My writing coach program is ideal for writers of memoir, general nonfiction, and narrative nonfiction. I also have a blog coaching program for writers who want to launch or improve their author websites and blogs. The blog coaching program is perfect for established authors or writers who are getting ready to publish and want to build a platform.
How It Works
I structure my coaching around these four phases.
Every person who has achieved success has done so by enlisting the help of others.
Some of us studied writing at university and were guided by knowledgeable, professional instructors. Others are self-taught, and they too relied on help from the pros. They studied works by successful authors and absorbed books and other resources on the craft of writing.
We all need a little help crossing the finish line. Hiring a writing coach may be a smart option.
What a Writing Coach Does
A writing coach should be able to relate to your struggles while offering solutions to help you overcome
Last February, a few weeks after my 51st birthday and on the twisting road to becoming a middle-aged yoga instructor, I skulked through the orange-themed lobby at a Boulder, Colorado, CorePower Yoga studio. Past the racks of Lululemon yoga pants and T-shirts that read “Spiritual Gangster,” I finally came to a halt in Room 1: a wood-floored space with wall-to-wall mirrors. The other students were mostly about half my age. Their reflected images accentuated my feeling: I’m surrounded by youth.
I saw my reflection, too. I’m a typical fifty-something; salt-and-pepper beard, a few pounds overweight. But I still feel plenty young, and after I spread my well-worn yoga mat to join the cluster of fellow students, I noticed something else in my reflection. I was wearing a shit-eating grin.
Here I was, of AARP age but embarking on a yoga teacher training, and I was excited and fearful at the same time. I had that happy but slightly unhinged feeling you get when you’re about to do something cool but unknown, and perhaps life-changing. And I felt a tinge of arrogance. I thought about how, ahead of this intensive workshop, I’d been practicing yoga, enthusiastically if sporadically, for decades, practically since Nirvana, the band, was playing small halls. I then reassured myself that I’d be able to hang with the youngsters. My extensive life experience would outweigh their flexibility and strength advantages.
In other words, I said to myself: You’ve got this, Brad.
At 7 p.m. sharp, we began. Derise Anjanette, the lead instructor, smiled warmly and introduced herself and three of her colleagues—altogether, four fit, beautiful women ranging in age from 24 to 46. They were all seated perfectly in lotus position.
It is a steamy August afternoon off the coast of Hawaii, and the Feathered Serpent III-Ophir, Gene Savoy's 73-foot-long catamaran, is carving gracefully through cerulean waters. Squinting into the equatorial sun, the 72-year-old Savoy slicks back his shoulder-length brown hair with a comb, replaces his skipper's cap and, gripping the ship's wheel, barks orders into the ocean spray. His crew -- six shirtless middle-aged men with little sailing experience and badly sunburned shoulders and backs -- respond by hustling around the mahogany deck, coiling ropes and tying knots. In the cramped, unlighted galley below, a tattooed sailor with Popeye biceps stacks cans of pinto beans and Meister Brau beer.
The Feathered Serpent looks as if it belongs in a museum, even though it's only 8 months old.
By BRAD WETZLERMAY 21, 2004
SITUATED at the edge of the Colorado Plateau, a vast rock tabletop that encompasses parts of southern Utah, northern Arizona, southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico, Zion National Park is a geological wonderland hundreds of millions of years in the making. The rock here was tortured by nature, having at various times been uplifted, tilted and eroded. As a result, the land looks like a giant staircase, with each step several thousand feet higher than the next. And it is riddled with deep, narrow canyons -- ideal territory for the sport of canyoneering.
IT WAS THE WORST STORY IDEA idea an editor could come up with, let alone assign to a real human being. That's how I felt on Saturday, May 11, 1996, the day I heard Jon Krakauer had disappeared while reporting for Outside on the growing phenomenon of commercially guided trips up Mount Everest a story I'd conceived and helped make happen by dealing with an endless stream of logistical headaches. None of that mattered when I heard Krakauer was missing in a deadly high-altitude blizzard. Had I sent him to his death?
