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Coaching the Writer

Management Futures
August 31, 2023
“To what extent can coaching be used to support the client in their own creative process?”

More specifically, we wanted to know if a coach could help an author to develop their story - whilst knowing nothing of the story ourselves. Does story come from within the writer in the same sort of way that solutions come from within a coaching client? If so, perhaps coaching could encourage a deep-dive into story, its meaning and its problems. We set-up a conversation to find-out.

Views from Coach & Writer -
Phil Hayes

We generally espouse the principle of process-driven coaching, staying out of the ‘content’ of a client’s agenda. At it’s purest, this should mean we need to know nothing at all about the content of the issue the client brings, and by extension should not need to bring thoughts or ideas of our own to the coaching process. I would contend this rarely, if ever, happens 100% in the coaching most of us do, because we can normally relate to at least some of what the client is engaged in thinking through. Indeed, on subjects connected to leadership and management, our main territory, we often know a great deal. Do we really keep all our thoughts to ourselves in this context? I know I don’t.

In discussion with recent ICS attendee and professional writer Tom Harvey, we decided to investigate the idea that coaching could directly support the creative process. We agreed to coach Tom on a story he has under development, with no prior knowledge of the story, and with the understanding we would spend no time in the coaching finding out what the story was. Our aim was to coach purely on process – working with the way Tom told us he was thinking about and developing his story. The aim was to see if we could really help Tom to develop his story using a truly non-directive coaching approach.

Tom was to be the judge of the success of this experiment, and our video clip here offers a few snippets of what went on in the coaching session itself:

Views from Writer & Coach-
Tom Harvey

It has often struck me that skilled content development executives are highly focussed on plot, particularly in film. ‘Had you thought about this happening?’or ‘How can we set up the character journey earlier?’ etc. This can be helpful, and certainly more helpful than the studio exec notes ‘Can we get Ryan Gosling?’ or ‘It would be better with more explosions.’

Writing at its heart, or should we say soul, is about none of this. It’s about finding an inner truth, an authenticity to a story which allows us to see something of ourselves or the world in a new or clearer way. The challenge is, this truth can be illusive. If every story starts somewhere deep in the subconscious forest, the writer is left not knowing how they got there or how to get out again.

You stare at your first draft like it's the weird stranger on the tube who sidles up and whispers something weird in your ear - You want to say, “I don’t know you, and I’m not sure I want to, and I certainly have no idea what you’re on about.” You walk away from the firstdraft and spend a long time wondering what it’s about.

One of the things that struck me about coaching was the notion that the client has the answers, as coaches, we have a toolkit that unlocks these answers. I wondered, if the meaning of a story is locked tight in the subconscious, then could coaching help surface it. Under the interrogation of an experienced coach like Phil, the answer is yes. Coaching can get deep into the nuts and bolts of the development process, shortening the creative journey and providing an intensity to the analysis that is hard to find and can take months of searching without expert support.

We are thrilled by the future possibilities of this approach.


Phil Hayes:

Phil is the Founder of Management Futures, and you can read all about him on our team site here

Tom Harvey:

Tom is winner of the prestigious Seán Ó Faoláin International Short Story Competition and he’s a short story finalist in the London Independent story awards. His short stories have been published in the UK, Ireland and the US. As part of the three-person creative team at XPT, Tom won a BAFTA for Online Caroline, two further BAFTA nominations, and was a finalist for a Rose d’Or.

Tom is currently writing the screenplay Bullet Ready and hip-hop dance play ‘The Chauffeur’ with Ukweli Roach, alongside an overflowing portfolio of short stories and plays. Tom is currently studying for a Level 7 Certificate in Coaching.

Tom was founder of award winning arts festival SohoCreate, he also ran the Edinburgh International TV Festival, was Commissions and Strategy Exec on BBC2 and ran regional screen agency Northern Film and Media for which he was awarded an MBE for services to the Creative Industries. Tom has executive  produced four feature films and numerous music videos, he is a Clore Leadership Fellow, has run investment funds, and currently Chairs hip hop theatre company BirdGang and sits on the board of Trustees of the Peter Marlow Foundation.

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