What a Writing Coach Offers

The writer’s playing field

In 2017, I embarked on a new part of the writer’s journey and became a writing coach. My first client is actually a young man interested in a challenging creative writing program in the area. We are working together to help him set goals and achieve them.

One aspect of his writing that doesn’t work: creative ideas.

As his writing coach, I feel my job is really focused on accountability and productivity.

Almost all writers and creatives could use a little boost in setting reasonable, measurable goals and working to meet those goals. There are lots of little steps between stating a goal and achieving a goal. Sometimes, the ability to achieve a goal is not within our power, it rests in some one else’s hands.

So what’s it like to meet with a writing coach?

First, we discussed some of his hopes and dreams. Then we talked about what he likes to write, doesn’t like to write, and his habits. We also discussed what and how much he reads. After I learned about those aspects of his writing life – and I learn new things in each session – I developed some systems to help him show off his strengths as well as confront his weaknesses.

Coaching Sessions

A typical session for us looks like this:

  • Free write for 5 minutes on a prompt that I choose, usually focused around describing a scene or memory focused around an emotion. We’ve written about moments when we’ve been happy, angry, embarrassed, guilty, and sad. The goal here is to capture the events that caused the feelings and to access the emotion in our brains and bring it to life on the page. Five minutes is short – we’ve got to write quickly and efficiently, as well as honestly.
  • Next, we dive in to the current project. My client shares any new sections, I read them over and offer positive comments as well as constructive criticism on areas that could be improved. We discuss plot, dialogue, the classic show-don’t-tell problem, and setting. We also spend a lot of time hashing out what endings might work and WHY.
  • After his projects, I like to share a short piece of my own writing and ask him to offer feedback and critique. I think this is really important for a young writer. My goals here are to model HOW to accept critique and how to think about revising existing works.
  • As our session wraps up, we discuss next steps. My client, like many writers of all ages, doesn’t relish revising, but that is always one of his assignments. Other goals include selecting a publication to submit to or working on a synopsis of his current story.

As his writing coach, I never tell him what to write. I do encourage him to develop good habits related to writing. Habits like reading and writing every day. Some other best practices I encourage him to adopt are completing his stories (even ones that aren’t his favorite) and being open to writing different versions so he can really find the one that resonates.


For the new year, I offered four options for big goals. I’m offering you these four goals, too, and I encourage you to attempt them and share your progress!

  1. Write a 500 word story with a plot.
  2. Revise a story.
  3. Re-write a familiar story in your style.
  4. Submit a story to a publication.

For more writing encouragement, check out my Twelve Days of Writing post and get busy.

Twelve Days of Writing or Keep Writing Over the Holidays

It’s so busy right now. You might let your writing take a back seat to the demands of the season, but I encourage you to stay strong and find some time to work on your craft. Here’s a little something I whipped up for the young writer that I am coaching. The Twelve Days of Writing is my gift for you, writer struggling through the season. Many happy returns!


Here’s a pdf of the 12 Days of Writing so you can download, print, and keep writing!


Story Starter Award Now Open for Submissions

The Story Starter Award is now open for submissions. Please share this information with children’s writers and illustrators in southwestern PA.


This award can be used to offset the financial costs of the WPA SCBWI Fall 2017 Agents’ Workshop. Find more information on the workshop and SCBWI here. 



The Bridge

What’s worse: letting a fascist regime destroy art and freedom of expression, or paying money to the regime in order to rescue the art? This is the question that confronted me at my September visit to the Museum of Modern Art.


This month, I returned to New York to pass the tiara of the Pen Parentis fellowship on to the next awardee. Megan’s story was moving and emotional and I look forward to sharing our writing experiences together.

We visited MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art) and saw some incredible art. I was really captivated by the work of Ernst Kirchner, part of Die Brucke, (The Bridge), a group of artists seeking a new mode of artistic expression. There’s really nothing like finding your people, is there?

They worked to affirm their heritage but also sought the avant-garde. They were definitely free thinking in both life and art. After serving in World War I, and being discharged, he developed alcoholism. He build a body of work, his health improved, he gained renown. He got positive reviews.

Then the Nazis came. His works were removed from museums. Germany invaded other countries. Kirchner objected. He was labeled Degenerate. He was expelled from the Academy of Arts in Berlin. In 1938, he shot himself and died.

I don’t love every book I read, I don’t think every work of art is amazing. But we must remain vigilant against the silencing of creative voices, especially those that challenge evil.


On a recent road trip with my husband, we played Scrabble.

Now, I know a lot of words.

But he’s a master at game play and maximizing scoring.

But I’ve lived with him for over 17 years and know a lot of his strategies.

