Why My Workshops are “Slightly Disturbing”

Sometimes the universe backhands us into paying attention.  When it doesn’t dislocate a jaw, that’s a good thing.  More than most, writers need to pay attention to stuff like this.

Especially when you recognize truth in the sting.

This morning a valued reader asked me if I was okay.  He noticed that my “voice” was a bit limp lately.  I have to agree.  The rant that defines me has been muted lately.

Maybe I’m overbooked. 

I have five active freelance projects – as in, for pay – that compete with my Storyfix mindshare and challenge my focus, which in order to eat I must divide equally.

Maybe I’m temporarily dry.  Five hundred-plus posts, four writing books and a few thousand one-off emails and critiques in 27 months tend to bleed the available blood from one’s forehead.

It could be that when I write about what I sell – my coaching, my books, the new Storyfix Peer Review page, my workshops – rather than simply gushing out for free what I believe to be true and urgent about craft, I get just a little timid. 

I know why, too.  Because I hate hubris.  And I sometimes stand accused.    

Notice I used the word urgent just now.

I’m referring to the tools and liberating truths that await the hungry writer.  To the casting aside of misunderstanding, time-wasting, naivete, outdated modalities, wheel-spinning and comfort zones that hold us back.

So many reject the prevailing and proven universal storytelling truths, some because they don’t fully understand them, some because they challenge their existing writing paradigms.  The soft-edged, muse-driven, brandy and a crackling fire sensibility of it all, which feels good and romantic and is the way some of your favorite writers describe what they do.

Bullshit.  They’re as confused and clueless and scared and then, when it finally works, gratified and stoked as the rest of us.  There’s a reason so many authors disappear after one success (three words: Oprah Book Club), or “wait” a decade before another book bearing their name comes along.

They didn’t walk away.  They didn’t take a 10-year vacation.  They disappear because writing an effective, commercially-viable, artistically-worthy, reader enticing story is freaking hard.  And the publishing end – either traditionally or via the new digital venues – is a stacked house of cards that defies all odds and logic.

Those warm fuzzy paradigms may or may not be working.  Either way, it’s imperative that our limiting beliefs are thrown into the abyss of our naïveté.  Hence, my urgency when I write about them.

And sometimes I have to rant, to stand up and yell, to make that point.

This isn’t planners versus pantsers.  Write your story however you need to write it.  But don’t turn a blind eye to what’s true about the story itself, however you get there.  That’s non-negotiable.

And that’s the point so many writers miss.

Disturbed yet?  I hope so.

It’s not hubris.  It’s passion. 

For storytelling.  For enlightened, empowered process.  For excellence.  Mine and yours.   

This difference is this: with hubris the energy is inward focused, seeking validation.  With passion it pours out with hope, sometimes doused in flames, sometimes smoldering in a quiet, intimate truth.

I did a radio interview yesterday to help promote a workshop I’m giving this weekend. 

The host, who had done his homework, asked why I refer to my workshops as slightly disturbing.   Which I do.  Proudly.  Accurately.

Because I’m passionate about this stuff.

If you’ve seen me at a workshop, it’s like an evangelist crossed with an anxious father with a dash of Vince Lombardi turned stand-up comic, all of it whipping the crowd into a creative frenzy like this was a national political convention, minus the self-congratulatory baloney.  Sweat and constant motion and loud volume and repetitive table pounding ensue.

But that’s not the disturbing part

What’s disturbing for some writers is that the craft of writing, in context to a stated desire to do it professionally, is a highly analogous pursuit.  It’s very much like athletics.  It has elements of the arts compromised by the constraints of business.  It requires the discipline of a surgeon and the whimsy of a lyricist.  The boldness of a Michael Connelly and the deft touch of a Jonathan Franzen.

None of that is an accident of muse meeting free time. 

We like to think of writing as something unique, even spiritual, when in fact it runs on the same fuel of relational and karmic and emotional physics that anything else does. 

It’s all just a dance between cause and effect.  Nothing more.  But we get to add the music.

Seeking success in writing by going to a workshop is very much like attending a personal growth seminar. 

At least that’s how I see it, so it’s how I teach it. 

Success – either experientially or in terms of outcome – is very much a product of how one thinks.  How intentions translate into action.  How much one notices and then translates the truths and forces behind human emotion and action into dramatic narrative infused with tension and consequences.

That’s a whole writing seminar in one sentence, by the way.

Thought plus energy plus intention plus discipline and perseverance

That’s the formula.  In writing and in life.

And as such, writing becomes life.

As least for me.  My middle linebacking days are over.  My 97 mph fastball didn’t get me out of the minor leagues.  My career in a suit and tie was a joke.

All because of how I thought at the time.  With writing, applying the lessons of those failures, how I think is now aligned with the things the universe is trying to tell us.  Sometimes with that whack upside the head.

I don’t lay claim to success.  But I wear the uniform of the pursuer.  I’m in the race.

