Why We Should be Thankful We Are Writers

This morning I wasn’t so sure.  But tonight I thank God I am a writer.

And not just because I pretty much suck at most everything else I’ve tried, either.  

Earlier in the week I posted a guest blog on a very Big Deal writing site you’ve probably heard of.  It was on my thing, which, if you’ve been here a while, you already know: the power of story architecture and the elements that comprise it.

Related to this topic is the issue of how we write our stories, either from a plan (some call it an outline, but it can be in any form, including all-in-your-head) or from the seat of your pants, just making stuff up as you go along.

Doesn’t matter, as long as it leads you to a good story. 

People think I’m talking about outlining, but that’s not entirely accurate.  And that’s the source of my frequent back-to-the-wall position in this debate.  I’ve come to understand that the debate isn’t between outlining or not outlining at all.  It’s about what you bring to the writing process in the way of understanding what makes a story work

Neither process works if you don’t understand the principles of solid story telling.

It’s like a lawyer who drives to the courthouse in a Mercedes or on a bicycle.  How you get there isn’t the deal, it’s how effective you are while you’re there.  And no lawyer – at least one that you or I would ever hire – just makes up the principles of law as they go along.  They arrive with four years of law school in their bag of tricks and their own unique way of applying what they know.

Makes sense to me.  But alas, not everyone gets the analogy. 

Most responders to my guest blog got it, liked it, appreciated it.  A few didn’t. 

And that’s fine, though those particular folks couldn’t get beyond the mistaken perception that I was attacking pantsing rather than advocating storytelling competency.  Probably my fault I didn’t make it clearer.

Then again, like talking about health care lately, some people just shut down at the first mention of process (or political party, not a dissimilar analogy here) and don’t hear a word thereafter. 

But then there was this one complete whack-job who popped up as a commenter.  Not only did she fail to grasp the point of it all, she went into complete attack mode, calling me in separate posts foolhardy and – get this – a prick.   Twice, in fact.

After a few inexplicably vile volleys the lovely woman who moderates the site expelled the whack-job (it didn’t stick, she’s back and as inflammatory as ever), and having chosen to take the high road, and on the stern advice of my oh-so-wise wife, I’m refraining from further engagement. 

Good idea… it could get ugly.  And ugly serves no one .  I learned that early-on during a similar debate on another writing forum.  Got my head handed to me in the ensuing beatdown.

That’s why this morning, when I wrote a comment completely eviscerating her before erasing it, I wasn’t all that crazy about being a writer.  I didn’t sign up for this, I was trying to help people improve their writing.

We shouldn’t give whack-jobs that kind of power over us, I know.  But when you care passionately about something, the skin grows thin. 

And then tonight rolled around.  And my emotional context took a whopper of an unexpected turn.

About three months ago I heard from a woman I’d met at one of my workshops, who later hired me to evaluate and coach her novel-in-progress.  I was pretty hard on it – I always avoid brutal honesty, but clear and constructive feedback feels that way sometimes, especially when what you’re looking for is affirmation – and we parted something less than friends. 

At least in her eyes.  I just felt bad I couldn’t help her see what she needed to see.

So later, when she asked me if I’d consider serving as an expert witness at her brother’s forthcoming murder trial, I was stunned.  And very willing, because the guy was, she assured, innocent.  I would be telling the court that just because a writer – which her brother was – cooks up dark and brutal doings on the page it doesn’t mean they harbor serious real-life intentions. 

And, having cooked up more than one dark and brutal scenario in my own published work, I was just the guy to say it.

Later she forwarded a writing sample from her brother, penned from his 7-by-11 foot cell in some dark and dank county jail where he’s been awaiting trial without bail on murder charges for the last eight months. 

The writing completely blew me away. 

As I wrote in my responding email: This is one of the most fabulously written, moving, disturbing and hopeful pieces of writing I’ve ever consumed.  I’ve honestly never read anything, especially non-fiction, that sucked me into the time and place and emotion and anger and fear and confusion of the writer as effectively as this did.