Just 24 hours earlier, of course, I'd considered myself a genius. On the morning of May 10, Mark Bryant, Outside's editor, made an announcement at the daily editorial meeting in our Santa Fe office. "I have news from Jon Krakauer's wife," he quietly told some two dozen staffers. "Early in the afternoon, Nepal time, Jon made it to the summit of Everest."
A cheer went up; there were high-fives. I pictured Everest, a three-sided granite pyramid jutting into the jet stream, ice crystals pluming off its top. Krakauer was up there in a snowsuit and oxygen mask, taking pictures and notes as he gazed out over the sprawling Tibetan Plateau and, in the opposite direction, the deep glacial basin known as the Western Cwm.
This travel essay first appeared in The New York Times.
AROUND the corner from Nazareth’s Old City market, in the shadow of 200-year-old Ottoman mansions, there’s a cobblestone street so narrow you can almost touch the houses on either side. An arrow pointing up some stairs is painted on one rough wall, along with the words “Jesus Trail.” It’s the de facto trailhead for a 40-mile hike through the Galilee region of Israel in the footsteps, more or less, of the man who made Galilee famous.
The Jesus Trail is the brainchild of two hiking enthusiasts, Maoz Inon, a 37-year-old Israeli who owns the Fauzi Azar Inn in Nazareth, and David Landis, 30, a guidebook writer from Pennsylvania. The pair met in 2005 while hiking in Israel, and came up with the idea of creating a path linking key historical sites related to the life of Jesus. Some of those sights — including the Mount of Beatitudes, the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount — were already popular on commercial bus tours. But others, like the Roman road where the risen Christ is believed to have blinded Paul (an act that led to Paul’s conversion to Christianity), were not accessible from nearby highways.
"I saw the old jalopy," said a bony stranger sitting across the table from me in a coffee shop in our ancient Southwestern city. He was sporting an armadillo-shaped bolo tie and a cowboy hat, and he squinted like a B-movie gunslinger about to draw his Colt .45. "I placed my fingers in the bullet holes."
Between tugs on a grande latte, the old compadre described a black 1922 Dodge convertible with four on the floor and wood spokes. The owner had been none other than Francisco "Pancho" Villa, the Mexican outlaw-turned-revolutionary who championed the poor by helping to topple the brutal despot Porfirio Díaz in the Mexican Revolution of 1910, and evaded U.S. troops after a murderous cross-border foray. In fact, he allowed, this was the very set of wheels Villa had been driving when he was assassinated in 1923 by seven mystery gunmen. According to the coffee-shop cowboy, who'd set eyes on the vehicle in the late 1970s, the old beater was sitting up on blocks in the backyard of a house that belonged to Villa's widow on the outskirts of the city of Chihuahua, Mexico.
I've always been intrigued by this mythical, sombreroed hero. And northern Mexico, the desolate land where Villa lived, has been the scene of several harebrained "expeditions of discovery" of mine over the last ten years. Now Pancho's car was all
By BRAD WETZLER
SOME people change the radio station when they hear the first grinding chords of ''Slow Ride'' by Foghat. Not Arthur Medina, a 40-year-old native of Chimayo, N.M., a tiny burg about eight miles east of Española. He cranks it up.
Mr. Medina, who is known to his friends and admirers simply as Lowlow, is one of the Española area's celebrated lowriders, so called because they drive cars with suspensions altered so that the undersides practically hug the pavement. (The cars themselves are also called lowriders.) Classic rock -- he likes all of it, no matter who's playing -- helps set the mood when he's out for a cruise on renowned Riverside Drive in Española. He has a half-dozen lowriders, but this time he's driving his most beloved, a 1976 Cadillac that he calls his Holy Week car, red and blue and adorned with religious paintings, including a depiction of the Last Supper on the trunk.
He adjusts the seat so far back that he's practically in the back seat. His left arm rests casually out the open window. The right hand gently grips the tiny chrome chain-link steering wheel. His face is confident, peaceful, the face of someone in control. It's the look that a Nascar racer must have as he hits 212 miles an hour on a Daytona straightaway -- yet Lowlow's old-school analog speedometer shows he's going only 10 m.p.h.
Lowlow has been practicing this look for more than 25 years, and he's pretty good at it.
