process, while others use it as a jumping off point.

No matter how you start a story, generating story ideas (and conflicts and worlds and characters…) is a critical part of the process and should be fun. If you have a hard time generating ideas or are feeling stuck and uninspired, here are some ways to help you come up with fresh and creative ideas for your next story:

  1. Read widely: Reading books, articles, and essays can spark your imagination and give you new ideas. Read widely in different genres, subjects, and styles. Read newspapers and want ads. Read posts in Quora or Reddit. Read posts in social media groups related to a topic that interests you or you’d like to know more about.
  2. Look to your own life experiences: Write down a list of pivotal moments in your life. What makes them interesting? What makes them universal? What if something about that moment happened differently? Consider your own alternate history. These experiences can be a great starting point for a new story.
  3. Use writing prompts: Writing prompts can be a great way to jumpstart your creativity. Look for prompts online or in writing books or make up your own to pull out when you need them.
  4. Journaling: Whether it’s Morning Pages or just sitting down in a park, closing your eyes and then writing about whatever the first thing is you see when you open them, play with free writing. Every so often, go back to your pages and highlight anything that seems interesting. It may be a word or a phrase or an object. Or nothing at all. And that’s okay, too.
  5. Play the question game: Ask yourself questions, especially about anything you’ve read or events you’ve already noted above, and see where it takes you. Where is that driver who cut you off in traffic going in such a hurry? Why is that woman wearing a purple hat with a feather in it at the grocery store on a Tuesday? Where are the woman and little girl with a sad face and a balloon going or coming from? What would make a mother choose to leave? How did that wedding dress come to be for sale? These questions can lead to interesting and unexpected story ideas.
  6. Look to your dreams: Dreams can be a great source of inspiration for new story ideas. Keep a dream journal by your bed and write down any interesting or memorable dreams you have. Use them as a starting point for a new story.
  7. Be still: Take time wherever you are to be still and notice. Notice what you see, feel, smell, hear. Notice conversations. Notice your emotions. Notice facial expressions and body language. How is the body language of someone at the DMV waiting room different from that of someone at the OBGYN?
  8. Listen to music: Music already tells a story. What if you expand on it? Take a favorite song and turn it into a scene. Use the emotion a song evokes to create a character feeling that emotion. Listen to a new-to-you artist and jot down your reactions to the lyrics, sound, whatever.
  9. Go to the library: Wander the nonfiction stacks without looking and randomly pick up five books from five different shelves. Skim the books about the topics you found. Can you create a flash fiction story about that topic? Can you include a short story that includes all five of them?
  10. Take an old story and make it new: Think Wicked, Eligible, and March. Take your favorite fairy tale or classic book, single out a tertiary character and imagine their story, or consider what would have happened if the ending had been different, or if you swapped the setting.

There are no right or wrong ways to generate new story ideas. The key is to stay open to new experiences and be willing to explore the world around you. Keep a journal with you or use the Notes app on your phone to keep a running page of ideas. You may never write any of them, but the practice of noticing will hone your idea generation skills so you’ll be ready the next time you are faced with a blank page and the time to start something new.

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Featured image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Do You Need a Book Coach?

Okay, writers, you’re setting off onto the page with a new idea or you are staring at a stack of pages ready to carve out a revised story from your latest draft. I’ve written before about what a book coach is, when to use one, and how I approach the work. But you may still be wondering, “do I need a book coach?”

You may need a book coach if…

…you have gotten to the part of your process where you just want someone to tell you what to do already.

…you are struggling to overcome writer’s block or feel like you aren’t sure where to take your story next and are considering abandoning the project.

…you feel that you’ve lost the thread of your story during a revision.

…you aren’t sure if the story is good enough.

…you want to make your manuscript better.

…you want someone to support you along the way.

…you want a collaborative experience.

If you answered yes to any (or many) of these, you may benefit from working with a coach in some capacity.

I would recommend spending some time really articulating what you need and want from any writing support. Do you need project management help to stay organized and on schedule? Do you need to clarify your ideas or want a brainstorming partner? Do you want to dive into your pages and work on craft? Do you want ongoing feedback to make sure you’re on the right path?

