consulting clients

As a writing consultant, I try to help my clients understand their own writing habits and behaviors. I ask them questions about how they go about planning, writing, and revising. If they know about the writing process in general and understand their own habits and behaviors, they may be better able to reaffirm or improve the latter. In contrast, if they don’t know and have problems, they’re more likely to think that this is just the way they work. Learning about alternatives can inspire writers to experiment with new tools and strategies.

When clients reflect on how they manage the different phases of the writing process, they might find out which strategies work for them. We find different typologies of writers and their work habits in writing research and consulting literature. The typologies are often derived from empirical research and therefore do not always cover every possibility. Some of them work with metaphors of the types of writers, such as “the architect”, “the drawer”, or “the oil painter”. Others refer to them in terms of “the writer of versions”, “the editor”, “the spontaneous” and so on. The typologies I’ve seen range from five to ten strategies. Because the term “writing type” might suggest a fixed or unalterable way of writing, I prefer to use the term “writing strategies”. While I follow a strategy, I can still try other strategies should it not work. The knowledge of the variety of writing strategies and the option of changing and experimenting with them, thus, forms an important tool for consulting struggling writers.

Far from telling clients how they should work and how they should best change their work pattern, I want to give them the opportunity to find out for themselves. They all have their individual work and writing strategies that may or may not fit one of the typologies. The goal isn’t to fit into a predetermined strategy, but rather to see one’s individual behaviors and habits. They may well combine different strategies, depending on the writing context.

In my case, for example, I usually think about what I want to write here in my blog and sometimes make some short notes. At the writing session, I just sit down and start to write, revising the text afterwards or later in the day. If I work on a bigger project, I plan the different stages in the process. I also think more about the structure of the text in advance, making a preliminary outline, even if I know that I will alter it at least once more after completing the first draft. Only after the first draft do I start to revise. If I try to come up with ideas for a new project, I write to find out what I know and what I have to say about a topic – without a plan, structure, or any other “scaffolding”. However, I try to omit writing and revising at the same time, because it slows down my writing and would very likely stir my inner censor. What I’ve never done so far is to write different versions of the same text, so that I can choose one of them for the further work. During my studies, I tried to think a text through and then write it down – a strategy that never worked for me, because I ended up doing everything at the same time, anxious of the impending deadline.

Writers who think that they have one strategy that fits all writing contexts might profit from knowing about other strategies. Maybe that one strategy works for them. In this case, I won’t try to convince them of other strategies. But if they struggle with their usual strategy – and that’s when they likely seek help from me – we try to discover how else they could work. There’s no need for them to be blocked just because they think that their way of working is the only way, without knowing consciously what it consists of.

Similar to the decisions writers make in their texts – about voice, reader orientation, argument and so on –, they also need to make decisions before and during the writing process. In other words: if you don’t know what you do or how, you won’t know how to improve the process if you get stuck. So, in the long run it might be worth investing into ‘prevention’ than into trouble-shooting. Deliberately choosing writing strategies will help do so.

Next week, I will start a new post series. I will talk about different writing exercises that may help to initiate the process or its reflection.


Although I’m new to the business of consulting students and scholars, I’ve already learned a lot on the job as well as by reading about it. Now I would like to talk about the work a writing consultant does and what clients may expect. No doubt, there are different approaches of how to do the job. One I would like to discuss seems to be widespread and well documented (for those who read German, I can recommend the recently published Zukunftsmodell Schreibberatung by E. Grieshammer et al.).

The basic principle I try to apply in my work is that of helping academic writers to help themselves. As I learned, I should not just try to tell a client what she should do about a writing problem. Rather, I should let her find a solution herself by supporting her learning process. This is easier said than done. I see at least two challenges in this: first, my eagerness to help solve problems may become a problem itself, because the client won’t learn how to tackle a challenge in the future, but will instead get a quick fix from me. Second, the client who expects me to just help him with the present challenge so that he can continue to work without having to learn something new. Both undermine the main principle. I won’t say that quick fixes don’t have their rightful place, but they should be the exception.

The principle of help for self-help connects to other aspects of writing consultancy. Although I don’t reject clients who like to talk about their text – the final product – I’m more concerned with the writing process. How do they plan their writing, how do they manage their time, how do they structure the process of creating a text, and how do they cope with setbacks and other challenges? While I too often intervene in a text because I happen to see something they could or should change, this isn’t my job as a consultant. Rather, together with the clients, my job is to find adequate tools and strategies to support their writing process. If they want me to look at the text in regard to style, for example, we will do so together with the help of examples. But here too, it should be the client who decides about the stylistic changes. I’m only a facilitator who helps the client to discover his or her own resources. With this approach, the clients are more likely to find a solution the next time the challenge arises, without needing my help. In the end, they are responsible for their writing and have to be able to defend their decisions. If the decisions and changes come from the writing consultant, the writer might get into trouble.

Whenever I suggest a strategy or change, I try to make clear that it is my suggestion. While this might be tedious to hear time and again, it remains important for me as a consultant. I can suggest many things that would work for me. It’s easy to do so, because I won’t be writing or revising the text myself. Suggestions, then, have the function to initiate or provoke thoughts and decisions. They’re not necessarily the right ones. That is why I tell my clients that they have to decide themselves. But whatever they do, it’s central that they know what they’re doing and why.

The consulting context, thus, depends equally on the consultant’s as well as the client’s orientation and expectations. Until now, I have not yet experienced any clash of expectations that would have prevented my work with clients. But I have to be as transparent as possible when it comes to disclosing my work principles and expectations.

Next week, I will talk about how clients can profit from knowing how they write.

Mast 31 | Fabian Leuthold

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