Four hours later and I’m still wired from it.  It inspired this post tonight. 

It will inspire me later this evening as I work on my novel-in-progress.

And it will inspire me tomorrow in whatever I do.  Because like any stellar piece of writing, it changed me. 

It set such a high, wondrous bar.  It is the embodiment of the inherent potential of the written word to move, to create connections, to inspire action, to draw from us our most sacred purpose, which is to embrace life and offer the world something in return.  Even if it’s simply a new awareness.

I am humbled and honored to have read it.  To be in the position to be able to read it.  To feel how the power of writing can transcend anything and connect people in miraculous, amazing ways.

To pursue the possibility that maybe, just maybe, something I will write will touch someone’s life as this piece touched mine.

Tomorrow there will be the blank screen and another chance to try for that bar.  To have an impact that empowers someone’s writing dream.  Hopefully yours.  I am humbled and honored by that, too.

And perhaps to take my own dream to the next level. I’m not done on that front, either.

Tomorrow there may be another ranting missive from the whack-job who thinks I’m a foolhardy prick.  But I don’t think I’ll mind so much now. Because even if she doesn’t, I know who I am.  I am a writer.

And for now, I’m energized and ecstatic to be a writer.  Because there are 600 of you who receive my work in their inbox nearly every day – not bad after only three months of being here – and another few hundred who visit daily to see what’s up on Storyfix.  At this pace we’ll be at about 2000 subscribers by year end.

And that makes me a lucky man.  A man with something worthwhile to do everyday.

That’s why I wanted to be with you tonight, to feel that connection for myself, and to offer this simple yet life-altering thought: be thankful you are a writer.   There are so many reasons to be.

Because, as observers and scribes of the human condition and all the myriad dramas and comedies and love stories and tragedies and mysteries that unfold upon that stage, more than most we look deeply into the abyss and see, with stark clarity and purpose, our own role.

We get to write it all down.  And to do that well, we need to feel it.

And that’s the very definition of being alive.

Read a new rave review of “101 Slightly Unpredictable Tips for Novelists and ScreenwritersHERE.  One word: wow.

If you like what you see, you can buy it HERE


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12 Responses to Why We Should be Thankful We Are Writers

  1. Patrick Sullivan

    It never ceases to amaze me the way the internet makes people act. I would almost be willing to bet that the same woman who was acting so vile on a blog in replied would not act the same way if you were having a face to face discussion. Most who act that way in this powerful medium seem to think the ability to be an anonymous pile of snark is a wonderful, freeing thing.

    Sad, really. A tool that lets us share ideas, the way you do here, a tool that lets us change each others lives through writing, through podcast, or any number of other ways, without the gatekeepers of old media, and some people only see it as a way to let out their inner hatred without real reprise.

    Glad to hear you got such a powerful reminder of why writing is such a wonderful thing to do and be a part of came to you after that painful experience. It’s also a great reminder to the rest of us who are reading why we want to share what we do with the world, our words and ideas.

    Keep it up, and thanks again.

  2. JV

    I’m realitively new to your site and wanted to extend my gratitude for your hard earned skills. I’ve written three novels, got stuck on a 120K beast and struck gold at storyfix. I so needed your clear thinking, your pegging the parts — their job descriptions, your honesty to the craft.
    RE: Your post today, you might consider two things. 1) Jealousy is a different ache in our body than anger or love. Jealousy brings out our worst. The woman mentioned sounds green with it. So no worries there. Think of it as a minor test of the hero in a novel, no more than a lightening flash. 2) Self honesty is Mt. Everest or the Iger for some of us. We expend all our energy climbing over it only to discover it is a pebble in our path. Combine the lack of self honesty with jealousy and you have an attacking gorilla behind bars filled with self anger. You moved away and watch from a distance. Right on. You’re a master at focus.
    An England educated American told me I’d never become a real writer years ago when computers were knew. He’d had an attack of arrogance. Something possessed me. I told him we’d live to see the day when everyone wrote stories, even children. Luckily I got that part right. 🙂

  3. I wonder if you ever felt that you were ‘forced’ to be a writer as in my case.
    If that’s the case, do you think you can be whole-heartedly be grateful that you’re a writer.
    I may not be thankful that I’m a writer but I’m sure glad to be one.