Once you identify what exactly YOU need from the coaching experience, you want to find the right coach for you to make the most of your experience and your investment.


Visit book coach websites. Check out their social media feeds. See what kinds of packages or courses they offer. Read through any free resources they provide or link to. Most, like me, offer free discovery calls, so take advantage and get a feel for whether that person is a good personality fit for you.

When I have a discovery call with a new writer, I am looking at more than just your genre or story topic. During a call, I am looking for writers who are:

  • Serious about their writing. They want to learn and improve and grow as writers.
  • Receptive to feedback. Hearing feedback can be hard, and I am very aware and sensitive to that fact. At the same time, I will be honest about where I think you may need to focus some attention. This may be on a story specific issue (not clear stakes or a character who isn’t fleshed out enough) or it may be about craft (too much info dumping, telling instead of showing, flat dialogue). My goal, however, is to always move you up to the next level in your writing no matter what the issue. If you’re open to receiving feedback, it will only serve to make your story (and future writing) stronger.
  • Open hearted. Digging deep into your story’s heart can often be an emotional journey. The more open you are to the process and to your own self-discovery, the more insights you will have into your manuscript, specifically, and your writing in general.
  • Curious. I want to work with writers who are curious about their manuscripts’ potential, of course, but who are also curious about craft and their own writing process. Curiosity and questions are key to how I work with writers.

These are the writers I want to work with. Are you that writer?

I invite you to check out my website to get a feel for my services and then contact me at the button below. I would love to chat with you about where I can support you on your writing journey.

Want to learn more about coaching or writing? Visit my blog or sign up to receive my free guide to the 5 Common Manuscript Mistakes I see writers make. When you sign up, you’ll receive my monthly newsletter (next issue drops on Monday, May 1st!!) where I share tips and ideas, an actionable next step you can take in your writing immediately, as well recs on what I’m reading, watching, and listening to.

Whether it’s on a call or through my newsletter or Instagram, I look forward to connecting with you soon! Happy Writing!

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

My Book Coaching Philosophy

What is it like to work with a book coach? More specifically, what is it like to work with me as your book coach?

Working with me on your project means that you have someone on your side who:

  • Is as invested in your story as you are
  • Will listen to your story problems, your writing concerns, your writer’s doubts, your creative struggles, your ideas
  • Will reflect those problems/concerns/doubts/struggles/ideas back to you to help you discover the root of what’s holding you back in these areas
  • Will keep you on track with deadlines and accountability
  • Will brainstorm, riff, and ask questions to get you to your best ideas
  • Will push back and challenge you to dig deeper and work hard
  • Will celebrate with you when you have your breakthroughs

Only you can write this story. Only you have the ultimate solutions. Only you can do the work of digging deep and creating.

Because you are the writer.

My job is to be your guide.

This weekend, I was on a writing retreat in the Georgia mountains. We went on a hike one afternoon on a neighboring mountain. The property managers for the lodge we were staying in served as our guides. They drove us in ATVs to the trail head on the property. They pointed out the various trail options and outlined their terrains. But we were the ones who had to make the decision on which route to take. We had to get up the hill or ford the stream on our own. They couldn’t do that for us. But we were happy to have the guides who educated us, brought our lunch, and provided first aid kits (just in case–no one needed them).

My book coaching philosophy is to be supportive when you need a mental first aid kit when you get stuck, to point out the trail of your story and make sure you stay on it when you start to stray, to navigate the peaks and valleys with you so that you can eventually reach the vista and take in the amazing, fully finished story you’ve created.

My job is to support you and your story.

To help you get the work done.

To help you grow as a writer.

What is it like to work with me? Take a look at what some clients have said about their experience:

Monica’s evaluation of my manuscript was comprehensive and detailed–with specific advice on how to approach revisions. Her feedback really resonated with me as far as areas that needed improvement. With her suggestions and support with brainstorming, I was able to make my manuscript stronger on many fronts. 

Claudia Armann

I was thrilled by the level of detail and clear action steps Monica offered after reviewing my query, synopsis, and manuscript. Thanks to her guidance and feedback, I was able to pinpoint the areas of my novel that needed to be strengthened–it actually got me excited about revising! 

