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The Six Pillars of Your Writing Education

November 28, 2017

By Art Holcomb

I’ve been a writing teacher for a very long time.

I started in the 1990’s with a small group of students and, today, I teach classes and seminars in-person and through the internet to people throughout the U.S., in eleven different countries in four different languages.

And, unfortunately, I see the same problems everywhere I go.

What we do, as writers, is separate and lonely.  We write and dream and hunger for the kind of information and guidance that we need to move forward – to level up, as we talked about last time.

I think you are some of the lucky ones – because you’re here . . .

You found Larry and StoryFix and you’re beginning to see that not all craft information is the same.

There are some sources, like StoryFix, which are dedicated to getting you what you absolutely need to learn your craft and thrive.

It would be fantastic if every site could be like this one.

But the internet can be an unending stream of junk information which, at best, is weak regurgitations of classic insights and, at worst, is misleading and harmful.

But that’s even not the biggest problem.

The absolute worst thing I’ve found is that many writers are led to believe that this never- ending diet of craft McNuggets is all they need for success.  That this diet of informational fast food is enough to move them to the next level and show them the path to achievement in writing.

This is simply not true.

This is misleading.

And you deserve much more.

How I began here.

I came to Larry and StoryFix in 2011.  I was already a successful working writer. But I was so moved by what Larry had to say that I sent him a note, telling him that I thought he was on to something very special with this site and his books.

He was kind enough to invite me to guest post and I have need here off and on ever since.

What made this possible is that we were of a very similar mindset.

What drives us both are these two separate concepts:

  • The need to get real craft information into the hands of writers ready to hear it – and actually use it – and…
  • The need to fight back against the well-meaning but damaging information that fills the internet.

So – here it is.

So that there is no misunderstanding about where I‘m coming from, here is a list of what I believe you REALLY need for success as a writer – what I call the Six Pillars of Success:

  • High Quality Craft Information
  • A constantly available Mentoring Relationship
  • A short Feedback Loop
  • Real, Effective Accountability
  • An ever-improving Process
  • Access to Deep Writing

Pillar #1 – High Quality Craft Information

There is a reason why Aristotle is revered amongst writers.

Why Joseph Campbell and Robert McKee are honored names.

And why you come back to StoryFix – and Larry Brooks – time and time again . . .

Because we all are thirsty travelers crossing an unending desert.

From an informational and craft standpoint, the internet – your main source of information about writing – is filled with hacks, tips, secrets, and top-ten lists, all from well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) writers wanting to share their knowledge with you.

Here are some standards by which you could judge any piece of information you’re considering.

  • Is it MEANINGFUL? Does it make sense to you on a craft level? Is it there to make you writing better or is it touted to make your writing easier? Is it appropriate for your level right now? Does it sound like the writer is trying to impress you, rather than seriously help you?

I’ve been writing all my life and one thing has been as true today as it have seen for the last 40 years . . .

Good writing is not easy. It is troubling and difficult.

Why? Because it is meant to be.

And anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something.

All art must come from some deeper place, and the talent that you seek does not lie on the surface.  Like gold in the ground, it requires hard work and digging to access.  This frankly is because all good things are hard to achieve.

If you find writing to be easy, simple, breezy and completely enjoyable, it’s very possible that you’re not even scratching the surface of what you can accomplish.

  • Is it VALUABLE? Will this information lead you to write something that is unlike anything you’ve ever written before? Can it help you to get published and build an audience? Can you instantly see that what you are able to do with this information is as good as what you see in books, movies, short stories and stage plays? When you share your work with others, are they clearly moved by your words?

Whether it’s for publication or merely for exercise, will this information help you to become a better writer?

  • Is it RARE? Quite simply, will it help make your most recent piece of work the best thing you have done to date? Is it clearly, and instantly better?

That, in a nutshell, is what you want in all the craft information you are considering.

Whether you’re getting the information from a post, a book, or a seminar like one of mine, you want to be ever moving forward. And, if you’re honest with yourself, you can already recognize the difference between information that tells you something that you can really use, and something that simply tells you something you’ve heard many times before.

So, you need to develop some real radar about what is useful and what is not.  In the weeks ahead, we’ll try to help you develop that sense, and teach you to fill your individual tool boxes with valuable tools and insights.

Next time, we’ll talk about Pillar #2 – The need for a positive mentoring relationship in your life.

Until then, just keep writing.

Art

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Level Up: A Master Teacher Uniquely Frames the Writer’s Journey

by Art Holcomb

A quick thanks to Larry for making me feel welcomed as we join forces to make STORYFIX into THE premier site for writers anywhere.

For those of you who don’t know me: I’ve been a working professional writer for more than forty years and have been successful at selling stage plays, more than 150 comic books (including The Avengers and The X-Men), screenplays, animation and non-fiction. I sold my first stage play at the tender age of thirteen and I worked with all four modern Star Trek TV shows (TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise). In recent years, I continue to write screen and stage plays, and have dedicated my time to teaching and training screenwriters and novelists through private coaching and my audio training seminars.