This is a piece I wrote for Wired magazine about changes in India created by the tech boom.
It’s a steamy, dung-scented evening, I’m riding around Bangalore, India, in a beat-up blue van, but right now we’re not going anywhere: There’s a citywide power outage, and we’re stopped dead in the middle of a clogged intersection, wishing the traffic lights would blink back on. Behind the wheel is a hot-tempered Sikh named Balbir Singh. Fiftyish and bearded, with Coke-bottle glasses, he’s furiously tapping his horn to shoo away a skinny cow. The cow isn’t budging, but it doesn’t matter. The entire city has become one huge and hopelessly tangled traffic jam.
“What a drag,” says Singh, jerking the shifter into neutral and leaning back in his seat.
Like all major Indian cities, Bangalore — a metropolis of about 5 million people on southern India’s Deccan Plateau — is a sprawl of decaying single-story houses and shops, Soviet-style apartment buildings, crumbling colonial offices, and abominable shantytowns that extend miles into the countryside. The potholed roads look like they’ve been hit by an air strike. People are everywhere, lounging on their front stoops, buying goat carcasses, gliding through the crowded streets in colorful saris. Poverty is everywhere, too: Through the van’s window I see an orange-clad devotee of Shiva the Destroyer begging for change, two cripples on all fours, and a leper with half a leg and rotting hands.
"There's a telephone in the closet," says the mumbly, wind-chapped cowboy, kicking at a dried-up cholla cactus that's lying on the ground. "And you'll find dinner in the fridge. There's wood for the wood stove out back if you need it. I'll be back tomorrow morning at around 11 to pick you up."
That was it. Without a word about lightning—or what we should do if, God forbid, a stray, 10-million-volt bolt were to strike the house with us inside—Robert Weathers climbed into his four-wheel-drive SUV and tore off down the washboard of a dirt road, a mushroom cloud of dust in his wake. As the air cleared, it struck me that the six of us who'd ridden out to this desolate high-desert outpost with Weathers were now effectively stranded for the next 24 hours, till the cowboy returned, in the middle of nowhere.
But this "nowhere"—the arid ranch lands north of Quemado, New Mexico, about 120 miles southwest of Albuquerque—was indeed "somewhere," especially if you were familiar with post-modern art. Six of us had been dropped off here for a very specific reason: to experience the Lightning Field, a 1970s-era art project that's considered a seminal piece of minimalist art and which is a well-known travel destination for curious art (and lightning) lovers.
ANDREW WEIL HAS A SORE FOOT. A FEW DAYS AGO HE stepped on a cactus on his 120-acre ranch here, about forty-five minutes southeast of Tucson. Either that, or a spider bit him. He's not sure. At any rate, his foot has swelled up with infection. He's tried treating it the natural way, by soaking it in warm water, but it's only gotten worse. So he's been forced to start a cycle of antibiotics, those high-powered goon squads of conventional medicine.
The situation is a neat summary of the concept that Weil calls integrative medicine, which involves elements of both Western medicine and natural cures. It's a philosophy that has made Weil a powerful force. His round, bald pate, squinty eyes and Santa Claus beard are familiar from his seemingly constant appearances on PBS and Larry King Live, where he's known for providing health advice to grateful callers. On the jackets of his bestselling books, Weil is frequently called the guru of alternative medicine, but he doesn't much care for that description. "It's the source of a lot of trouble," he says of "guru," because it conveys an imbalance of power between guru and disciple. "I prefer to think of myself as the godfather." Whether they view Weil as godfather or savior, millions of people have found Weil's gospel of integrative medicine terrifically inspiring. Weil's book sales--he's published nine (see sidebar)--are impressive: His last three titles, preceding a cookbook co-written with Rosie Daley, have sold five million copies in the United States alone. He's a linchpin of the alternative medicine movement, and if he wasn't the first to give voice to many of the ideas he stands for, he was certainly the founding father who became a star. "Lots of people were advocating herbs and natural healing throughout the '70s and '80s," says Barb Tischler, of Herbs, Etc., a store in Santa Fe, New Mexico. "But he's the one who got the message out to the public."
