Updated: Mar 29
From the Coaching Desk: Giving Feedback
The best thing a coach can do for a client, be it writing or life, is to give good feedback. That is our job. Early mentors paved the way for me, modeled effective, positive techniques that go to the heart of feedback that affects change for the individuals who seek our help.
In the early days of my writing career, Women Writing for (a) Change provided a safe place to cultivate my voice. I needed that to find my way, and yet, the positive feedback was only part of the equation. I knew from my formal education in pursuit of a counseling degree, that proper feedback isn’t always easy to hear, but necessary for growth
After twelve years as a professional mediator, many years as an academic tutor for student athletes, participating in, as well as facilitating, writing workshops, escorting pilgrims on spiritual journeys, I’ve come up with a set of parameters for working with coaching clients.
What are my biases? We’d like to think we don’t have any, or that they don’t enter the coaching room. However, recognizing our biases helps to balance the feedback we give. It lessens the fear of over compensation, or of not being enough. Both aspects are common to the ego-checking that I do each time I work with a client.
Distinguish between the client and the circumstance or story. Years ago, I ran a childcare service. My mentor taught one simple phrase that I have carried with me. When speaking to a child who has gotten themselves into a situation, I offer, “I love you but I don’t like that behavior.”
How does that translate into giving good feedback? Separating and conveying respect for the person’s right to choose what they will take of feedback frees both the client and the coach to offer and/or take what’s given.
Subjectivity and compassion must co-exist in the same space. To judge a life, a project, from an opinionated view spells disaster. My job is to enter into a coaching situation with two things in mind.
First, I am not the expert at anything more than active listening, talking through, and affirmation of writing and the stories that bring people to life coaching.
Second, I meet people where they are. I’ve adopted a compassionate sense after years of divorce mediation. Pain and suffering abound and I am only responsible for holding the space and the hearts of individuals.
Every issue has at least one solution, even if it’s to do nothing. I offer support to the person who seeks life passage with the knowledge that they are the drivers of their own narratives.
The same holds true in my work as a writing coach. The difference is that I can offer concrete craft standards for the writing client to follow. Life coaching isn’t so prescriptive.
Next time you need an ear to bend, consider coaching. My work is driven by the client’s needs and desires.
How to Name Characters and Other Rabbit Holes.
Last month, I wrote about Robert Olen Butler’s book, From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction. I wanted to share some of the resources that he suggests for creating believable fiction. Knowing the proper names of things such as what people wore in a time period, or describing features of a house, even the proper names to ignite a color scheme beyond primary colors; there’s a book that will help you research. There’s also the Dictionary of American Slang, and I’ve already found a plethora of terms to use in my writing.
One of the books mentioned is: Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana. This particular book lists names from various eras in American life as well as the most popular names from the last several decades. It got me thinking about another resource that I find particularly enjoyable: walking a cemetery. There you can read headstones and find not only first names but last names too. My favorite is in Spring Grove Cemetery and is the Krapp family plot. No individual stones surround the monument to the Krapp family, but one can always use their imagination.
Someone’s in the Kitchen with Ina
I’m sort of like Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. Last week, we visited some friends who are in the midst of harvesting a bumper crop of tomatoes. They nearly shoved a couple pounds in our pockets, pleading with us to please, please, take some off their hands. After a salad, a b.l.t. and a great deal of moving them from counter to table and back again, I made tomato soup with basil from pots in my yard. A few servings sit in the freezer for the first fall days when a cuppa soup and a grilled cheese will taste like life itself.
My bumper crop is chocolate mint. Now if you want to grow it, I recommend a pot rather than an open ground area. This stuff spreads faster than chickweed. I love to experiment with herbs like this and Ina Garten, in her original Barefoot Contessa cookbook, has a shortbread recipe that suits me well. Nearly a pound of butter, a bit of vanilla, flour, salt and (my secret) sugar processed with fresh-cut chocolate mint leaves. In fact, I smell them baking now. Once they cool, the glaze of chocolate pieces melted with confectioner’s sugar. I can’t tell you how good these little bites are, you just have to trust me.
I justify an afternoon snack of them with an espresso because I have heard that writing burns about 50 calories per hour. If I calculate this correctly, 2 hours of writing equals 1 cookie.