Yeah, we’ll talk about story ideas and dramatic tension and story architecture at my workshops.  We’ll play nice with all the aesthetic nuances of craft and the unconditional patience required when one looks around the room and beholds the diversity of styles, limiting beliefs and experiences that define the group.

That’s part of it, too.  Not everyone is a cage fighter or a lover. 

But sooner or later we’re gonna link this thing called storytelling to the physics of life itself.  We’re gonna push and test boundaries and suggest there are possibilities beyond what your college creative writer teacher or your critique groups or Stephen King in On Writing told you.

Don’t listen to Stephen King, by the way.  He’s way better than the rest of us, and his world view and process paradigm have little to do with our reality.  And, his books pretty much suck lately because, well, they violate the very principles and parameters the rest of us are stuck with.

The disturbing part will call you out. 

If it pushes you back, then perhaps the avocation is bigger than you are.   Maybe your comfort zone is just that.  Maybe a few decades of apprenticeship is your idea of a good time.

Or maybe you just don’t like middle linebackers.

But if it lights you on fire, if that peek behind the curtain of awareness fills your mind with flashing images and the bright light of possibilities, if you can’t wait to get back to a keyboard and see what happens with this newly empowered tool chest and mindset…

… then welcome to writing.  Serious writing.  Welcome to life. 

Step into the fear, embrace the Higher Truths that have been there all along, waiting for you to wake up to them and plug them into your subconscious mind.


My apologies if that disturbs you in the wrong way. 

And my congratulations if you get it.

I am giving four workshops in the next five weeks.  You can read about how to attend two of them at the bottom of the previous post.


Filed under Write better (tips and techniques)

17 Responses to Why My Workshops are “Slightly Disturbing”

  1. Curtis

    “I don’t know what happened Frank. Spud’s been hitting in the four hole for months now. Last time he was up, some said he brought rain.”

    I know Dobie, “the bat never left his shoulder. Did he think this was art appreciation class? I mean Spud’s their guy.”

    “Well, not this day. Brooks just blew three by him like he’s never seen a ball with stitches before. He sat him down.”

    Brooks strides from the mound….. a man confident in what he is doing.

    I got it! I love disturbance.

  2. Michael Moller

    As a recent convert from pantser to planner (yes I know pantsing works for some, not me), I definitely embrace the higher truths.

    About your Stephen King mention. I read On Writing years ago, and yeah, it didn’t help me in the slightest with my own writing. Story Engineering was far more beneficial.

    At the same time I still enjoy his recent works, especially Duma Key. When I read that I had no clue about the six core competencies, and I’m sure if I went through it again I’d be seeking out all the plot points, pinch points, character dimensions, theme, and so on.

    Same with some of my other old favorites, like Joseph Heller and John Irving.

    It would be interesting to see a deconstruction of a recent King novel sometime. Just to explore what works and why, even when he breaks the rules, beyond the fact that he’s just “that good”. Not that I’d ever attempt to replicate it. Scientific curiosity I guess.

  3. Just bought your book – I kinda get it – I feel it in my bones but need it to translate up to my brain. Do you ever do cyberworkshops?? i am in New Zealand. …oh and I read On Writing too, didn’t help me with craft at all 🙂

  4. Never apologise Larry.

    What you did for me, in the space of a month (a short one – February, 2010) was to identify the weakest part of my writing – the complete lack of recognizable structure.

    Now that I’ve got that nailed I can work on the other 4 essentials. (I’ve always had the same ‘voice”, and I like it. If it changes it will be the last thing to change.)

    “Thought plus energy plus intention plus discipline and perseverance.”

    In writing and in life.

    Thanks again.

  5. The more I learn about the craft of writing, the easier (FSVO “easier”) it becomes to get what I see in my mind out onto the page.

    I wrote my first book in a weekend — 5000 words of a kid’s chapter book. Then I spent the next 2 or so years learning enough about the craft of writing really (re) write it — it ended up going through at least 3 major revisions and ended up 11, 000 words. It will be out in 2013 (wheels of publishing grind slowly).

    I’ve got your book (bless you). But still, for me, there’s no substitute for just keeping at it. I play the flute and the piccolo. I’m reasonably talented, not great, but in spite of that, the major difference between me and James Galway is the number of hours he puts in practicing his instrument.

    Ditto the request about cyber workshops — I’d love to sign up for one.

  6. Olga Oliver

    Hey, Larry’s suddenly a mad DOG – throwing out all that passionate stuff. Maybe we’d best muzzle him before those workshops so he’ll have something left for us. See that sentence. When you’ve got something worthwhile, everyone wants some of it. And there’s some who will try to take it all. Take care of yourself first, Larry. Over a glass-of-wine lunch, I asked a friend, a mother of six, how she managed, she said, “I take care of myself first. Had to learn that wasn’t selfish, but it’s my bank account.” Since I was writing a story I felt compelled to ask her the most important question, “Why six kids?” As she lifted her glass of bold red, she said. “That’s before I learned how to take care of myself, before I became important. For me it took six kids.”
    Forgive the diatribe – we love maddog Larry.