In all – and like Larry – I’ve worked hard to make sure that you have the educational information and insights that you need and demand so that you can move ahead in your writing career.

But what exactly does that mean? 

How can we chart our progress as writers? Are sales and self-published works enough to consider ourselves a success?

I believe that writing is an apprenticeship – a profession that requires hard work and dedication, as well as several failures along to way to drive home the points of this craft.  There are actual levels of success in writing, as there are in any other profession and, before we move on, we should talk about those a bit. Because modern-day info-nuggets like hacks, top-ten-lists and secrets to writing are common, but could never be enough to really train you to be a writer.

For our purposes here, let’s divide the career path of a writer into four groups, not unlike those stages your hero may go through in the course of his or her story.

They are:

THE ORPHAN: This is where we all start. We all began with a desire to write but little idea what that means. Perhaps we discovered the emotional satisfaction of writing when we were young and found that getting our words down on paper was a great way to deal with the ups and downs of teenage life, and learned just how our mind and soul worked through the mirror of writing. We tried – and found – that the art of creating could make us feel happy and fulfilled in ways we never knew before.  Words gave us our voice and thereby our power.

In this stage, we had:

  • HEARD that there were books and blogs
  • SEEN the ads for classes and seminars, and
  • WONDERED whether there were conferences and gatherings of like-minded writers . . .

. . . and we continued to write.

THE WANDERER:  This, then, is the LEARNING stage of writing: You fully accepted the Call to Action that your passion demanded. You learn that there are rules to the art and you begin to build your own highly personal writer’s tool box, adding new insights and techniques with every word you wrote. You start to look critically at your writing, and finally gather the nerve to show it to other for comments. You actually completed your first works at this stage and made the stunning realization that you have more than one story inside you. You could not wait to see your work in print or on the big screen. You’ve perhaps made at least one sale by this time and have found a real hunger for more. You could almost feel your future book in your hand and could not wait to see your name on the cover and in reviews.

It’s here that you first become frustrated with your work and started learning that the true art comes in the rewriting – not the first draft.

At this stage, you:

  • BEGAN READING the books and blogs
  • WENT to your first conference
  • TOOK the classes and seminars. . .

. . . and you wrote.

THE WARRIOR: By now, you have finally gone ALL IN! You have chosen your form, and have read all the great writers in your genre. You may have lain awake aching over the fact that you fear you may never be as good as them. You have begun submitting regularly and have written several manuscripts that no one will ever see as you work to build your craft, moving from the traditional role of apprentice to the position of journeyman. By now, you have made several sales and have begun to gather a real following of fans. You are firmly in the CRAFT of writing now and can see on the horizon the level of ARTIST waiting for you. You have seen the wider possibilities of your stories, created worlds in which a multitude of stories could be told, and have move solidly from Writer to Creator.

At this level, you:

  • STUDY the books and blogs
  • WORK the conferences
  • LOVE the many classes you take

and you write…

THE ARTIST: By now, years have passed and your name is known to thousands.  You start receiving fan mail. You are finally writing the works that you were born to write and creating deep emotional stories that inform, delight and evoke real and lasting emotions in your fans. You’re asked to speak at conferences and your body of work is such that you believe it’s time to start giving back to a new generation of Orphans, Wanderer and Warriors. Your books have an honored place on the bookshelves of writers everywhere and younger writers study you and long to write as well as you do.

At this level, you:

  • WRITE the books
  • SPEAK at the conferences
  • TEACH the classes –

. . . and you write!

Can you identify your level?

In the coming months, Larry and I will be talking about different things, sometimes talking about the same things in different ways, but our mission is always the same: to offer quality craft information to you – to cut through all the static of the Internet and the marketplace, to offer information that is meaningful, valuable and rare.

And we’ll talk about each of these levels individually – and what it will actually take for you to LEVEL UP!

In all, we want to talk about the things that no one else is talking about.

So, the next few posts are going to be special:

Today, we talked about the levels and stages a writer goes through. Next time, I will talk about the REAL reasons you have yet to accomplish what you want to accomplish.  There are aspects to your writing life that are missing – I call them the Six Pillars of Writing.

In the coming months, you’ll see us talk about the pitfalls and traps that modern writers – like yourself – face every day.  We’ll explore the fundamentals in a new way and ask you to write the absolute best story of your life. And we’ll discuss in detail both how to best create a novel or screenplay from a single idea – and how to resurrect an abandoned or problem story once and for all.

And I’ll bring you Tales from Hollywood and expert information from editors, agents and professionals.

So stay with us and you won’t be disappointed. Many of you have been here for while, perhaps years, and to you we commit to raising the bar even above the high level this site has always aspired to reach.

There is always learning to be had.

In all, it’s going to be a wild ride.

And, as always, just keep writing!

Art

*****
Next Up: “The Career-Making Dichotomies of Storytelling,” from Larry.

We’d like to hear from you. Contact us if you have something specific you’d like us to cover, or to offer this readership community. We can’t promise we’ll get to everything (because there is a hierarchy of urgency to all of this), but we promise to address the things that really make a difference.

Contact us at: storyfixer@gmail.com.

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