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.

8 Comments

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

  1. Looking forward to this series.

  2. Your stages of a writer are spot-on. Though we’d all love to become artists, there’s something wonderfully freeing about our time spent as innocent orphans. We don’t yet know what’s coming. 😁

  3. Kerry Boytzun

    Grateful you’re on this journey with us, Art! I appreciate your experience and ideas.

    I’ve been following this site and Larry since 2012 and am psyched for what you guys will do with it next.

    thanks, Kerry

  4. Kerry Boytzun

    Oh yeah, myself and my wife finally met Larry in person at the Columbus Ohio, Central Ohio Fiction Writers workshop he instructed at. I’ve known Larry since 2012 and have read his books, followed this site.

    Larry provided great instructional information and audience interaction that was inspirational to anyone that attended. I recommend any workshop one could get to see him. There’s something you get when it’s live that is special.

  5. Congratulations in your new endeavor, Art and Larry!!! The site looks amazing, love the new header image too. As individuals, you both offer a ton of valuable knowledge and experience. Together, you make an unstoppable team. Can’t wait to see what’s in store of us.

  6. MikeR

    (Indeed, Larry, it’s good to see some -action- here again, and from two commensurate professionals.)

    I would add to the foregoing that there is one additional transition: “the point when you start to write words for someone other than yourself.” In other words, when you begin striving to write a viable commercial product intended for public consumption. Something that you intend to be good enough to genuinely attract an agent, and then a publisher, and some sort of publicity campaign. All of them being willing to do so because they sincerely believe that the product will sell.

    At some point, such writing becomes a JOB.

    You must learn, not only what are the expectations of a commercial writing product, but how to produce one efficiently. This means outlining, story planning, and a workflow that is far more efficient than just writing “a draft” and hoping for a miracle.

    All of us “read stories,” and love to do so. But we really don’t see how the magic is made. We don’t see the decisions or any of the actual process. Maybe that’s why we think it’s all a miracle.

  7. Robert Jones

    @MikeR

    Indeed. Though that additional step is built into (and from) all the other steps as you accumulate knowledge and experience. More specifically, “Your own unique experience.” It’s a little different for everyone. And when talking about “The Process,” that’s almost a misconception. Or at the very least, a misuse of the word when it come to writing. And though this may sound rude, or even insulting to some, writers are the worst people when it actually discussing the process of creating whatever it is we do.

    Let me explain.

    If I were to go to any other creator, or craftsperson in the field of arts or entertainment—and I have literally hundreds of times—I would get very specific and direct answers on their process. But when I discuss this with writers, they talk about the various aspects of craft—which has to be understood before a process is developed…but it isn’t actually a process. Specifically, they are techniques.

    A process is the means by which you apply the various techniques in order to achieve a result. Your finished project. And those techniques all have dozens, possibly hundreds, or different interpretations.

    Let’s be clear, all writers do have a process. In some cases, it’s very instinctual. Often, it’s the part that can’t quite be described. I knew one writer who who was approached by a budding novice who asked if they could go to the writers house and watch him work. The writer’s response was something like, “What is there to see? I stare at a blank wall, think about what happens next, write a little, then stare at the wall some more.” Writing is not a brush technique demonstrated by a painter. It’s an inward churning of accumulated knowledge. It is, however, built up in layers in much the same way a painter applies color to their canvas. The colors, in the writer’s case, are described. And the brushes are worked mentally. The end result is still visual. It is also more difficult than any painting. Because when it is done correctly, the writers is painting hundreds of scenes, portraits, and in some case, entire universes. Did you actually come to this table thinking you could do that in ten minutes yesterday?

    The techniques themselves can be traced back decades. There may be new applications, but most of them have been around a while. And what a good teacher does is build upon those techniques, then break them down so others might better grasp, and utilize them. Thus, shaving years off your learning curve. Then it is up to each of us to apply them, to develop a process that achieves the result you desire. No single writer—merit not withstanding—can give you a magic pill that will turn you into a great writer over night. They can provide knowledge. And that knowledge will never come from a book that is written on increasing your word count, or a muse that whispers in your ear. Some stories can seemingly be plucked from the ether of your psyche, but what good will those brilliant ideas do you you without the practical knowledge of application in craft? And word count is only valuable for two things: getting your first rough draft down, and checking to make sure your story is the correct length for submission.

    I would also like to add one further note. Writing—or anything else you might actually enjoy doing—is not a job once you cross the threshold into the professional domain. It is a vocation. Walmart hands out job. But a vocation is earned through working harder than most people work at their day jobs. You have to have love and persistence to back that knowledge, or you most likely will not make it for the long haul.

    Larry and Art have made it. They’ll still be here when the the current pop culture sycophants have turned their attentions to something else. So listen, and learn, all ye are willing to do the work!

    • Kerry Boytzun

      Well said.

      Some novels are simple and are churned out in less than ninety days–such stories are typically simple…boy meets girl, etc. Fantasy has to create an entire world but those readers enjoy that–it’s all about imagining you don’t live on Earth–plenty of reasons not to be on this planet. Science fiction has to explain why it works instead of your comic book fantasy that doesn’t bother.

      It’s worth noting that TV series have overtaken movies as the new canvas. The latest King Arthur Sword movie had several comments saying it had too much information crammed into a few hours and would have made an awesome series. This is worth noting for writers as Game of Thrones reveals the viewer enjoys multiple story lines running through a core story thread in a story world. To design this takes much more time than “boy meets girl”, and is in demand.

      Plus, does your story present any “grey matter”? Dead Poet’s society, The first Matrix movie–these stories explore deep meaningful ideas that we, as humans, should be considering during our day. To weave this in–takes TIME.

      Frankly, too much of storyville is shallow with barely a glimpse of a theme shown. The latest Wonderwoman movie started with some interesting mythology and the heroine’s first lines were intriguing. Then the juvenile comic boy people took over with the usual special effects, jokes, and fights. SNOOZE. What are we, 12 years old?

      But I get admonished, “It’s just a movie” as the guy storms off to some sporting event, checking his phone for deathly important messages as he drives through traffic, his dexterity equaling a drunk due to the phone.

      Sorry, but I must be an alien on this planet. Long, thoughtful replies are rare and so are such stories. Sure, people say I’m an asshole for pointing out another allegoric elephant in the room–sue me.

      I want compelling, not CGI.

      thanks for all who have responded on this thread.

      Kerry

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