“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” It’s an old joke, and the punchline, of course, is “practice!”
“Head north on Broadway and make a right on 57th Street” is also a correct answer, but it limits itself to physical circumstances only. Such literal-minded directions might get you to the door of the building, but they won't make you a world-class player. Only many, many hours of tush-on-bench with guidance from a worthy instructor will achieve that outcome.
My ruminations yesterday about story energy are the fruits of a lifelong practice in the storytelling arts. A mix of study, mentorship, and a huge volume of hands-on doing has served me well. To incline toward action is advice worth its weight in gold; if you don’t write a lot, your writing will not improve.
If your writing is not all you wish it were, that’s all the more reason to produce more of it. Write, write, write! Write straw today so you can spin it into gold tomorrow. The only way out is through.
As to where to find those worthy instructors: The best thing I ever learned about teaching came not from a writing teacher, but from one of my beloved yoga teachers, Lisa Benner. “We teach from our own practice,” she said.
It’s a simple, profound truth. The teachers who teach from a grounded place are teachers who practice. They know the way because they have walked the path themselves. They are still walking it.
The call to teach once you’ve achieved a certain level of mastery is well-known to anyone who’s stuck with their discipline long enough. For many of us, extending a hand to guide those at an earlier stage in the journey feels like an essential part of achieving our own potential, as artists and as human beings.
Is there a name for this archetypal energy? You bet. It’s the mentor archetype, and storytelling is rich with it. So is life.
In creative disciplines, the need for mentorship is strong precisely because finding one’s own unique way of working is the whole point. It’s a deeply personal journey, and to have someone with some mileage on them hold space for it makes it less scary, and less lonely, too.
I’ve learned a lot about writing from the practice and study of yoga. The interplay of the material and energetic qualities of experience is something I rarely hear other writers talk about, though it’s at the heart of our craft. Yogis talk of nothing else! This was eye-opening to me when I first took a deeper dive into studying yoga, as I immediately recognized how well this new vocabulary described my decades of creative work.
I write every day, not because I make myself, but because it’s so woven into my life there’s hardly a way to avoid it. I write all kinds of things: blog posts like this one, fully produced lesson content for my students, emails to friends, social media posts, scripts for the educational content I create for kids, the occasional screenplay or theatre project.
Above all, I write books. This morning I began my day sitting outside, coffee at the ready, working on what will be my next book. The physical routine of sitting down to work is utterly familiar, but the energy of what happens is always full of surprise.
So many discoveries made! Details whimsically invented last week become resonant with meaning today. Endings are unexpectedly written while middles are still on the to-do list. The core emotional need of a hero reveals itself after ten pages of idle wordplay, and my understanding of what this book wants to be deepens and widens, like a yogic breath.
This free and mysterious process of invention is what makes writing a joy, but we must hold space for it to arrive. We must be the mentors to our own muse. We practice with discipline and consistency by putting tush-to-bench and cracking our knuckles, ready to begin.
We study and develop our writing craft so that vibrating hummingbird of creative energy has a steady branch to land on. Through practice, we find our practice: the optimal tension between knowing and not knowing, pantsing and outlining, steering the craft and letting the wind fill our sails and take us wherever it will.
Keep writing, friends. Write today. Write tomorrow. Write a little, write a lot. If you wrote something, that’s a good day. Make every day a good day. Practice!
TIP: Keep writing!