Google the phrase sloppy letter and diatribes against the practice of careless correspondence pop up. So it will probably come as a surprise to learn that bestselling writer Linden Gross advises all her writing coach clients to write her sloppy letters. “The sloppier, the better,” she says.
“Most writers are so concerned about the quality of their work that the quality of their work suffers,” says Gross, who draws on her background in editing, writing and teaching when working with others. “Ideas and creativity don’t flow in the face of self-criticism. And how do you discover your own voice if you’re constantly judging its flaws? All that spawns is doubt and eventually immobilization and writer’s block. The Sloppy Letter to Linden diffuses all those self-imposed constraints.”
The rules are simple. Clients can’t worry about spelling, grammar, language, sentence structure, repetition, logic or anything else. They just write as fast and as long as they want, or until they’ve brought Linden up to speed about themselves and their project, including why it’s important to them, what they’re trying to say and/or accomplish, and any other background information that might be helpful.
Some people finish this brain dump in less than an hour. Others work on it for months. “Whether they wind up with whole chunks of prose that drop right into their manuscripts, find the voice they’ve spent months or years struggling to cultivate, or simply relax, without exception writers find the exercise liberating,” says Gross. “After all, how can you sweat something that’s supposed to be sloppy?
“Try the sloppy letter exercise the next time you need to jumpstart—or restart—your writing,” she adds. “Or join the growing number of writers who are turning to writing coaches for help.”
People often assume that hiring a writing coach implies that they’re incapable of writing on their own and need hand-holding. That may be true, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But a writing coach relationship extends way beyond encouraging aspiring or veteran writers, holding them accountable or even teaching them about the craft of writing. It’s like having a partner on their creative team who has managed to retain the perspective that can so easily be lost when immersed in a big project. Writers are in the trees by definition. A writing coach still has a sense of the forest as a whole.
“To choose a writing coach who will work for you, first find one who shares your vision,” says Gross. “Second, find a writing coach who fulfills your needs. Just as no two writers work the same way, writing coaches have different styles. Some writing coaches don’t even read what their clients write, which puzzles me to no end. That’s like writing about food you never taste.”
Gross does more than read her clients’ work. She offers a willing ear, feedback, encouragement and when absolutely necessary a reality check. And though each writer has his or her strengths and weaknesses that need to be addressed in a manner befitting the person and the situation, there’s one piece of advice that she gives every writer: Quit judging yourself and your work so harshly.
She believes that a writing coach should:
Critique pages already written and provide ongoing feedback re: the growing pile of new ones;
Help writers organize their thoughts, enrich their work and find their voice—whether they’re just beginning or have a full draft;
Facilitate a project’s development, including brainstorming about ideas, story arc, plot, character development and more;
Help design a realistic schedule and hold clients accountable to target goals and dates;
Keep them motivated and focused;
Give perspective when they become derailed or discouraged;
Provide writing tips to help clients focus as they work on the next installment;
Direct rewrite(s)—a fact of life for every writer, no matter how experienced;
Guide writers through the publishing (or self-publishing) maze;
Encourage them every step of the way.
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