One-on-one Manuscript Development Coaching
Support That Makes a Difference
Who are my clients
The authors I work with come from a variety of humanities and social science disciplines and often are revising their dissertation into a book or into a series of articles. But I also work with mid-career professionals who are breaking out of the associate professor “bulge” in the promotion pipeline at many universities. And I’ve enjoyed working with academics with different kinds of goals too, such as moving from quantitative to more qualitative research or crossing over into public intellectual work and writing for broader audiences.
My own doctoral training is in English and I’ve published a monograph, a few articles, and a book of poetry on the life of nineteenth-century social reformer, Sarah Grimke, as well as two edited volumes. Through working with academics in a wide variety of social science and humanistic fields in the last 15 years, I’ve learned much about the writing conventions in those disciplines. But my feedback is not based on disciplinary expertise. That is the role of peer readers. What I contribute is expertise is about writing itself and rhetorical strategies of argumentation and persuasion.
How writing coaching helps
Graduate programs still tend to pay scant, if any, real attention to teaching academics how to write tight, sustained, compelling arguments. And unfortunately, mentoring on those skills—as well as how to navigate the stages of publication—remains very uneven. So, I help writers learn to decode the stated and unstated expectations of journals and university presses. That often involves learning rhetorical strategies, such as effectively positioning one’s work vis-à-vis key debates in the field, organizing drafts, and making effective transitions to help readers see how the sections of an argument advance its overall purpose. In an exercise, for example, I often do with clients, we examine together a recent article they admire in their target journal or analyze how a book author they respect has written a compelling introduction or satisfying concluding chapter. Together, we break down these models into a series of nameable and do-able rhetorical strategies the author can use in her own work. (See the page Writing Advice for links to some my essays on academic writing available online)
Though much of our discussion each week is about the substance of the project—the ideas, organization, and even phrasing—we also spend time on setting realistic short-term goals that help authors reach their long-term objectives. And many of the authors I work with find much relief and support in the confidential, safe space of the coaching dialogue. There, we discuss and figure out how to address concerns and anxieties that so many people experience with writing. Ultimately, my clients build a new writing process that allows them to work with a greater sense of ease and confidence.
My approach to helping clients transform their writing process reflects my experience with a wide variety of academic authors. Though I tailor the support I give to each individual’s needs, my approach clearly reflects the influence of other teachers. My philosophy is informed by the work of psychologist Robert Boice on productivity, and the structure of other better-known productivity systems, such as using SMART goals (goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-framed). From my time as a coach with Dr. Sally Jenson’s team, Academic Coaching & Writing, I also came to believe in the power of tracking and reflecting on elements of the writing process over time in order to change it. I also encourage academics to follow Kelly Ann Rockquemore’s methods of weekly and longer-term planning of their academic work.
To get at the roots of problems with procrastination, my work also draws on recent research that contends that procrastination is less about laziness and disorganization and more about emotions. This research suggests procrastination is driven by negative feelings that lead to avoidance of anxiety-producing activities. All my clients have found coaching around how to overcome anxiety related to writing and publishing helpful, especially conversations about how to engage with peer reviewers and acquisition editors.
Finally, writing never happens in a vacuum; so, my approach to coaching always keeps in mind the overall well-being of the person. I try to help authors find ways that work for them to take care of body and soul and balance academic work with other activities that really matter to them.
How sessions are structured
I meet with new clients once a week. Long term clients may choose to meet bi-weekly or sometimes even monthly during particularly busy semesters. Some then return to meeting weekly over the summer or when they are on sabbatical and need to make rapid progress.
One day before our meeting, authors send me a rough draft (or a document with notes or free-writing that reflects their thinking about their research that week). And at the end of each session, we set a goal for the work to be accomplished by the next session. Having that regular deadline for making specific progress, my clients tell me, helps tremendously in jumpstarting their productivity.
The Zoom video conferencing platform allows us to not only talk easily and examine texts together, but also to do publication research together when needed. Often, I or the author takes notes on upshots from the dialogue we have about the project, but many people also like to record the sessions to review parts of them later.