What do you look for in a writing teacher / adviser / coach?

Just curious: what makes a person — for you — a good writing teacher / editor / coach?

Or are those different qualities in your mind?

Who was the best teacher you’ve ever had — and why?

Mr. Ferguson was my ninth and twelfth grade English teacher on Long Island, NY. The first week of school, he read Ethan Frome aloud to us. When he read about the pickle jar falling to the floor, he actually had a Vlassic pickle jar and smashed it to the classroom tile. This was how I learned about symbolism. He said that the art of writing was to make you physically feel the tension. He also took some of us on a British Literature trip to the UK over Spring Break. I went twice, in '99 and '00 .

I won a few short story contests under his tutiledge because he made storytelling an experience and gave me to the confidence to write, something I still struggle with today. He was involved, frequently asking our thoughts without judgement and giving immediate critique and praise. Ultimately, I think he was the best because he cared and stayed involved… and smashed things in the classroom, which was pretty cool at 14 years old.


That’s a tricky one for me. Being a military brat I’ve had a fair number of teachers and sadly most of them were unmemorable, though not necessarily bad. I did OK at school. I think the ones I remember were the ones who made an effort to see me as an individual rather than one of a number passing through… no small ask for a teacher who sees hundreds of students a week. I guess though, they helped me work on my strengths and pull up my weaknesses, rather than work on a set of random tasks.
One of my most favourite, was a maths teacher. I am terrible at Maths, but he would try to make it fun… and though maths was simple for him… he really made an effort to try an understand how my mind worked through his homework problems. He never did find a way to make maths easy for me, my brain just didn’t work in that way. But he did recognise that there was something going on under my hair, and that it eventually steered me in something of the right direction. He was always encouraging and positive, without being patronising, and was sure I would make the grade… and I did, even if, as I suspect, it was by the skin of my teeth​:slight_smile::grin:


The best teachers are like the best parents: they actively listen without judgement or criticism and no personal agenda. Their knowledge is deep and wide-ranging. Alongside empathy and sensitivity, they’re precise, concise, and direct. If you’re a self-paying student, they will give value for money.

The worst: if you’re paying for one-to-one tuition, they will not palm you off with a forum where students are left to teach each other without any in-put from them (the teacher). This last happened to me. Twice. Shame on me.

My best teacher embodied all the qualities in the first example.


As a first-time novelist, for me, it’s two things really. Instruction and Connection. Quality and Depth.
Does what they’re teaching you, what they say, resonate with your own personal take on How To Write. Do you listen to what they say, or read what they’ve written and get lightbulb moments? Had a few of those with Derek Murphy on his webinar. That’s the Quality of Instruction part. [love that guy]
The Depth of Connection part is pretty self-explanatory. Do you feel enough of a connection with them and their writing worldview to want to sit at their feet and learn from them? Do they have the experience to back up their instructions? How many books have they actually written or edited before they started dishing out writing advice?
If you like what they say and how they say it then they’re probably worth listening to.


@Lita that makes me so angry: it’s not your fault that those people failed to deliver. You care about your writing and you want to make progress. Shame on them for abusing your trust.

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This is a great answer, @BryanMackBooks!

First and foremost, honesty. Not the kind of honesty designed to tear someone down but just pointing out where someone’s weak points are and then helping to come up with ideas on how to address it. Also pointing out the strong points and helping to make sure the rest of their work reflects that. (I may be a weird one but I thrive on constructive criticism.)

A good teacher is one that doesn’t just give out a set of rules and says follow these. They explain why and how. They encourage me to think and explore on my own. They highlight things I hadn’t considered before. Will I always follow their rules? Probably not but at least I will (hopefully) have learned when I can break them.

The best English professor I ever had was honest with us right from the start. He came in the classroom told us that most of us weren’t going to pass his class and showed everyone the grade book to do the math. (It turned out that most people didn’t pass or didn’t even finish because they didn’t bother with the homework. It was all on the syllabus we got on day one. It still boggles my mind.) Almost everyone in the class was an adult (one minor) and he actually treated us like we were functioning adults with functioning brains. He didn’t just ask us to write, he asked us to think.


For me, a great writing mentor is:

  1. Someone I respect.
  2. Someone who I will listen to.
  3. Someone I know I will learn from and grow into the writer I want to be.
  4. Someone I understand, and who also understands my work better than me.
  5. Someone I can trust and call a friend on a professional level.
  6. Someone who challenges me to be a better writer in ways I never thought possible.