Meeting and Coaching in Person

Most of the time, I coach writers by phone or email, which allows me to work with people who live in different time zones in the U.S. as well as in other countries (Canada, Mexico, Australia and the UK . . . so far!). I enjoy a flexible schedule, and in general my introverted self likes being alone, sheltered from noise and distractions. If I happen to get restless, no problem! Being able to take my work with me when I travel means I don’t have to stay rooted in one place.

Sounds great, right? But of course there are downsides to long-distance relationships, which aren’t as up-close and personal as face-to-face conversations. It’s harder to feel a meaningful connection, harder to tell for certain how someone else is feeling.

Thus far, I’ve met only two of my writers face-to-face. The first time was with someone I’d been working with off and on for nearly three years. Chris and I had exchanged many, many emails and even a few photos during that time, and I’d already begun to think of her as a friend. So when she emailed to say she would be traveling to the east coast (asking, if she were to come to New Hampshire for the day, would I be available to meet?), I jumped at the chance. Though I was a little nervous, as any two people tend to be when they meet for the first time, I soon discovered we had a lot in common. We found plenty to talk about (though as I recall we spent very little time “talking shop”—right, Chris?).

After that delightful rendezvous, I went back to hibernating in my home office and working with writers remotely . . . until about a year later, when I was paired with an Author Accelerator writer who lived close enough to make me wonder about the possibility of another in-person meeting. When Anita told me she was teaching a class related to the book she was writing, I saw it as the perfect opportunity for us to get together. I looked forward to sitting in on the class, observing her teaching style, and talking to her in person about her project. Also, the university where she taught happened to be my alma mater, Brandeis University, and I’d read that the castle in which I’d resided as an undergrad had been partially torn down and reconstructed. I was curious to see what had replaced it.

Brandeis Usen Castle
Brandeis Usen Castle (prior to 2017 addition of Skyline residence hall)

When I asked how Anita felt about me dropping in on a class, she kindly sent her syllabus and invited me to come “any time.” We settled on a date, and as the date got closer . . . I began to get cold feet. Even though it had been my idea to meet, I felt more than a little pressure to impress, or at least not to disappoint. I worried about saying something stupid or revealing too much about myself, and I wondered how it might affect our ongoing work together if we didn’t hit it off. I didn’t want to take a chance on jeopardizing the project in any way, and there was always the possibility that an in-person meeting could go poorly.

Still, my overthinking such a simple encounter was a clear indication that I’d gotten a little too comfortable with my professional-relationships-at-a-distance lifestyle. The potential benefits of meeting in person far outweighed any imagined risks, so I juggled my schedule, buried my head in the assigned reading for the class (about 100 pages of scholarly prose), and tried to recall what little I could remember of the campus map. On the agreed upon day, I drove the ninety minutes to Waltham and headed to the Faculty Club, where we’d arranged to meet.

On my way there, I noticed the castle no longer looked quite the same. The contemporary Skyline addition (to the left, in the photo below) made it look as though the old building was a little confused, struggling to retain the past while extending itself awkwardly into the future. Feeling a little nostalgic for the way things had been thirty years ago, I thought about the ways in which I’d changed, too. I never imagined that I’d return to campus one day to help a member of the faculty write a book.

Brandeis Usen Castle (with the new Skyline addition to the left)

The minute I met Anita, I had a feeling everything was going to be just fine. She was warm and friendly and put me at ease right away. While I didn’t snap a selfie of the two of us together (my one regret—sorry!), I had a wonderful time getting to know her a little better, hearing about her work and plans for the future. In emails, I’d often reassured her that I believed in what she was trying to do, but I don’t think she wasn’t entirely convinced until she saw the excitement written all over my face. “You’re my target audience!” she said with a smile. Likewise, while her passion for what she was working on seemed genuine from the start, seeing her light up when she talked about the book helped me to understand just how much it meant to her.

After a leisurely lunch, we headed over to her class, where she introduced me as “the editor helping with the book she was writing.” When the students responded to that news with “ooh”s and nods of approval, I felt a warm glow that lasted through the rest of the afternoon. Yes, that’s who I am. That’s what I’m doing here. Being acknowledged so publicly made everything I’d been doing for the past four years as a book coach feel real and valued and important. Such an incredible gift.

I left Brandeis that day with a jar of Anita’s homemade peach jam and a copy of her first book clutched in my hands. In a subsequent email, she wrote that she felt “reinvigorated” by our meeting, which describes how I felt as well: energized to continue with the work ahead. To say “I’m glad I ventured out” would be an understatement.

Now that spring is almost here, what are your plans for branching out and seeing what others in the writing and publishing world have been doing during this long winter? Me, I’m hungry for more face-to-face encounters. I’ve just registered for The Muse and the Marketplace, a national conference for writers held in Boston, and in September I’ll be assisting with an Author Accelerator “Find Your Book, Find Your Mojo” writing retreat in Maine.

Care to join me?