Alyssa Hanada

It was great to work with Monica. She understood the story I was trying to tell. I knew there were things that weren’t working but couldn’t figure out what they were. Monica cut through my confusion, clarified the genre, and showed me exactly where the story needed shoring up. She was patient, encouraging, and honest. After talking with her, I was excited to work on my novel and make it stronger!

Katelin Cummins

What do you say? Are you ready to dig deep and get to work finishing your story?

When to Use a Book Coach

Writing a book is a daunting task no matter how many times you’ve done it. Typically, a writer gets an idea–a cheeky bit of dialogue winds its way into their ear, a feeling washes over them in a moment of stillness, or a scene plays out like a movie across their minds–and it’s off to the races. But even the most fully formed idea isn’t 80,000+ words fully formed. Not to mention the revisions that come after the initial draft.

In short, there are a lot of opportunities for support during this months (or years) long process.

So when can a book coach help? The short answer? Wherever you most need support.

The longer answer?

A book coach can help:

  • With a new idea. Before you let that scene run away on the page, it’s important to take a step back and set yourself up for success. For one thing, do you know where that scene you’ve envisioned in your head belongs? It might not be the first scene of the book. It could be a turning point or a climax or even the end. A coach can help you flesh out an idea and create a plan of attack for drafting your novel so you don’t start in the wrong place or chase a subplot down a rabbit hole for 20,000 words before realizing it dead ends. Whether you are a panster or a plotter, a tool like the Author Accelerator Blueprint for a Book can help you create a story foundation that will make drafting a more efficient experience.
  • Writing forward. A book coach can not only provide accountability during the drafting process, but can also work with you along the way to set deadlines and give feedback so you never have to feel alone in the process. Plus, this method ensure you are learning along the way, applying new skills as you write forward meaning your initial draft will be stronger than it would be without help.
  • With revision. Revision can feel overwhelming once you have this giant novel container. Often, writers write their way to a very rough draft to only then discover what the story is after it’s on the page. There is nothing wrong with that approach, per se, but it might mean you have a lot of excavating and rewriting before getting to a workable story. A coach can help set a revision up for success by identifying what is and isn’t working in a writer’s manuscript, working with them to clarify their story’s goal, and creating a plan to address the revision in an intentional way.
  • With querying. Query letters and synopsis, oh my! This is personally my least favorite part of the process and one in which I enjoy employing a coach myself. A coach can help you create a query that sings to get an agent’s attention. They can provide guidance and pitch support as well as help you analyze your responses in case you need to make adjustments to your query or manuscript along the way.

So when is it a good time to use a book coach?

Any time!

There is no bad time to work with a coach. A book coach can help writers improve their skills, provide strategies for overcoming writer’s block, and help writers struggling to make progress no matter where in the process that shows up for a writer.

If you’d like to talk more about whether it’s time for you to partner with a book coach, I’d be happy to chat with you about it in a free discovery call. I promise this is not a sales call, just a time to ask your questions and an excuse for us to talk craft together!

Featured image by TaniaRose from Pixabay

What is a Book Coach?

What is a book coach?

Me!! I’m a book coach!

Great, Monica. But what does that mean exactly?

I’m so glad you asked!

Whether you are a new or experienced writer in the outlining, drafting, revising, or even querying stage of the process, a book coach provides personalized guidance to help you meet your writing goals.

Not specific enough? I get it. A book coach can sound like this nebulous, vague thing.

To break it down into more specifics, a book coach is:

  • An accountability partner. A coach can keep you on track as you draft, revise, or query with regular deadlines, support, and check-ins.
  • A cheerleader. A coach will not only believe in you and your stories, but also understands the unique challenges of writing a novel and will be there to boost you up when you need it.
  • A teacher. Writing is a craft. Something that even the best writers improve upon book after book. A book coach is there to teach, provide resources, offer exercises based on your specific needs, and ultimately help level up your writing.
  • An editor. A book coach is like a developmental editor with a discerning eye who can spot what is and isn’t working in your manuscript. Unlike a developmental editor who provides feedback and then is done, a coach will help you identify the big picture issues and help you create a plan to fix them. A coach will be beside you every step of the way.
  • A project manager. When you are lost in the weeds of writing and revising, a book coach can help you make a plan of attack to assuage your overwhelm and provide you a road map to finishing the work.
  • An empowerer. A book coach’s job is to give you the tools you need to finish your projects and achieve your publishing goals. We want you to succeed with this story and take what you learn into your next project.