  7. nancy

    Now that all my friends are getting published (they’re in nonfiction), I see how hard they work on the other side. You have been there for a while–writing with passion and then using whatever is left over for marketing. Maintaining a brand and promoting your product on the road is tough when your real love is staying home to create a world of fiction that speaks truth and delights. It’s two opposing skills that don’t usually come in the same package. I don’t know how writiers do it, but you are the model. You’re succeeding and bringin’ it with passion. I agree with Olga. Take care of yourself on the road. Don’t have a blow out before October 29!

  8. Trudy

    Dear Larry, I love you just the way you are…on any given day. Actually, I read that comment last night and I thought it was odd and judgemental…and, well, sorta nervy!! I will tell you why I’m glad I found your work and appreciate your advice – because I needed to look at my work in a different way – a Larry way instead of a Trudy way. I needed to expand my worldview and approach. But I always remember that Larry is a writer, too. And sometimes he’s allowed to be busy and not totally holding my hand that way I want him to.

  9. When a football player comes off the field to talk to the coach he expects something helpful.

    Larry, storyfix is written in coach-talk. You couldn’t talk the talk unless you’ve walked the walk. The good thing is you’re still walking.

    I got the Stephen King writer book one Christmas. The cocaine parts made me think “he wrote Cujo on coke? And Christine.” Writer on rails sounds like a Poe story.

    My Gardner writing book went on loan to a guy who gave it a Viking funeral with himself before he got the negative lab results on his lump.

    If writing is a strain, reading about writers writing stretches the tissue even more. The thing about you, Larry, is the feeling you can handle the load, that you can bring it high and tight and still take care of business like Nolan Ryan when they charge the mound.


  10. Tommy

    Larry said:
    Don’t listen to Stephen King, by the way. He’s way better than the rest of us, and his world view and process paradigm have little to do with our reality.

    How true. But King might be compared to Phillip K. Dick, where even his short-stories were made into movies. Anybody who can pen Shawshank Redemption has to be considered a master writer. But it’s true, King’s paradigm for writing, as he himself has stated is it, “Wanna know how to build the Great Wall of China? One brick at a time.”

    Which takes him right into the place where beginners should never go, 200,000 words in and you haven’t even got to the midpoint yet, with no idea of the ending.

    King calls himself, the fast food of literature. That’s cool because he’s old enough to remember when McDonald’s food actually tasted good. I would hasten to advise a different analogy.

    That of a cement truck. Those puppies are loaded with tons of material, literally, but when they get to the job site if the cement forms aren’t set-up and properly reinforced then the concrete is going to SPRAWL all over the place and turn into the BLOB that ate Cleveland. Without something solid to pour the concrete into things get ugly fast. Then, once the concrete sets-up (dries to hardness) it’s a major pain to deal with — whereas, with a form to pour the concrete into all these bad effects are avoided.

    The analogy is that concrete poured into a form is easy to deal with, but poured out onto the ground it soon becomes a nightmare. And, speaking of nightmares, we’re back to Stephen King.

    FORM is essential for concrete construction, just as it is for bestselling fiction.

  11. Jade

    Yes!! Larry is back baby!
    When you started this site I was here, just starting off in the craft and passionate to get going. I remember you inviting me, and I am oh so glad I came to check it out. My writing has improved in leaps and bounds, greatly because of this site.
    Writing isn’t just something I do every single day (for hours a day when I can manage it, or a few moments so that I can get a certain scene out of my head) it has clamped onto my life and until my life ends I will not stop writing.
    You keep on rocking and writing Larry! Thanks so much for being here to help people like me.


  12. Wow, powerful stuff. Thanks.

  13. Larry, We need you passionate teachers–thanks! Without it, writing is no good.

    On Stephen King–read his book for the sheer, weird fun of his childhood and growth into a writer, not for craft. Come on, fellow word junkies, it’s just a great read!


  14. Damn Larry, I really, really, REALLY want to attend your Halloween Weekend workshop. WHY couldn’t my friend choose another weekend to get married??! UGH!!! 🙂 Hopefully you’ll have another workshop like the one you’re having that weekend so I can attend.

  15. “Thought plus energy plus intention plus discipline and perseverance.”

    This. This and this and this. Plus this. I will tattoo it on my backside so I will see it should I ever have the temerity to rise from my chair before my word count is done for the day.

  16. Marilyn Wallace

    After reading the sad missives from those unfortunates who are unable to attend your Holloween workshop at Jantzen Beach on the 29th and 30th, I am pleased to say that I will be one of the fortunates in attendance. I am SO prepared to be disturbed.

  17. Marilyn Wallace

    It appears I need a line editor.