There are two common paths to coaching, I’ve found. There’s the expert who has tons of personal experience and then transitions into coaching — think of a tennis star who has had years of competitions and tournaments and, when she can no longer physically keep up with the younger players, transitions to coaching. Then there are the experts who have little to no personal experience, but are able to excellently coach others in the field — I used to take personal training from a bodybuilder, but when he was ill for a couple weeks, a really out-of-shape colleague of his (who had never been a bodybuilder) became my personal trainer and worked me just as hard, giving me tips that the bodybuilder never mentioned.
Personal experience in a field doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite for coaching. Instead, it takes a deep understanding of the field — the rules, both written and unwritten, the techniques, and the strategies — and a keen sense of observation to identify weaknesses and strengths.
As I’ve mentioned a few times here on Oh Get A Grip, I’ve got a publishing company that specializes in erotica and erotic romance. In its initial planning stages, the company was going to specialize in gay erotica and nothing else, but then expanded to include MM romance and then to include all romantic pairings. I soon thought I was out of my league — I just don’t write romance. I write erotica with highly charged feelings of lust that border on love… so it’s romance-ish, but I don’t do traditional erotic romance. I know the basic structure of the romance plot and I know how to write it… but, weirdly, I can’t seem to do it when I try it myself.
So with the publisher, when I started taking on some editing roles, I was worried I’d be over my head real fast. What I found interesting is that, while I can’t write a romance, I definitely know how to read a romance with an eye for coaching and editing. I’m able to identify areas that can be expanded or condensed to heighten emotions and build up for the right emotional payoff, I can help an author manage the right dynamic between the romantic leads (because, more often than not, in romances the leads are antagonists to each other for the bulk of the story), and I can give the author workable suggestions for structural edits to set the right pacing.
This fortnight here on Oh Get A Grip is “What are you reading?” And other than the obligatory Star Trek book, which right now is Star Trek: The Next Generation: Headlong Flight by Dayton Ward, I’ve been reading nothing but erotic romances. And most of them are of the MF variety — so for a gay guy who’s never been with a woman, this has been an interesting couple of months of reading. I’ve read straight erotica and erotic romance before, but I think in the past two months I’ve read more of it than in the last ten years.
I’ve always sort of thought that the best coaches are the ones that have the most personal experience. After all, when I was taking personal training at the gym, it of course seems more logical to take my lessons from the body builder who regularly wins competitions than from the guy that looks like a desk jockey that hasn’t played a sport in decades… yet it was that desk jockey that I found more helpful as a trainer than the body builder. In the world of literature, I recall reading that Donald Maass, agent extraordinaire, doesn’t write books and has no desire to write books, yet he keenly understands what makes a bestseller and how an author can fix a book to make it excel.
While I hold no illusions that I’m the erotic romance equivalent of Donald Maass, I do find some resemblances. The authors I work with have thanked me for the edits, saying that I’ve got a keen eye for their story. I seem to be able to coach an author in writing a romance so that it becomes a riveting book… yet I have no desire to write an actual romance. Any time that I feel I want to try, I end up with erotica with hints of love, which is something different than romance.
I can't do it... but I can coach it.
Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is The President And The Rentboy (co-written with Sandra Claire). He is also the publisher and co-founder of Deep Desires Press, a publisher of erotica and high-heat-level erotic romance. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit http://www.camerondjames.com.