A book coach isn’t?

  • A therapist. While we may tackle some issues like fear of failure/success or procrastination or mindset in the course of this work, a book coach is not a professional counselor.
  • A publisher. We will not be publishing your books for you.
  • An agent matchmaker. Querying and submitting your work will still be up to you.
  • A guarantee. Writing is a subjective business and working with a coach does not guarantee you will sign an agent or achieve publication.

Now, every book coach’s specific offerings, specialties, and pricing are different, but in general, you will find a person committed to helping you achieve your writing goals.

So, what do you do all day?

I read manuscripts and outlines and pre-writing work. I find the things that work and don’t work in these stories. I chat with writers on coaching calls to talk about their stories and find ways for them to break through their blocks and find fixes to whatever is holding them back in their work. I stay abreast of the publishing community and trends. I read across genres to stay on top of craft. I create content to share with writers to keep them on track. I write and edit my own work. I attend workshops and webinars and essentially try to soak up all the things writing related I can. I connect with writers and coaches on social media. I often get distracted by Instagram reels…although I don’t think that’s what you’re asking.

In a nutshell, I spend my day in story to help writers find the clarity in their own, to watch the moment the idea materializes that solves their story problems, and see their excitement at digging into the hard work of completing a novel. It’s fun and rewarding work that I love! (If you’re interested in becoming a book coach, check this out).

Do you have any specific questions about book coaching–using one or being one? Leave them in the comments and I will answer them (or contact me here). Next week, I’ll tackle when in the process to use a book coach.

Featured photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

As a book coach, I read a lot of manuscripts and see many writers making a lot of the same mistakes. In this free guide, I cover 5 Common Manuscript Mistakes.

Get your copy here!

How to Keep Your Story on Track

This month, I’ve written about how to stay on track with your drafts, revisions, queries, and using self-care because after all, you can’t keep writing if you’re burned out.

Today, however, I want to talk about craft. How do we keep our stories on track?

The short answer?

Story trajectory.

Your story’s trajectory is the third rail of your story. The thing that keeps your story chugging along through Inciting Incident, MidPoint, and Climax stations. The driving force of your narrative. The secret sauce that keeps readers turning pages long after they should have turned their lights out for sleep.

But what do I mean by trajectory?

The dictionary of Google defines trajectory as: the path followed by a projectile flying or an object moving under the action of given forces.

In your story, your protagonist is your projectile, your story obstacles are the given forces, and the path your protagonist takes as a result will be determined by the choices they make in the story.

Let’s take it one step further. Earth is on a trajectory around the sun, right? It orbits on the same path, in perpetuity, until and unless something comes to change that direction. Otherwise, same boring orbit over and over and over and over and…you get the point.

Our protagonist starts a story in ordinary orbit, following the path they always have until–WHAM! An asteroid, known as our inciting incident, forces our main character to look around and decide what to do next. With a strong inciting incident, going back to regular orbit isn’t an option. Time to find a new path. And this new path may look like a free fall for a while as our character tries new things, but eventually, all the choices and actions our character’s make leads to a moment of change and a settling into a new orbit. At least until the next asteroid makes an appearance (Hello, sequel!).

You’ll notice I’ve bolded some words.




Your protagonist is reacting to each new obstacle they face which results in consequences and new obstacles and new decisions and new consequences.

Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of space junk hitting a very sad character free floating without a means of saving themselves. We want to see protagonist’s doing something. Even, and sometimes especially, when it’s the wrong thing.

So how do we know if our stories have a strong trajectory that will inevitably lead our protagonist’s to their new orbits?