But he also remembers the two letter words that can turn the tide.

But I’m also pretty good at anagrams and seeing words in scrambled letters.

So who won?

Before I tell you, take a look at the top left of the board at the word “granite.” That used all my tiles and earned me the 50 point bonus.

Luck or skill?

Vocabulary or strategy?

Does it really matter who won?


Why I Can’t Write

There are a dozen reasons why I can’t write.

  1. I’m scared the basic story is bad/boring/dumb/cliche.
  2. I’m scared I can’t tell the story that I imagine.
  3. I worry as soon as I sit down to try and start, something will interrupt me.
  4. I’m worried I ran out of ideas.
  5. I’m scared I’m not smart enough to fix the problems I know are there.
  6. I’m scared my ideas are dumb.
  7. I’m worried I should be doing something else.
  8. I don’t have the time in the day I need.
  9. I don’t have any ideas.
  10. I am tired.
  11. I am scared.
  12. I am worried.

Those are the reasons why I can’t write.

What are some reasons why you can’t write? How do you overcome them?

Favorite Part of Being a Writer

I love writing, but really what is my favorite part of being a writer?

My niece and nephew stayed with us for a week this summer, and it was a delight. Yes, my kids had fun, but for me the best part was that both kids are super readers. My niece carried a book everywhere and she and my middle son read books together. Team reading!

My nephew read about a book a day, and unlike my own children (sometimes) he actually accepted my book recommendations. That was so satisfying.

One morning, he asked me what was my favorite part about being a writer.

I was caught off guard, but in a good way. Had anyone ever asked me that before?

I thought a moment, then told him I loved seeing a world in my head, creating that world, and then transporting readers to that world in a way that felt real to them. I rambled a bit, then I told him I loved when my middle son said, when he reads some of my stories (not all), that he forgets he is reading and is just IN the story. When I can do that with my writing, I am in heaven.

I have some amazing writer friends, and I wanted to know their favorite things about being writers, too.

Writing Friends

My friend Amy Wagner said “My favorite part of being a writer is that I live in this world, but play in hundreds of others that spin through my head. And I get to share those worlds with others in my stories. Writing forces me to see this world, really see it. After that I twist reality or faithfully record the story. Either way I am usually surprised by the results.”

My friend Samantha Smith said “I’d say my hands down favorite part of being a writer is reading my book to the kids. I think sharing stories (especially out loud) really brings them to life! By engaging with the kids, I’m getting to tell my story, and I’m also getting to share in their reaction. That brings everything to a whole new level because its merging my experience with theirs. Pure magic!” 

Samantha has a book coming out soon, so keep your reading eyes open for Cate’s Magic Garden

Diverse Books Reading List

I love the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. I also love summer reading lists. The Lee and Low diverse summer reading list is perfect for both!


They have a list for grades K-8 broken down into age groups. I will read them all. I spotted one of the SCBWI Crystal Kite winners on the list.

A really fun part of this reading list is the award certificate parents can download. If you know me at all, you know I love award certificates.

We’ll be doing a trip to the library soon for sure. If you go, and all these books are checked out, blame us.

I’m going to read them and share my reviews here. If you’ve read any, send me your reviews.

Diverse Reading List Book Reviews

June 29, 2017

We’ve read four books on the diverse reading list so far. I put a ton on reserve and when I picked them up from the library, my youngest son was pretty upset. It turns out he thought I was ordering “baby books” for him. I reminded him I was working hard to be a picture book author and that I needed to study these books to learn what makes them great.

And I would say three out of the first four we have read are great. I especially loved Block Party and Juna’s Jar.







Me: David’s Drawings is definitely diverse and encourages group interaction. It’s an interesting read, but frankly I – an adult – was frustrated at what the kids did to David’s Drawings.

Kid: I liked that they worked together, but I didn’t like when the stars were added.








Me: Juna’s Jar was by far one of my favorites. It started out with a food that tingled my taste buds and excited my curiosity. Then the flights of imagination intrigued me. The ending surprised me and satisfied me. A winner.

Kid: I agree. I liked that they got pets.







Me: A pretty good introduction to moving to a home in the city. I feel like a lot of books I’ve read take kids out of the city. I liked this twist and the way the family helped the kid adjust.

Kid: I liked that Lily made friends and that she did stuff with her parents. I didn’t like that they walked around stores and didn’t show enough background. I want to see more colorful and detail, not just white.








Me: Block Party is another one of my favorites because it includes food and the exciting part is that the recipe for the food is in the back of the book! We are definitely trying this. The story line captured the attention of my older kids. I’d love to construct something like this.