A cool August evening, the final weekend of Ramadan, and I was planted on a comfortable sofa on the rooftop patio of a three-story stone house in an olive grove near the Palestinian village of Sawahre. The surrounding Judaean Mountains, known to Palestinians as Jabal al-Khalil, appeared as huge, dark, breaching whales against the stars, and, to the west, the sky was glowing yellow from the obscured lights of Jerusalem. There were others with me: the three grown children of the Halaseh family, with whom I was staying, seated in chairs. The two eldest, Rana and Reham, are beautiful, sassy, and highly educated (both hold Ph.D.s); Tamer, the “baby” brother at 36, doesn’t have a Ph.D., but what he lacks in official credentials is more than made up for by his intimate knowledge of just about every square inch of his troubled country. Satiated from iftar, we had formed a circle around a three-foot-tall hookah filled with smoldering apple shishaand were taking turns puffing on the snakelike pipe and drinking from a bottle of high-octane arak. Chocolate candies were passed around. It was peaceful here, and that wasn’t only because of the shared indulgences. I was experiencing a side of Palestine most outsiders don’t know exists, unless you spend time with a Palestinian family. Of course, in Palestine, peace isn’t a permanent fixture. Over the next three weeks, I would see for myself the tragedy that is Palestine, as well as its tremendous natural beauty.
"It's all about using your head to try to squeeze another mile an hour or two out of your engine," explains Mary West, a 73-year-old great-grandmother from Utah, who also answers to the title Mom of the Bonneville Salt Flats. For years she's acted as spokesperson, cheerleader, mechanic's assistant, driver psychotherapist, and anything else necessary to pull off Speed Week, an event with nearly 400 cars and thousands of spectators.
Of course, she also knows a thing or two about racing. Recalling her first run here, she gushes about putting the pedal to the metal and holding tight to a vibrating steering wheel: "The adrenaline rush nearly knocks you out. After you've driven on the salt, all you can think about for days is the crunching of tires on the salt, acceleration that pins you against your seat, and the banging of the car's side panels. You never forget your first ride on the Flats."
While the Mom of the Salt Flats looms large in modern drag racing, the star of the show is the vast expanse of salt itself. Located in western Utah along I-80 near the Nevada border, it consists of sodium chloride—table salt—and gypsum. And has existed since Lake Bonneville dried up some 13,000 years ago.
This is part of a magazine feature story about Swedish adventurer Goran Kropp. The piece first appeared in National Geographic Adventure.
The World According to Kropp
By Brad Wetzler
He cycled 7,000 miles [11,265 kilometers] to Everest, summitted, then biked home. Now, once he knocks off the North Pole, he plans to sail from Sweden to Antarctica, drag a sled to the South Pole, then turn around and retrace his route. Meet Göran Kropp, a true lunatic for adventure.
If Göran Kropp were living a thousand years ago, his headwear of choice would be a Viking helmet, fashioned of wood and adorned with bull horns.
He might be prowling the coastline for things to plunder, or banging on the table with a frothy mug of mead. But Kropp has both feet planted firmly in the 21st century, in the thick wealds of southern Sweden. So instead, he’s wearing a baseball cap, gunning the gas on his 2000 Opel, and chattering away on his cell phone.
It’s 10 a.m. on a sparkling June morning, and Kropp is piloting the car north across the Øresund Bridge, a mammoth steel structure that connects the Danish city of Copenhagen to the southern tip of Sweden.
The sun is peeling back shaggy blankets of morning fog to reveal the calm, cobalt-blue water of the Baltic Sea. Inside the car, things are a little more chaotic. Instead of watching the road, Kropp is conducting business as if he were at his desk: schmoozing, scheming, joking.
He’s also fiddling with the stereo knobs, scarfing a melting chocolate bar, and, to my dismay, using his knees to steer, making occasional faces as if his expression alone could save us from careering over the guardrail.