Or as easy as anything about this writing gig can be.

Think about your story and how scenes connect to each other. If you were to say summarize your story, would it read like this:

“This happened and then this happened and then this happened and then the end.”

Or a more specific example: “When Mark Whatney was left behind on Mars, presumed dead, he goes into the hatch and waits for someone to come find him while his food runs low.”

Or, does it read like this:

“When Mark Whatney was left behind on Mars, presumed dead, he goes back into the hatch and because he is a botany expert, makes a plan to grow food to survive until the next mission is set to return in a few years. He figures out a system to water his new potato plants, but he nearly blows himself up in the process. He tries again and succeeds. With a supply of food, he turns to the next problem, communicating with NASA and sets off on a month-long mission to retrieve Pathfinder. Now he can communicate with Earth but a complication with the airlock exposes his potato plants to the harsh environment and kills them. Because of that, NASA initiates a mission requiring Whatney to travel for 90 sols to a vehicle that can reunite him with his crew, but it’s too heavy and needs modifications, therefore…”

Do you see the difference? In story 1, your protagonist isn’t doing anything. It seems extreme in this premise, but it’s the same thing if your main character is a woman whose husband is cheating and she continues to just wait for him to change or a man is in a dead end job and meandering through his life while bad things happen to him without attempting to change them at all.

In story 2 (a very generalized summary of The Martian*) things are happening that the protagonist reacts to which results in a consequence or an obstacle that then requires a new action or decision which will then have its own consequence. This action/consequence trajectory drives your reader through the story. I remember staying up entirely too late into the wee hours reading The Martian to its conclusion just to see what Mark would do next.

For another explanation of story trajectory, check out this short video of the creators of South Park (seriously, trust me):

In short: Actions lead to a consequence or obstacle which requires a new action which causes a new consequence or obstacle, and so on and so on and so on.

There is an old writing adage that you get a character up a tree in act 1, throw rocks at them in act 2, and get them down in act 3. It’s a very simplified version of story structure, but the danger is in the throwing of the rocks. If you’re reading a story where a bunch of bad stuff just keeps happening to the main character, it gets painful–both for the protagonist and the reader. Readers want to see characters making choices. Bad choices, good choices, doesn’t matter. We want to see them react and get themselves into deeper trouble and we want to see them get themselves out. We want them to earn that lesson they are learning through this story. So sure, throw a rock at your protagonist, but what if he catches it and throws it back? What if he climbs higher and gets a splinter? What if he becomes allies with the squirrels and launch an acorn counter-attack?

You can now use this knowledge to analyze your story whether you are stuck at the beginning, in the murky middle, or in a revision.

  • If you are just starting a draft: Outline your major plot points and think about what will connect those beats. Be sure your character has agency in creating their own story chaos. If you are a plotter, make sure your outline is free of and thens and full of but/therefore/because of that. When you aren’t sure what’s next as you’re writing forward, remember to look to your character and see what different choices she can make, consider various consequences, then have her take a new course of action. In other words, don’t just throw another rock at them.
  • If you are stuck in the middle: Take a look back at what you’ve written so far. Are your but/therefore/because of that connections present? If not, what tweaks can you make and does that change where your character ends up in the middle? What action can your character take NOW that will have a consequence as you move the story forward?
  • If you are revising: Outline your story as it stands and then analyze where it has and then versus but/therefore/because of that connections. Make sure your trajectory is strong before you make any other changes in your manuscript. If you’re querying and getting rejections on your pages, it might be time to take a look at that trajectory, too, to ensure it’s as strong as it can be.

Bottom Line: Your story trajectory is the backbone of your story. Whether you are writing an action packed space adventure or a more quiet journey of self-discovery, make sure your story trajectory is strong and compelling. Look for actions and decisions from your characters and avoid and then connections between scenes and chapters.

Featured photo above by Gribgrab on Unsplash

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Want an in-depth analysis of your manuscript or outline story trajectory? I can help. Let’s chat on a free discovery call — click the button below to get started!

Characters lacking agency in their stories is one of the 5 Common Manuscript Mistakes I cover in this free guide for writers. Get your copy here!