Thursday, January 7, 2010

Susan Stroh: Coaching it Out of You

Susan Stroh is one of those people who asks about you first. To start a conversation she says something nice about you--not your outfit, you. She points out something intriguing she heard you say, or mentions how well you carry yourself or how interesting your work is. She knows how to focus outside herself. I imagine this skill comes in pretty handy in her work. But I wanted to focus on her this time.

Susan and I met through the Women's City Club Business Boot Camp. A writer and editor (she published 15 personal essays in 2009 alone), Susan has an office but she'd rather work at Pasadena's Central Library, so we met for a cup of coffee at Central Grounds. With our shared backgrounds in acting and writing, we found a lot to talk about--my acting, my writing, my blog--wait a minute--I was supposed to be interviewing her. How does she do that?

Besides her own writing, Susan's in the business of coaching other writers. It fits. Her gifts for getting people to open up and for seeing an individual's strengths are ideal for a writing coach, because each writer is different. With novelists, for example, coaching might involve a good deal of brainstorming. With those working on a memoir, a session with Susan might be about coaxing an idea to fruition. Susan describes part of her process as "finding what the client is doing right and encouraging them to do more of it."

I told her I'm so intent on my own work I don't think I could focus that hard on someone else's. I asked how she does it. Her answer: "Standing back and creating a vacuum for the writer to fill is so satisfying to them that it's satisfying to me."

She can be tough. She expects agreements to be kept and deadlines to be met. "So many people mean to write, plan to write, say they're going to write, and put off writing. I help them keep the promises they make to themselves."

"I know," I said. "I had to set a deadline, then tell people about it so I'd be accountable."

"What's your deadline for?" she asked.

And I was off again, telling Susan my story instead of getting hers. I'm not selfish. Really I'm not. She's just that good at coaxing my story out of me.

Morning classes for Susan Stroh's ten-week Memoir and Personal Essay Writing Workshop begin January 20th. Evening classes start February 2nd. For more information and to sign up, contact SusanStroh (at) sbcglobal.net or call (818) 497-7486.

23 comments:

Italo said...

Very nice the first sentence. I would like to be able to ask like susan. Happy 2010 miss Burchard :)

Kim said...

You've captured her with your words and this image. She strikes me as a visual cross between a beautiful member of the Kennedy family (Maria Shriver perhaps?) and a young Emmilou Harris. Great image!
-Kim

Petrea said...

I think the skill can be learned, Italo. She makes the effort. Happy 2010 to you, too!

Kim, nice to see you. I've done it, I guess, because she does have a soft Kennedy look and an open quality about her. Thank you!

Bellis said...

That's a brilliant title, and what a treat to have two Pasadena treasures in one photo. Susan looks so pretty in that window and sounds a really nice person.

Chuck Pefley said...

That's a wonderful trait to have. You're blessed to know her and be able to share your story with her. Leading questions help us formulate and sharpen our focus. Sounds like a very valuable connection for both of you. Win-win!

Your portrait of Susan has a very timeless quality about it. Nice.

Clifford Beshers said...

Agreed. Great portrait, Petrea.

Petrea said...

Thanks. This was a lot of fun. Susan's comfortable with the camera--her acting background gives her an ease with it, I think.

"Leading questions help us formulate and sharpen our focus." Well said, Chuck.

pasadenapio said...

Central Grounds is a lovely setting for meetings, or just to get away for some alone time. What a nice photo.

Tash said...

Perfect essay P.
Great portrait - Susan has a lovely, warm smile too.

Petrea said...

Thanks, PIO. I think Central Grounds is a perfect addition to the library. The service there is very friendly, too.

Tash, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Ms M said...

Sounds like she's an excellent coach. Are you taking a class?

Petrea said...

Not at this time, Ms. M. I would have said so in the post. "Blogging with integrity" here!

Dina said...

You are so lucky.
Both of you.

Jilly said...

The image captivated me first and then reading your words. You really bring this exceptional lady to life, Petrea. I wish she were down the road from me! Well I wish you were too...

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I'll p[ass this info on to someone I think her class might benefit

Petrea said...

Dina, like you, we're lucky to live in a place with such a diverse population and interesting people to meet.

Jilly, I don't doubt that Susan and I would both enjoy being down the road from you as well.

Thanks, PA. I'd feel gratified if Susan got a few calls out of the post. I haven't studied with her but I think she's a great lady and I like her writing.

Lori Lynn said...

Very interesting post.My friend Charlotte is like that, and I think part of it is that she truly is interested in and fascinated with others.
LL

Petrea said...

It must be so, LL. I don't think you can manufacture that quality, though maybe you can practice it.

Natalie said...

What a delightful post. Susan sounds like an amazing woman. I'm not sure which I like better--your photo or your words!

Susan said...

I am blown away by all the kind words written by your readers about me and about your article/photo presentation of your version of me, Petrea!
Artists who admire people, places and things in their environment, bring out the best in them! Petrea is one of those artists. She also endows her subjects with beauty and value. Her resultant work shimmers with vitality!

Thank you for the pleasure of being one of your subjects. I am grateful for the connection to your generous and thoughtful readers. Susan

Petrea said...

I am tempted to use a smiley emoticon, but I have my standards.

It was a pleasure.

Terry August said...

Well written article that captures Susan's spirit perfectly. I know her and yes, she can open anyone up by her genuine interest in them. A valuable asset to be sure.
I enjoyed the article thoroughly and will be checking out your blog consistently.

Petrea said...

Thank you, Terry, I'm glad you found the piece about Susan. I hope people see her ad here and sign up for her workshops. I think she has a lot to offer.