book reviews

Book Review: A Writer’s Coach

A Writer's Coach: An Editor's Guide to Words That WorkA Writer’s Coach: An Editor’s Guide to Words That Work

by Jack R. Hart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

It was dumb luck I stumbled upon Jack Hart’s book, A Writer’s Coach (Pantheon Books 2006). I couldn’t afford to hire an editor for my novel, but knew it needed help. There are hundreds (thousands?) of self-help books on this topic, so how was I to pick the one that would work for me? I personally own over a dozen, including Lukeman’s First Five Pages, several by Donald Maass and several more by James Frey. While I did want one that specialized in self-editing, I also have quite a few of those–including Writing From A to Z and Self-editing for Fiction Writers.

Truth, I don’t know why I picked Jack Hart. Maybe because he’s a well-respected editor who’s helped four Pulitzer Prize-winning authors (though this isn’t what I aspire to be). It’s definitely not because of his quarter century as managing editor at The Oregonian, the Pacific Northwest’s largest newspaper–I’m not a fan of main stream media. I might have been influenced by his decade-long column for Editor & Publisher magazine called “The Writer’s Workshop”.

Overall, I’m not sure, but I’m glad I did. The Writer’s Coach is a nuts and bolts approach to fixing the problems endemic in first drafts.  Though ten years old, Harts advice transcends trends and medium, delving into the problems and angst shared by all writers. Chapters include:

  • Method
  • Process
  • Structure
  • Force
  • Brevity
  • Clarity
  • Rhythm
  • Humanity
  • Color
  • Voice
  • Mechanics
  • Mastery

The pithiness that colors the chapter titles flows throughout the book. Humanity? Have you ever seen that in a how-to-write book? Here is the publisher review of the book:

Mystified over misplaced modifiers? In a trance from intransitive verbs? Paralyzed from using the passive voice? To aid writers, from beginners to professionals, legendary writing coach Jack Hart presents a comprehensive, practical, step-by-step approach to the writing process. He shares his techniques for composing and sustaining powerful writing and demonstrates how to overcome the most common obstacles such as procrastination, writer’s block, and excessive polishing.

Alliteration aside, I found a lot to love about this book. Here are several of my favorite quotes:

  • What’s the first thing you do when facing a new writing assignment? I ask. “Get a cup of coffee,” a journalist replied.
  • The tendency to see the task ahead as overwhelming explains most keyboard anxiety.
  • A problem visible at any one stage of the writing process usually results from something that happened at the immediately preceding stage.
  • The best theme statements include a transitive verb… Transitive verbs require the “A causes B” brand of thinking that characterizes a true hypothesis.
  • Stay lose through your first draft and write fast. You may even want to put your notes aside while you write, leaving blanks…
  • Don’t stall on the first line. The important thing is to get moving, not write the perfect opening…
  • …the parasites in the pond of prose [first said by E.B. White] … needless qualifiers such as ‘rather’, ‘somewhat’, ‘generally’, ‘virtually’, ‘pretty’, ‘slightly’, ‘a bit’, and ‘little’.
  • Five ways to add Oomph to your writing: Find action verbs, avoid flabby suffixes, prefer the active voice, minimize expletives, and be bold.

The only downside of this book?  Despite the fact it is touted as a writing coach for all writers, to me it reads more as a self-help for journalists than novel writers. You can see from the quotes above that the points are spot on, but the narrative supporting these excellent ideas often wandered into journalist/blogger/nonfiction weeds. Since I include all of those in my profile, that was fine with me. You may feel differently.

If you’d like to purchase this from Amazon, click the link below:

More how-to-write reviews:

13 Ways and 3 Books to Build Blockbuster Plots

17 Tips from Writing the Blockbuster Novel

How to Edit Your Novel (according to Yuvi)

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

20 thoughts on “Book Review: A Writer’s Coach

  1. I’ve practically eaten Noah Lukeman’s book. This one sounds useful, but you may have plucked all the best parts and posted them right here.
    All best intentions aside, I think there is a danger of becoming absorbed by writer’s guides. Maybe just write, get the story down. Same warning about (you’ll love this one) putting too much weight on crit groups. I find books on writing and critiques useful but eventually I understand: it’s my story and I have to write it my way.


    • Sometimes it takes an entire book to find enough quotes for a post, but this one–it took only a few chapters. If you like these insights, you’ll like the rest of the book.

      I agree–about using writer guides as a crutch. I think it’s why I haven’t bought new ones nor re-read old ones in a while.


  2. I often ‘leave blanks’ while i’m writing, Jacqui. When I come back later it’s much easier to fill them in (I guess because I’ve greased and oiled my brain). This books sounds good🙂


  3. I suspect that many of these books cover much the same ground, albeit in different ways. This one sounds good. I was intrigued by one title on your list, The First Five Pages. Must check it out.


  4. I’ll take a look at this Jaqui as sounds as if it could be useful.I feel quietly reassured when he says to just write, without notes and leave blanks. I’ve been doing that with my first draft and been wandering if that is all wrong but it’s working for me. Ended up doing that intuitively.


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