Coaching Writers

‘Easily the best Google hit of my life’

“I am a former journalist who, through a quirk of history, happened to come into possession of the family papers of Con Jones, a character well known in Vancouver, BC, Canada from 1903 into the 1920s. He fascinated me, and I decided to write a biography. I went looking for a collaborator and found Heather – easily the best Google hit of my life.

“Said she at the outset: ‘You have a great story. Dive into it as deeply as you can.’ I would say Heather’s foremost talent is that she asks great questions: she has an ability to grasp a story’s potential and challenge the narrative to bring that potential to the surface. Her suggestions for chapter splits and content reshuffles have been excellent.

“I find that with Heather, I have a laboratory for experimentation: I can safely try out an idea that scares me and trust her opinion on it. Heather has a wide range of literary experience to draw on and often supplies a wonderfully different perspective. One day, in a writing group I joined, someone read the opening of their novel and I found myself quoting Heather to them, ‘You can’t just plunge in. A reader needs signposts, like a hiker on a trail.’

“When there is difficulty, an hour on the phone with Heather restores momentum, every time, and her responsiveness to emails goes beyond the call of duty. She is part of my morale, worth every dollar and more as a writing coach, substantive editor, and book publishing consultant.”

– John Fuller, author of an upcoming biography with the working title The Rise and Fall of Con Jones (September 2021)

‘Gentle, encouraging, firm, and honest’

Writing client Irene Policzer of Vancouver, BC offers these words in March 2018:

“Since I engaged Heather as my writing coach, I have seen a substantial improvement in my writing work. Heather has a very special combination of knowledge, depth of thought, sensitivity, respect, and understanding of the issues and barriers a writer must face. Her coaching is gentle and encouraging while at the same time, firm and honest. In the few months we have been working together, she has earned my trust and appreciation. I strongly recommend her for anybody struggling to complete a piece of writing and feel proud about it. It is stimulating and fun to work with her.”

Clients have ranged in age from teens to 80+

Abigail and I low-res

Here I am (at right) with my youngest writing client, Abigail Schulz, age 12, in April 2014. She worked hard to transform a short story and was eager to learn many aspects of writing.

Heather Conn and Abigail Schulz

Pam Dangelmaier emailed this photo below, which shows her about to send me the first draft of her novel in August 2013. I like how it captures a writer’s excitement when sending her “baby” out into the world. This manuscript became the successful book The Flour Garden, published in 2017. Congratulations, Pam!

Pam and her first draft

Client Pam Dangelmaier

How do I differ from other writing coaches?

I inspire students to write from their deepest self, not just to arrange and rearrange words. I bring decades of experience as a classroom writing instructor, book and publications editor, professional writer, and author in nonfiction and fiction. (Read testimonials regarding my editing work.)

I support inclusivity and marginalized voices. I strive to bring as much cultural sensitivity and open-heartedness as possible to my work, whether it’s with an ESL author, Indigenous writer — or anyone. When working with First Nations content, I refer to Elements of Indigenous Style by Gregory Younging.

I do not limit myself to one specialty area. Besides sharing skills and training in creative nonfiction, I offer expertise in diverse fields and genres, from screenwriting and fiction to commercial content.

With nonfiction book-writing client Gloria McArter

 I appreciate and respect Heather’s gifts as a writing coach and editor and highly recommend her for her expertise. She allows me to dream and makes helpful suggestions so that I can express my thoughts and feelings with focus and clarity.  Heather inspires me to create the content, flow, and structure of my work so it is helpful to the reader. I encourage you to contact Heather as she will assess your needs and outline how she can best help you in your creative writing endeavors.

— Dr. Gloria McArter,
Registered Clinical Counsellor; Couple and Family Therapist

I coached Sunshine Coast writer Rosa Reid in editing for more than a year. Here’s what she says:

“I was fortunate to find such an accomplished mentor to share her editing skills and practical knowledge with me. Heather set up weekly sessions that included hands-on editing and homework. These one-hour sessions were followed up with review and advice. Her lessons were concise and helpful, and questions were encouraged. I enjoyed learning in a one-on-one environment that was mindful of my goals and abilities.”

What does a writing coach do anyway?

In addition to my group classes, I offer more intensive, tailored coaching to individual writers. This one-on-one work can include any or all of the following services:

  • helping a writer get unstuck
  • providing questions and suggestions that give a writer new clarity and focus
  • designing assignments that respond to a writer’s specific needs
  • offering valuable feedback to shape or redirect a manuscript or story
  • editing existing content
  • brainstorming and identifying key ideas, themes, etc
  • recommending specific readings and/or providing a bibliography
  • giving much-needed inspiration, emotional suppport, and encouragement
  • sharing general writing tips and do’s and dont’s.

Mike Oswald, a former writing student, reads from his first book I am a Man Who Cries.


mike-oswald-resized1

Mike Oswald won a 2010 Writers Award
and trophy from the Special Olympics
on the Sunshine Coast.

For more details on my former writing student Mike and his award, see my archived blog post.

Who are my writing clients?

I have helped beginner and experienced writers in fiction, nonfiction, academia, theatre, and screenwriting. As a few examples, thanks to my involvement, clients have

  • successfully rewritten, redirected, and expanded a short story to make it publishable
  • found the direction, premise and key points of a chapter written for an academic anthology, after considerable frustration and sense of being overwhelmed by too much content
  • condensed a humorous personal essay to make it more readable and entertaining
  • found new structures for making a personal essay more compelling and truer to the writer’s intentions.

I gave Vancouver, BC stuntwoman Lani Gelera a kickstart on writing her autobiography and launching her blog Fenix Fallgirl.

At what stage of the writing process do you need a writing coach?

I have become involved at every stage of a writing project:

Beginning: Someone has an idea for a book or story or blog but isn’t sure how to proceed

Middle: Someone has written a lot of content but feels bogged down, wants to shift focus, doesn’t know how to add new material to what’s there

  • End: A book manuscript is complete, but needs review and editing. The writer wants feedback about content, how to get it published or republished, adapt it to the web etc.

How does writing coaching  work?

After an initial consultation and discussion, I lay out a suggested approach, usually involving assignments, questions, and a request for revisions. This is tailored to the specific needs of each client.

I adapt to whatever works best for the client. Regular communication is  by email or phone. Personal meeting(s) are arranged when desired.

FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION AVAILABLE BY PHONE OR EMAIL

TERRITORIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

In Canada’s Pacific Northwest, where I work, the shíshálh and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh people have stewarded the land known today as the Sunshine Coast for thousands of years. It remains their unceded, traditional territory.

Today’s Vancouver is part of the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. I thank them all for their caring stewardship and generous sharing of their land, culture, and resources.

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