Kid: I agree. I liked that she was expecting her friends NOT to like the food but then they did.

Big Rewards for Reading

I love big rewards and I love reading, so this summer, we are going to tackle Scholastic’s Summer Reading BINGO. I loved doing these activities as a kid and yes, I force my kids to do them, too. But I don’t have to force too hard. I would like to find a math version of this kind of project because we need to keep those skills sharp, too.

Reading offers big rewards already and luckily in this family, we don’t need a lot of incentive to read books. But over the summer, it’s fun to tackle these kinds of challenges and reward yourself by reading and celebrating. And don’t forget to chat about the books you’ve read with friends (book club!).

After presenting the idea to the boys, they decided to work on one card together. Every time someone completes a square, they can record the name, book title and date of the person who worked hard for their big reward. Sometimes, they want to take a short cut and find the easy way out, so I had to designate a start date of May 26, the last day of school.

Small Rewards

I know they can easily complete one row, column, or diagonal. So I’m going to offer them a small reward for completing one of those.

I think the small rewards would be a game of miniature golf, or a hike to the local waterfall, or even a visit to the zoo.

What would be your small reward?

Big Rewards

I don’t want them to stop once they’ve completed one row or column. So to keep them motivated, I’m going to offer a big reward if they complete the entire card.

My idea of big rewards are things like a trip to Kennywood, or Sky Trails, or Climb North.

What would be YOUR big reward for completing a card?


One day, I’d love one of my books to be on a young reader’s summer reading Bingo card. That would be a pretty cool reward for me.

Summer Reading Programs!

Summer reading is almost here! Summer reading feels like such an indulgence. I look forward to it every year. Yes, sometimes I force my kids to participate in the summer reading programs, but the good part is I never have to force them to read. Here’s what’s happening in our area:

Northland Library Summer Reading

Make the world a better place—by reading!


Kick off Summer Reading and help Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh reach its 180,000 book challenge. The fun begins June 11 with an outdoor festival for all ages. Head over to the Library in Oakland for music, crafts, games, storytelling, food trucks and more! While you’re there, find out how to enroll in a Summer Reading program that will help you improve the world around you.

Here’s a sample of some of the great things you can do at this year’s Extravaganza:

  • Enjoy live performances, interactive storytimes and puppet shows
  • Browse the annual book sale
  • Play a fun Readers Game
  • Check out our new musical instrument collection or stop by the CLP Arcade
  • Decorate your own Eat’n Park Smiley Cookie and sing him Happy Birthday
  • Support your Library by purchasing food from the featured food trucks
  • Sign up for Summer Reading and so much more!

Schedule of Events:

EQT Performance Tent

Emcee: Larry Berger, SLB Radio Productions, Inc.

  • 12:00 – Pittsburgh Puppet Works, WQED Writers Contest “The Write Dream 2017”
  • 1:00 – Pittsburgh Musical Theater, Xtreme Teen Broadway
  • 2:00 – 1Hood
  • 3:00 – Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Welcome
  • 3:15 – Celebrate Smiley’s birthday with singing and cake!
  • 4:00 – Timbeleza, Street Samba Funk

Quiet Reading Room, First Floor

Artists brought to you by 91.3 WYEP

  • 1:15 – Miranda Brandon
  • 2:15 – Sophia Blake
  • 3:15 – Hunter Greenberg
  • 4:15 – Julia Renee

Storytimes, Read Alouds and Puppet Shows

  • 12:30 – Children’s Room, The Magic Tree puppet show
  • 12:45 – Family PlayShop Tent, Baby and Toddler Snugglebugs storytime
  • 1:00 – Citiparks Stage, Daniel Reads a Poem read aloud
  • 1:30 – Children’s Room, The Magic Tree puppet show
  • 2:30 – Children’s Room, The Magic Tree puppet show
  • 2:45 – Family PlayShop Tent, Baby and Toddler Snugglebugs storytime
  • 3:00 – Citiparks Stage, Daniel Reads a Poem read aloud
  • 3:30 – Children’s Room, The Magic Tree puppet show
  • 4:30 – Children’s Room, The Magic Tree puppet show

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Hands On Learning Tent

  • 12:00 – Paper Folding Demonstration
  • 12:30 – Paper Folding Demonstration
  • 1:00 – Paper Circuits Demonstration
  • 1:30 – Paper Circuits Demonstration
  • 2:00 – Paper Folding Demonstration
  • 2:30 – Paper Folding Demonstration
  • 3:00 – Paper Circuits Demonstration
  • 3:30 – Paper Circuits Demonstration
  • 4:00 – Paper Folding Demonstration
  • 4:30 – Paper Folding Demonstration