Janey Burton


Editor & Contracts Negotiator

By Nicole Johnston

The short answer is no: you need neither a writing coach nor a ghostwriter. Why? Because ‘need’ is a loaded word. You can do it without any help. You can learn what you need to know to become a writer, and even a good one, without them.

Writers are more than capable of writing their own books if they are prepared to put in the time and work. In simple and very blunt terms, writing is 3% talent and 97% persistence. Those who get their books written are the writers who put in the work. Persistence here includes reading and learning about writing. Every single word we write makes us better writers.

So, if that’s true, why would anyone need a writing coach or a ghostwriter? Great question.

A writing coach’s mission is for you to finish your book. Happily, I have a 100% success rate with my writing coaching clients: they all complete their first drafts within four months. In fact, the vast majority finish within three and a half. What do I do to make that happen?

There are three primary reasons writers benefit from having a writing coach:

  • Accountability;
  • Confidence; and
  • Tools & strategies.


Key to your success is matching your vision with the action you take. Writing every day is non-negotiable for anyone who wants to finish their book in four months. However, I have done a great deal of work on how long writers will need to write every day to finish their first draft within four months. As little as 10 minutes per day can mean a writer completes a short business book within three months (with an average length of 30,000 – 50,000 words).

We will put together a plan, and I have video and written resources to help do that. The level of detail of the plan depends on you. Some writers are plotters, and some are what we call ‘pantsers’ (we ‘fly by the seat of our pants’). Both are fine and it’s a no-brainer that plotters will have longer, more detailed plans and pantsers will have considerably shorter, simpler ones.

We will set clear and achievable daily, weekly, and monthly goals. There is no advantage to setting goals you can’t achieve. Nobody is ever motivated by that. However, setting goals that you succeed at, and perhaps even exceed, is hugely inspiring. Watching your word count rise steadily is exciting and satisfying. I have weekly and monthly tracking sheets so we can set targets and track whether or not you are meeting them. This tells us whether we need to adjust them in our coaching sessions.

Research tells us that writing down our goals ups our chances of achieving them significantly but sharing them with someone who will keep you accountable ups your chances of success by 97%.


Every writer has wobbles. Most of us have them several times a week. The difference is the more experienced amongst us have had time to develop strategies to move past the ‘Everything I write is rubbish’ moments. Having a writing coach means that you have someone to bounce those concerns off and they can share with you the techniques and tools they use for themselves and their clients to move past these frustrating ‘inner critic’ episodes.

Every writer I have worked with has found having someone on their side, who they check-in with regularly, has helped them stay on track. Dealing with these ‘blocks’ or hiccups quickly, so they don’t sabotage the work of getting your book written, is particularly effective. It’s incredibly helpful to know that many thousands of writers before you and after you will struggle with the same challenges and the persistent amongst us all move past them and get our books written. A writing coach can help make sure you are in that number.

Tools & strategies

Everyone can learn to write, and everyone can learn to write well. How quickly that happens can be helped by a writing coach. I’ve spent many years researching, reading, and writing, and inevitably experience and practice in any area builds our toolbox. So, I can help you by speeding that learning process up. You don’t have to learn these tools and strategies because I can share them with you from my own learning. I fully expect every writer will still be learning about writing until we pass on from this mortal coil, but writing coaches can streamline the process for you, saving many months, if not years.

How does ghostwriting differ?

Most of us who are writing coaches and ghostwriters will tell ask you to consider writing coaching first. We want you to experience the thrill and satisfaction of having written your own book because then you will know that you can do it again whenever you choose.

Seth Godin is right when he says that the book that will most change your life is the one you write yourself. It is an achievement that can never be taken away from you. So many people say they want to write a book, but few start and very, very few ever finish.

However, there are many people who simply don’t have the time to write their own book or have a block to writing that they are unable to get past in time to get their book written. Businesspeople are a good example of this. It often makes more financial sense for them to take someone on to write their book than it does for them to spend time learning how to do it and writing it themselves. Those writing memoirs can find it much easier and more straightforward to have someone help them to decide what parts of their life are relevant to the book they are writing and what aren’t. Those are just two examples.

One important thing to know is that in the ghostwriting process you are always the author. It is your story; I am just getting the words on paper for you.

The vast majority of my ghostwriting clients’ books take four months to write, but this is dependent on the length of the book they are writing. Most books my clients write are between 30,000 and 40,000 words and are comfortably finished within four months.

The four months will be broken up into:

  • Content collection;
  • Drafting; and
  • Reviewing.

Content collection

This takes place in the first six weeks. It happens in a range of ways and is usually a mix of previous documentation (blogs, articles, journals); written and/or audio information provided by you; and recorded interview sessions.


Once the content collection is completed, the first step is to draft chapter one. This chapter is critical and may go through several reviews with the author in order to get it right. It provides a template or standard for the rest of the chapters. I need to get the tone and voice right. It must sound like you. The language has to be pitched at the right level.

I always encourage authors to take a less formal approach because that is easier and more enjoyable for readers. Once the author is happy with the first chapter, I draft further chapters and send them through for the author to review.

It may be interesting to know that the introduction and conclusion of your book are very often written last. This is because the book can develop and change as it is written.


Once the last chapter is finished the author will have seen all of the chapters, they will have sent their feedback back to me and I will have made their changes. I then put the book together into a full manuscript and ensure it flows as a story. It’s then sent to the author to read through and provide feedback. I complete those changes, do a basic proofread and send it back to the author for a second review and sign off.

Both are good options for aspiring writers. With writing coaching you save money and learn to write a book. With ghostwriting you save a lot of time and don’t have to learn to write a book in a hurry. You don’t ‘need’ either – but they both work well if, for any reason, you would like help to write your book.


Nicole Johnston is an author, ghostwriter and bookcoach who helps busy people get their books written. You can join her free Writing Tribe on Facebook, or follow her on Instagram, Linkedin and Twitter. Find out more at www.writingtribe.com