Oh, my dear storytellers. If I had a nickel for every time a struggling or would-be writer has said those words to me! I would have all the nickels in nickeldom.
But are these words even true? Is “lack of discipline” the correct diagnosis when a writer finds themselves unable to focus on the work for more than a few minutes at a time?
Or stares at the screen and decides to do laundry instead?
Or avoids the writing chair for days, weeks, years on end, until their dream of writing threatens to wither altogether?
Even if these writers are correct, and discipline deficiency is an actual condition they suffer from, it’s not a helpful diagnosis. Adding “more discipline” is not a simple matter of taking a vitamin supplement. Any kind of behavior change is notoriously difficult.
And what if “discipline” is not the issue at...
Storytelling is everywhere.
Yes, it’s in the books we write and read, the movies we watch, the TV shows we binge and even the jokes we tell—but it’s also in politics, history, science, education, you name it.
Story is how humans think and how we make sense of the world. It's how we connect the dots between data points and turn them into meaning. It’s how we form our identities, individually and as groups, cultures, and nations.
Story is powerful stuff. And if you want to see a super-compressed, super-effective morsel of storytelling in action, I give you three simple words:
Just do it.
This trademarked ad slogan from athletic shoe brand Nike dates back to the 1980s and remains instantly, globally recognizable.
Why is that so? And what can we writers of fiction learn from this concentrated bomb of story energy?
In this livestream I unpack the...
I hear from a lot of writers, as you can imagine. And when I ask what holds them back the most, nine times out of ten the answer is: story structure.
This is all very fixable, of course. But here’s something fascinating: When writers do begin a serious exploration of story structure, they may soon feel taken aback.
There’s so much technique involved. So many concepts! It starts to feel like a list of rules.
Their early attempts to learn and implement this new knowledge may not feel very creative at...
I often talk about the dangers of a “passive hero.” That’s the kind of main character who has no clear overall goal for the story.
Imagine if Dorothy didn’t really want to get back to Kansas! She arrives in Oz, looks around, and shrugs. What’s that story going to be about? Beats me.
It’s not hard to see why your hero shouldn’t be passive.
I don’t mean the would-be novelist who says they’re going to write but never gets around to it. That is a real issue, for sure. Some combination of limiting beliefs and simply not knowing how to get started is usually the culprit.
I’m talking about the writer who sits in front of their laptop and grapples intently with last week’s scribbling, their stack of research, their journal full of themes and concepts—and yet comes away...
I am just loving working with the new cohort of Path of the Storyteller students! What a terrific group. In our early explorations we’re taking story beginnings apart in a step-by-step way.
Which brings us to today’s question: How—and when—does a story truly begin?
My answer? Long before page one. In fact, your storytelling begins before anything happens at all.
Just as a farmer must prepare the soil before the first seed is planted, your first job as a writer is to conceive of a central character in a circumstance that does not merely allow a story to begin, but demands it. The situation is unsustainable. Something has to change.
I call this the crack in the foundation.
Failure to conceive of a premise that rises from this core instability is going to cause problems all along the way. What looks like first act confusion,...
One of the unique and fantastic properties of fiction is how it allows us to travel inside our characters’ innermost thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
It’s so Vulcan mind-meld! In real life, we often struggle to understand and be understood by others. In fiction, we can dissolve that boundary between me and you and dive right in there. It’s really a superpower.
But like any superpower, the ability to depict the inside of our character’s heads can be used for good or for ill. Writers soon encounter all kinds of pitfalls in figuring out how to manage this internal landscape of consciousness.
For example: We know we’re supposed to show not tell, but eavesdropping on the voice in someone’s head often feels like nothing but telling.
And we know what goes on inside our ...
What is a draft, anyway?
This deceptively simple question came from a fine writer I mentor, and at once I was struck by its profound implications!
“Draft” is one of those words writers sling around, but it’s not always clear what we mean by it.
Does it mean a stream-of-consciousness jumble of words, or a neatly organized tale that's just a few turns of the screwdriver short of being publishable?
Writers confuse themselves needlessly by calling the complex, varied process of writing a book “drafting and revision,” as if it were two simple steps, like doing the cha-cha. When the real workload turns out to be so much more than that, who can they blame for “not doing it right” but themselves?
My dear storytellers, it’s not your fault! The process is mysterious because we don’t get to see other writers do it. We only see the outcome.
Today, let’s explore the idea of process. How do we pluck the...
Our creative impulses sometimes arrive all at once, like a wave crashing on the shore.
It’s an exhilarating feeling when it happens. Like there’s a perfect, finished version of our book floating right there in front of us, just out of reach. All we have to do is write it down!
And then comes the writing it down part.
What can I say but LOL, my friends! Right away we discover that we are not, in fact, “writing it down,” but assembling it in the dark out of rough materials we have to create ourselves.
We are inventing, experimenting, discovering, designing, building, choosing. We are wringing it out thin air, drop by drop.
Half (or more) of what we do will prove to be a dead end, and so we'll try again, but differently.
And then we get to revise all of that!
Writing fiction is an incremental process. We don’t do it all in one go. We don’t “get it right” the first time.
And yet so many writers...
I had a great conversation this week with The Christian Science Monitor about ALICE’S FARM, A RABBIT’S TALE. You can see it here.
We talk about vulnerability, bravery, and hope, and how these ideas are expressed in the book.
In short, we talk about theme. Which got me thinking: Where do the themes of our books come from? At what point in our creative process does theme coalesce?
Do we put theme in on purpose? Does it bubble up on its own? Is it even our responsibility, or are readers free to decode our themes however they like?
These are interesting questions, and they’re far from academic. When our books fly the nest and wander out in the world, it will indeed be their themes that people want to talk about, and that will attract or repel readers.
All storytelling ends up expressing theme whether we put it there intentionally or not. In this talk I invite you to explore how we can think about theme in a way that...
One of the many cool things about fiction is that it comes with a built-in time machine.
With a few well-chosen words, writers can make our readers travel backwards in time, or forward.
We can speed up time or slow it down.
We can juxtapose the experience of one generation with another, flood the page with memories, or depict the future outcomes of today’s choices.
But like all great powers, the writer’s ability to time travel must be used responsibly. A carelessly jumbled timeline is a surefire way to confuse the reader, and that is never what we want.
Today, let’s explore the use of flashbacks. This technique brings scenes from the past into the present timeline of our narrative.
When is a flashback truly necessary? What other options do we have when the past needs to come into view?
Most importantly: How do we manage these time-traveling leaps without leaving our...