Walking the Streets of Cincinnati
During the pandemic, I had some issues as a result of years of power walking. I have solved those issues and am happy to report that I’m back to my game of 4 to 6 miles of daily walks. I’d forgotten what weekends are like in Cincinnati, lots going on and this past weekend, the first in August, was no different.
I started out from my office above Roebling Point Books and Coffee in Covington, Kentucky headed for Findlay Market in the Over the Rhine district of Cincinnati. The Roebling Bridge is Cincinnati’s piece of antique furniture that is being restored but still passable by foot. In the cool of a summer breeze, I watched paddlers in kayaks and canoes make their way riding the current to a stopping point west of the bridges that cross the harbor. The sun shone down and a dream of quiet, save for the music upriver at Sawyer Point, left me yearning for another time.
Meandering through town, I passed the Netherland Hilton Hotel, where women of all walks of life emerged with pink backpacks, chattering away, their lanyards swaying with name tags and tickets for events at the Pure Romance conference held at the convention center. I smiled to myself, pulled out my phone and texted my daughter who had worked in the Netherlands some years back. Her observations regarding the women have morphed now that she is a therapist. She told me that someone she knows works at the convention center and had to build a penis-shaped stage for the main event.
At Findlay Market, I treated myself to a scone and some people-watching. A tall, older gentleman donned a bucket hat and a brown tee shirt. The shirt had writing on it that was eclipsed by the strap of a satchel slung over his shoulder. As I got closer, I smiled at what it said, "Here Fishy Fishy Fishy”. When I told my daughter about the sighting and said I thought I might buy a shirt like that for a couple of fishing friends, me having no interest in the sport, thinking they’d get a laugh out of it; my daughter informed me of a less pragmatic meaning to the invitation, one that included expeditions into the gender-busting world that my daughter counsels.
As I crossed the bridge once more, I passed young men jogging shirtless, their pectoral muscles a jiggle. Old women, sweat pouring down their backs as they power walked much faster than me. Latte-laden couples. Salty-haired men running and telling their companions that they hope to keep this up for 20 years and ski. Their goals for keeping their fountains of youth alive carry on the soft breeze and dip into the water with the paddlers below.
What I’m Reading.
If you’ve not seen it, a series worth watching is the Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. It’s been out awhile, but truly a good piece. Recently, I heard of a documentary about the author of the book, Walter Tevis. He is the author of a number of books that have been made into movies and television shows. You can view the documentary here: https://www.pbs.org/video/walter-tevis-a-writers-gambit-fd8xyw/
Tevis mastered fiction that was born of his own experience as an orphan. He writes from the world of separation and abandonment. Each character in every story, defined by the sense of never belonging in the world. I recommend reading the Queen’s Gambit for study of characterization. He is a master at the craft.
I’m simultaneously reading American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War. So far, it is enlightening my writing of a Japanese caste of characters in my current fiction project. The author of the book, distilled factual information regarding the plight of Japanese Americans throughout their history in the United States with an emphasis on the Buddhist faith they practiced. His work is interspersed with first hand accounts. I am discovering a richness in the words and actions of the people, and it is informing my own characters, their actions and motivations.
Encouraging Words for Those Seeking Publication.
I have a piece that I wrote in rough draft form 4 years ago. Over time, I’ve drilled it down from 2300 words to 736 today. Reading it at open mics, at the Mercantile (where an editor gave me her card and said, contact me), student readings at writers workshops, have helped to hone the story. I’m proud of the work. It’s ready and the proof is in the fact that I have targeted a certain type of magazine. After submitting to five of this type of magazine, two quick responses that weren’t from letters brought me closer to publication and recognition of my work. When an editor tells you that they can’t use this particular piece right now, but feel free to submit more, it isn’t a negative thing. In fact, it is a good thing, they truly want to see more.
My advice to anyone seeking such publication, to build your resume, here’s some things I’ve learned:
Tighten your piece to the essence of what you want to say.
Research magazines and journals that are appropriate. This involves lots of reading.
Try and try again.
And when it isn’t a form letter, take the advice and submit to the publication again. Chances are, they will remember you.
Where has the summer gone? My dogs, my granddaughter occupy my time some days and bring smiles to my face. But soon, we will feel the transitions from summer to fall. We all know one thing for certain now, more than ever, everything changes. Until next time, I wish you well. Keep writing. Keep living your best life. Enjoy the moment and remember, it’s part of the entire story.