I want to tell you about a book that, each time I open it, makes me a better writer. You probably haven't heard of it, or of the author, Ted Solotaroff. It’s not a best-seller like Bird by Bird or a popular favorite like Stephen King’s On Writing. In fact, I’ve never seen another copy of this essay collection other than the coffee-stained, dog-eared one I own. But this book—just one essay in it, actually—is my savior. It’s my savior during dark nights of the soul, when I lurch, when I desire to say something meaningful and truthful, when I wish to say it in MY own unique and original voice.
I bought my copy of A Few Good Voices in My Head at a used bookstore in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood during my graduate school years. I don’t recall the shop’s name, but walking its aisles was a Saturday afternoon ritual, especially during the dead of a brutal Chicago winter when the snow flies horizontally off the lake and pelts you in the face like buckshot. This shop was stuffed with books. And they were practically free. Well, $3 per grocery bagful—an amazing deal if you bought small books of poetry, and still awfully good deal if you bought dictionaries and encyclopedias. Moreover, if you were trading in books that afternoon, your books might be free. Or you might even make a few dollars. Sometimes I felt guilty when I left the shop with two grocery bags full of books and and two extra dollars in my pocket, enough to stop off and get a Chicago hotdog fully loaded.
A Few Good Voices in My Head wasn’t on the shelf where the other books on writing sat. It lay at the bottom of a knee-high stack of books on the floor. When I opened it, I noticed that one chapter was particularly heavily annotated. Sentences were underlined two and three times. Asterisks indicated the previous owner’s favorite whole paragraphs. In the corner of one page was a math problem: 22 divided by 7, in long division. I had to own this book.
Today, that book is more marked-up than when I bought it. I’ve underlined my favorite lines. I’ve written asterisks next to meaningful paragraphs. Sometimes my underlines match the previous owners. Sometimes they don’t. The cover is worn and tattered and faded, like a papyrus scroll discovered in a cave by a wandering bedouin millennia after its author had turned to dust. I can’t imagine losing this book.
But enough of this blithe reminiscing. Why is A Few Good Voices in My Head so important to me? How does it save me from dark nights of the soul?
The essay begins with a scene: It’s early 1970s, and we’re in Solotaroff’s office at The American Review. A young writer—I picture a boyish man in his 20s with shaggy hair and wire-rimmed glasses; I picture me in graduate school. This anxious, ambitious kid doesn’t want to write for Rolling Stone. That magazine is too faddish and glib, he says. No, this kid wants to be a writer. He wants to say something meaningful, truthful—and in a voice that readers will remember.
There’s just one problem. This young writer doesn’t know what to write about? Neither does he know what his voice is like.
“So what are you looking for when you select a piece for publication?” he asks.
Solotarnoff’s answers quickly, with boilerplate editor-speak, explaining that he favors pieces which “seemed necessary for the writer to have written.”
But what does that mean, the young writer wants to know. “OK,” he says, “but look—you write yourself, right? Who do you write for?”
Solotaroff doesn’t dodge this question so easily. He pauses and ponders and then he says the words that I find so meaningful, even magical: “I guess I write for a few good voices in my head.”
This answer appeals to the young writer. Suddenly, he gets it: He says with overt 1970s insouciance: “Right on!”
What does Solotaroff mean?
He explains. I’ll paraphrase. There’s only one way to find your own voice: by listening to your favorite literary influences, the good voices in your head.
That’s the gist, the essence, the gold.
Our heads are full of voices, both good and bad. Lines from favorite books. The styles of favored writers. And these voices are constantly chattering behind the curtain of your thoughts. Don’t ignore this chatter. Tune it in. Pull the voices apart. Listen to them. The reason we remember these voices is because they say what we WANT to say. They say what you NEED to say. They say it better, but who cares? In essence, they already are telling your story, your truths. So listen!
Solotaroff says it this way:
"These [voices] empower you because they confer upon the enterprise of writing a more powerful and refined version of your way of feeling, your sense of truth.”
More important, they lend hopefulness to a writer’s despair. How? By adopting you, by being your surrogate father or mother.
“By being there, if only in your imagination, [a good voice] prevents you from being an orphan as a writer.”
Listening to them is “like a good friend or a good psychotherapist who brings out and confirms your better nature, who prompts your calmest, most personal, most truthful voice. It’s also not so very different from prayer.”