  4. Mary E. Ulrich

    I am thankful YOU are a writer. I have referred many people to your site and think you offer us amazing content.

    (Beware: semantic lexicon going wild.) When we were visiting the desert of New Mexico, we learned some of the many uses of the prickly cactus. The Native Americans used parts of the plant for everything from making needles to sew, to recipes for jelly and sauces to eat. Moral: Prickly doesn’t have to be a bad thing, be happy with who you are.

  5. I witnessed the unfolding events at the “Big Deal” writing site.

    Not pretty.

    As I sat disgusted, I unsubscribed to stop the madness.

    Coming to your site today gave me a bolt of inspiration and hope, Larry. That’s what it’s all about.

    Thank you.

    Inspiration ignited.

  6. V.J. Wilcox

    The whole point of reading writing blogs is to learn something useful. To state the obvious, what is useful to me might not be useful to you. Like the sometimes contradictory criticism received in a writing group or class, you get to decide what is helpful and what is not. If helpful, act on it and discard the rest. It’s a waste of time to argue about it or call anyone names for their opposing point of view. I’ve had the thrill of seeing three of my novels published and I can tell you, Larry’s insights are spot on. I always prefer to learn from those who’ve actually accomplished what I aspire to do rather than those who’re still trying to get it done. I suspect the lady in question that Larry has run up against is still trying. Hopefully, she’ll drop the attitude and start learning.

  7. i’m starting to think it is human nature to hear what you want to, mainly just in order to be able to twist things back to comfortable arguments when the speaker challenges your views (there are more sinister ways to look at the scenario). some are able to venture forward into new knowledge, while others have difficulty leaving the comfort of their entrenched philosophy.

    all there is to do is make your point and move on.

    i’m glad that you found renewed vigor for your craft through everything, and i appreciate the wisdom that you are doling out on blogs to assist those of us who are just getting our feet wet.

  8. I really appreciated this post today. It’s poignant and complete. I have seen two popular bloggers personally attacked this in the past few months and it actually turned crazy. The internet can provide a disconnect allows people to say things they might not when confronted face to face with a real person.

    I enjoyed watching your process evolve through the piece.

  9. Thanks to all for these comments, you restore my faith in people, and in writers. It’s interesting, there’s all kinds commentary around the (I dislike this cheesey word..) “blogosphere” right now (check out http://www.copyblogger.com today… http://www.bloggingtips.com from a few days ago… and others) about irritating pests and trolls and whackos spreading negative energy on the well-intentioned posts of others. Must be going around.

    The “Big Deal” website mentioned above in my post is http://www.writetodone.com, if you’re interested in seeing what went down. The whacko’s most extreme post was removed, but there’s enough of her left to show you what the exchange was like.

    Anyhow, thanks again for your kind words. Now let’s put all this behind us and keep moving down the path (or up the mountain, pick your analogy) toward our respective writing goals.

  10. I’m sorry you got ripped into but glad that something quickly came along to lift you up again. You have a good message – keep “preaching” and blogging about story architecture!


  11. Life can be a roller coaster, eh?!

  12. It seems like there is always someone who instead of starting a potentially interesting debate goes for the childish route of plugging their ears with their fingers and spouting insults. Unfortunately, those comments usually in turn drown out a lot of the positive that follow immediately before or after.

    I wanted to tell you that I really appreciate your “ramblings” and I can only agree that certain pieces of writing change you and inspire you.

    Keep at it while I will keep reading…