Robin Stratton has been a writing coach in the Boston area for almost 20 years. She is the author of The Revision Process, A Guide for Those Months or Years Between Your First Draft and Your Last, and two chapbooks, Dealing with Men and Interference from an Unwitting Species. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she’s been published in Word Riot, 63 Channels, Antithesis Common, Poor Richards Almanac(k), Blink-Ink, Pig in a Poke, Chick Flicks, Up the Staircase, Shoots and Vines and many others. Her novel, On Air, (Blue Mustang Press, 2011) was a National Indie Excellence Book Award finalist. A second novel, Of Zen and Men, is now available from Big Table Publishing Company. She’d love to have you visit her at robinstratton.com I had the pleasure to interview her on my Somerville Community Access TV Show: Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.
Doug Holder: How did you establish yourself as a writing coach?
Robin Stratton: Well, that is a good question because it is hard to break into being a writing coach without a lot of writing credentials. It just sort of happened.. I had a number of people who approached me to edit their manuscripts when they learned I was a writer. They knew I had written novels–and they liked them–so it naturally followed. This was in the late 80s and there was not as many people doing coaching as there are today.
DH: Did you have writing coaches?
RS: For about three months. And this was before the Internet–so this is how it worked. You send the book, and it would take a week or so for the coach to get it. Then they would read it. And then they would write up their responses, and that would take another week–and then they mailed it back. But I did learn a lot about how to give feedback from this experience.
DH: How would you define the role of a writing coach?
RS: I think a coach is someone who could tell you what the weakness is in your writing. He or she can advise you how to make it more commercial. They can advise you on the rules to adhere to sell books. I think tat is what people need from a coach.
DH: I get the sense from you that you try to instill people with a sense of confidence?
RS: Yes. You have to try to build people up. Anyone who has finished a novel–well that’s huge–so you want to cultivate that. It takes a lot to write a book.
DH: Has there ever been a first draft that you can totally go with?
RS: Oh…No. Some poets can be pretty good the first time around–not so much for novelists.
DH: How many drafts do you have for a typical novel of yours/
RS: 15 drafts. I like to have a writing group–and that helps me. I always tell novelist that they should be in a group if they possibly can. Not only is it good to get feedback–but when you give feedback it illuminates weaknesses in your own writing.
DH: You write poetry as well as fiction.
RS: You know I never was a poetry person. I never really enjoyed reading poetry. I thought it was too short. I was never a short story kind of person either. But I needed publishing credentials to get my book picked up by an agent. Then I thought I would start a magazine. So I started the Boston Literary Magazine, and it has been around since 2006. Now it is in print. So it was a great self-made credential to get my book picked up by an agent. In terms of the poetry I like, I lean to narrative poetry.
DH: A lot of your novels are about relationships between men and women. Your new novel Of Zen and Men is evidence of this.
RS: I think that is what’s most important to me. A reader can see their own relationships through the relationships in the book, I hope. All my characters have to go through a grand transformation. They start out likable but flawed and then something happens, and they wind up more effective. Everybody can relate to this.
DH: Tell us about the book you published from your own Big Table Press The Revision Process ?
RS: I published that when I first started Big Table. It was a test book. It’s not about the writing but the revision. That is where a lot of writers get stalled–the revision. This is a way to look at their manuscripts with a new set of eyes. To specifically look at things. A writer knows when something doesn’t work–but sometimes they don’t know why. I thought it was a useful guide. That came out in 2006. I then published chapbooks, and lately perfect bound editions.
DH: If you had a son and he wanted to be a writer would you encourage him?
RS: If I didn’t have the contacts I have I might steer him to learn something that could supplement his income. I would say to a young writer :”Make sure you are in a writers group, have a lot of computer skills, make sure you use social networks to promote yourself, and make sure you have a website.”