Benefits of coaching:
1. Takes little time and may save time by semester’s end.
2. Writer learns from mistakes; editor doesn’t need to fix them.
3. Relieves stress of editing on deadline.
4. Develops the writer. Writing improves as the semester progresses. Less editing required.
5. Builds on writer’s strengths. Builds confidence.
6. Fosters writer’s independence and encourages writer to experiment, take risks.
How to coach writers:
1. Ask good questions.
2. Listen. Let the writer do most of the talking. Ask questions of the writer to get him/her talking. The editor should listen, ask questions and encourage the writer.
3. Tell the reporter what you think. Do not be afraid to do so. Praising a poorly written story fails to accomplish anything, though you should find something good to say about any written piece.
4. Communicate values.
5. Avoid taking control of the story. Allow the reporter to share control of the story. The text belongs to the writer, not the editor.
6. Make more than one suggestion, if possible. Give the writer choices. Point out alternatives. For example, suggest other possible ledes, wonder aloud what would happen if part of the piece was cut, tightened or expanded, etc.
How to consult with writers:
1. Work quickly
2. Let the writer speak first
3. Listen to the writer
4. Determine how the writer feels about the work
5. Help the writer identify the most important problem
6. Ask questions to determine what needs to be done next
7. Work throughout the process
8. Allow the writer to be responsible for revisions
9. Avoid evil consequences from conferring
10. Be predictable and dependable.
11. Use a variety of strategies.
Coaching different stages of a story:
After the idea/angle is chosen, the editor should meet again briefly with the writer to see how the story is progressing and whether any new developments have arisen.
When the story is submitted, the editor and the writer should work together to edit the story. After the story appears in print, meet briefly just to discuss what was changed in the story, how it could be improved and how the writer will approach the next story.
Here’s a more detailed timeline:
1. At idea/assignment: Ask the writer to suggest ways to report and write the story.
2. During reporting: Be available so the writer can solve his/her problems by talking about them.
3. Before the story is submitted: Listen to the writer tell you the focus of the story, the approach and length.
4. At story submission: Encourage the writer to tell you what works best and what problems exist BEFORE you read the story.
5. After reading the story: Confirm, modify or disagree with the writer’s evaluation of the work.
6. After published: Talk about ways to improve, but build on the writer’s strengths. Ex.: You do a great job of paraphrasing – cutting through the BS to get the essence of what the source says. Perhaps in the future, you could work harder to eliminate unnecessarily long quotes by paraphrasing them.
Sample questions to ask:
1. What does the reader need to know?
2. How can you make this clear?
3. What’s the story about?
4. Have you found a focus?
5. What’s your best quote?
6. Who are the most interesting people in your story?
7. Have you thought of an ending?
8. How do you know that?
9. What did it look like?
10. What happened?
What if the writer fails to show/communicate?
Notify me immediately if the writer fails to show for these meetings.
How long are these meetings?
These do not have to be long meetings — in fact, keep them as concise but as comprehensive as possible. They can help the writers and you discover what you both need to do to make the story the best you can.