Q&A with Author and Writing Coach Cami Ostman

This week I had a chance to talk to author and writing coach Cami Ostman about her writing services and some advice on starting a writing group. To learn more, visit her online at http://www.camiostman.net.

ESH: What kinds of services do you offer to writers?

CO: I’ve done some writing coaching, and typically I offer specific feedback on writing according to the client’s goals. It’s super client centered, so if somebody is wanting to publish traditionally, then I keep an eye out for what would make that a more likely outcome for them. Some people just want to write a memoir so that their grandchildren will know who they are, so for those clients I focus on telling the story.

I attend to the skill level of the writer, so if a writer is really strong, I’ll try to push them harder. I have other writers who can’t work with the material as creatively as others, so I basically help them keep the story really solid.

I also coach people in building nonfiction book proposals and author platforms. Basically, it’s about how to publicize themselves before, during, and after publication so they can have the best chance of getting themselves out there when they’re ready.

ESH: Do you have any upcoming workshops? How can people reach you?

CO: I will definitely be doing the 6-week Quest Memoir workshop again. I do a free workshop at the beginning to basically help people decide if what they’re working on is a “quest” memoir. With a quest, there are two parts: there’s the journey you take, whether physical or metaphorical (climbing a mountain, maybe, or navigating a divorce), and there’s the look at what you learned on the journey, with takeaways for the reader. The workshops help people work on those two parts. I teach people how to read one another and listen to one another because the best way to hone skills as a writer is to hone skills as a reader. Workshoppers can do 5–10-minute readings of their work, and for those who don’t have work started, I offer writing prompts to get things going.

The workshop is offered as a conference call with PDF materials to follow. I also create a secret Facebook page where people can interact after each lecture and workshop.

The other thing I offer is the Second Wind program, which helps middle-aged women with transitions in their life. I would say that it’s writing intensive, even though it doesn’t focus on publishing. There is a lot of journaling involved. I will be adding a Writing for Healing program in 2016 as well.

ESH: You mentioned you also work as a therapist. How does that background inform your work as a writing coach?

CO: With nonfiction, publishers are looking for a combination of good stories and takeaways, or scenes that other people can take for their own lives. I think that that’s a little bit of a hard thing to get at. When I was working on my first memoir, my writing coach described to me that I needed to add in the takeaways. As a therapist, I understood this well. In therapy, people tell stories. My job as a therapist is to chisel away at the story until it has meaning. To me, that’s kind of the whole point of a story—how to use the story to figure out your life moving forward.

ESH: Tell me more about your group, Red Wheelbarrow Writers.

CO: Red Wheelbarrow Writers started, really, accidentally. A friend of mine, Susan Tive, and I invited Brooke Warner to come to Bellingham to give a workshop on writing and publishing. We sent out a notice to all the writers that we knew in the whole world, and we also invited Laura Kalpakian to give a workshop as well. One night, after a workshop that we gave, we were like, “Hey, everyone, let’s go get a drink for happy hour,” and the happy hour was such a huge hit. People read to one another from what they were working on for the workshop. So every month we did it, and it’s turned into this huge thing. Every month we gather at a local bar and have an open mic with ten spots. We are not a critique group, so we just cheer one another on.

We’ve expanded to collaborate with local bookstores, and we do a project each year for NaNoWriMo. It’s the most amazing community-building activity because people are excited to come.

ESH: Can you recommend other online resources for budding writers?

CO: A lot of people look for critique groups, and those are hard to put together because you need to find people who are a good fit. I think starting a happy hour is a lot easier because people will come. It’s easier for people to commit to. With the happy hour group, we’ve been at it for so long that we’ve been able to see people’s writing come from draft to publication. It’s really cool to see.

If people want to see the Red Wheelbarrow model, they can Like the Red Wheelbarrow Facebook page. Everyone is welcome to participate there and to use that as a framework for starting their own successful writers’ group.