I like that last line. I’ll say it again, “[Listening to the good voices in your head is] also not so very different from prayer.”
And so, every New Year’s, I pause to pray. I listen to the chatter behind the current of my thoughts. Sometimes it’s not easy to pull the voices apart. But when I do, I hear writers such as Joan Didion and Bruce Chatwin. Charles Portis. Mark Doty. Rebecca Solnit. Camus. Hunter Thompson’s “good” stuff and Dostoyevsky. (What a pair that would be to have a drink with?)
Well, this New Year’s, these are the voices I listened to.
Next year, it might be different.
I love the way Solotaroff’s essay ends: When everything breaks down, he says, and you feel like you can’t go on—like you shouldn’t go on—that’s when you must rely on those good voices.
“I know this to be so because each time the crisis hits full force again—when I say I must abandon this, it’s just too painful to go on, I’m too ignorant, too superficial, I don’t have enough time, I can’t write anyway—I’ll open a book of literary pieces…and read a page or two, quiet down, gather myself, and say: Well, that’s what it’s all about, he’s just telling the truth as best he can, get on with it.”
My response to Solotaroff’s wisdom: With casual 1970s-style insouciance, I say, Right on!
About the Workshop:
A former senior editor and a longtime contributor to Outside magazine, Brad Wetzler has traveled on assignment for many major magazines. In this class, he distills his knowledge and wisdom into a workshop focused on teaching you to write powerful travel narratives. You’ve taken the trip, you have the stories to tell, but you’re not quite sure how to turn an exciting experience into a riveting travel story. This pen-to-
In March, I delivered the keynote address at the launch of Journal Twenty Twenty, a journal of creative nonfiction produced by students in the University of Colorado's Program for Writing and Rhetoric. As a guest editor and advisor to the journal, I contributed the following introductory piece.
ON JOURNAL TWENTY TWENTY
Once, on a reporting trip to India for WIRED magazine, a cab driver offered me this advice: “If you want to be a human, you must go to the burning ghats, and watch the bodies burn.” The cabbie’s words haunted me. I finished my reporting and flew north to the ancient city of Varanasi, took a cab to the city center, and descended a staircase drowning with humanity. At river’s edge, I hired the first boatman I saw, a thin teenager named Aryan. “Take me, please, to see the bodies burn,” I said. Thirty minutes later, squinting through thick smoke, I stepped onto an ash-covered shore, impossibly close to the hot fire—a remote corner of Hell, I thought. Two men carried an ornately decorated litter over and set it on a metal rack. As flames ripped through its white sheet, I was shocked by what I saw: a thick mane of long black hair and the gentle curves of a woman’s face. Too young to die, I thought. We stared. That was my job: to witness. Hours later, all that remained was a charred section of sacrum and a single vertebra. Both bones were removed from the ashes, set next to a flower and a flickering candle on a tiny boat, and let go into the Mother Ganges, an offering from the dead. I said a prayer to nobody and climbed back into Aryan’s boat. Three days later, back in the States, I knew I’d been changed, though exactly how I hadn’t a clue. Transformation. Many stories in this issue of JOURNAL TWENTY TWENTY explore this—not the type in Hollywood movies, but the hard-won variety, burning away the past. Talicia Montoya give us a healthy dose of truth in her poignant piece, “NO, NOT LIKE THAT.” Her writing is both gritty and soft, as she walks us through her realization that she is asexual, arrived at like scratching an itch till it bleeds. But the story is also beautiful. By the end, we experience what she experienced: new hope that she’s not alone. Indeed, maybe there’s a tribe of her. Nozomi Kido’s “EPIDURAL HEMATOMA” tells the story of both painful injury and growth, a transformation by transcendence, permanently inked on her body, “Mom, I’m not scared.” “TO GUATEMALA AND BACK” by Makena Lambert plays with arrival and transcendence as well, born not of pain or physical trauma but of a very particular type of love: the temporary love experienced during a study abroad in a foreign country. Her story, both graceful and bittersweet, depicts the arrival at a new, more honest place. Love is temporary. We are all temporary. Stories are eternal. BRAD WETZLER