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 To the casting aside of misunderstanding, time-wasting, naivete, outdated modalities, wheel-spinning and comfort zones that hold us back.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 new tagline is MISSION-DRIVEN, PASSION-INFUSED.
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.