path of the storyteller / blog

Writing, one step at a time

 

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...

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What makes it a “classic?”

 

Last week I raised the question of what makes creative work endure because I was thinking about Shakespeare. But did Shakespeare set out to write “classic” plays?

In his professional life he was an ever-hustling playwright-slash-entrepreneur, his time stretched (thinly, we can only imagine) between churning out the plays that kept his company afloat and the ceaseless daily business of running a theatre. 

Talk about slings and arrows! Shakespeare dealt with snide critics, box office receipts, actors who went off-script, not to mention the recurrent bouts of plague that closed London’s theaters for months at a time.

Creatively, he walked the fine line between writing from the heart while finessing the sensitivities of his royal patrons. His work had to engage the nobility at court and the commoners, too, including the “groundlings” who paid a mere penny to stand there,...

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Shakespeare’s birthday

careers Apr 20, 2022

Saturday is April 23rd, the day traditionally celebrated as Shakespeare’s birthday. It may not be perfectly accurate but it’s close enough, as the first historical record of the man from Stratford is his baptismal record, dated April 26th, 1564. 

Given the usual practices of the era, to back-date his his birth three days prior to the baptism is as good a guess as any. There’s also the bittersweet symmetry of his death date, which is known to be April 23rd, 1616.

Shakespeare was 52 years old when he died.

He’d had a successful and prosperous career, but fully half of his performed plays had not yet been published at the time of his death.

That task fell to a couple of his long-time actors and friends, John Heminge and Henry Condell, who assembled and edited all the scripts they could lay hands on and published them in 1623, in a volume we now call the First Folio.

Without the First Folio, the text of eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays...

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Is writing ”by ear” holding you back?

 

The phrase “by ear” comes to us from the context of music. As in: "I don’t read music, but I can play by ear." 

A musician who plays by ear doesn't rely on formal training or music that’s been written down, but on some innate or acquired ability to pick up an instrument and play, or to recreate what they’ve heard. 

In this context, the ability to “play be ear” seems like a good thing, a special talent. A person who can play music with no formal training! Impressive, right? 

Writers do the same thing, of course. We write and revise “by ear.” When our prose "sounds good" to us, we say it’s done. 

There’s nothing wrong with this, to a point. Immersion and imitation are a natural kind of learning. We learn to talk by immersion in people talking—by ear—and we learn to write by immersion in what we read. It’s how we all begin.

It's when...

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What’s your success story?

 

Who doesn’t love a good success story? Underdog team prevails, small town kid gets cast in a Spielberg movie, scrappy entrepreneur starts in her garage and ends up a billionaire?

Above all, a success story is a story—it shows a hero overcoming obstacles en route to a big transformation.

Success stories appeal precisely because we love stories, and because we want to mine these tales for clues about how we, too, might achieve “success.”

I’d argue that we’re always mining stories for clues about how to live and find meaning in our lives, but today I want to talk particularly about how we writers relate to this idea of success. 

Success is good, right? But scratch the surface and things get complicated fast. As writers, how do we define success, and how does that definition impact our creative work?

Do we feel worthy of success? Does it trigger fears of exposure? Of losing our identity? Of disrupting...

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tick...tick...time to quit?

 

This week’s livestream is about failure, success, how long it takes to get from one to the other, and how we can best use that time wisely and well. That’s all you need to know to dive in—but if you want to get the context for this talk, read on. And yes, musical theatre is involved!


All writers will find much to ponder about the creative life from the new film, Tick...Tick...BOOM! (now streaming on Netflix). 

This 2021 musical film was adapted by Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of Hamilton), based on a small-cast musical that itself was adapted by playwright David Auburn in 2001 from an earlier, one-man version of the same material.

Under the title Boho Days, this solo show was written and first performed by Jonathan Larson in 1990.

Today, Larson is best known as the creator of RENT, which opened on Broadway in 1996. RENT was a massive hit that helped reshape what a Broadway musical could look and...

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a writer gives thanks

 

It’s Thanksgiving week here in the US, and I want to take a moment to acknowledge something that too often gets lost in the (cranberry) sauce.

Writers have a lot to be grateful for.

Don’t get me wrong. I know how writers like to complain! I hear your complaints. I complain too sometimes. None of this is easy, and it’s not supposed to be.

Writing is hard. Revisions are hard. Putting our work out into the world is hard. There is a lot of self-doubt, frustration, and long periods of developing our craft, with no guarantees of success. 

There are drafts we labor over that need to be labored over again. There are books we write thinking, "this is the one!" only to realize that “the one” might still be a book or two away. We’re getting closer, but we’re not quite there yet. It all takes longer than we expected. 

Even for the published, there are industry politics and marketplace realities to face. There is...

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what holds writers back: my top ten

 

It’s NaNoWriMo time, again!

I started this blog (and soon afterward, my weekly YouTube livestream) last year right around this time, as it seemed like there was an extra need for writing mentorship out there.

So many blog posts and livestreams later, I am amazed at how this ongoing exploration of writing good fiction continues to deepen. It’s a lifetime practice for sure.

And how has your writing grown this year?

While you you formulate your answer, I want to give a shout-out to all the Path of the Storyteller alums who finished a draft in 2021.

TRUMPETS OF VICTORY SOUND! Some have never finished a book before. Revisions are now in progress, and I am so very proud of each and every one of these awesome and dedicated writers! 

Accomplishment feels good. Setting goals and moving steadily toward them feels fantastic.

But being stuck, thwarted, or in despair because all your efforts seem to be going in circles does not feel so good, am...

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keep writing, be happy

 

Does writing make you happy?

Does writing make you frustrated?

Does writing make you dream big?

Does writing make you envious?

Does writing make you feel full of purpose?

Does writing make you wonder, why bother?

This list could go on and on. Feel free to add your favorites! My point is this:

All writers have feelings about writing, and those feelings are all over the map. 

This is not a bad sign. As I often tell my Path of the Storyteller students when they hit one snag or another: That is a professional problem! 

Creative work triggers all kinds of reactions. If your thoughts, feelings, and opinions about writing sometimes take a ride on the wanna/don’t wanna seesaw, welcome to the club.

From the many complexities of getting the work done (and done well), to navigating how to launch a career out of all that creative labor, to surfing the waves of a career-in-progress, the writer’s path poses fresh invitations for...

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feedback without tears

 

Remember the famous baby shampoo ad? No more tears!

That this sudsy slogan is what today’s topic makes me think of is reveals a lot. Getting feedback on our writing can be overwhelming in a way that feels disproportionate. Depending on what that feedback is, it can make our day or keep us up all night fretting.

Consider how often you’ve heard this bundle of advice: Because writers “lack objectivity,” you must share your work for feedback, be in a critique group, have beta readers pore over your final draft, and/or pay for a professional edit, and you must rewrite, rewrite, rewrite to "fix" all the flaws found by this ragtag army of critics. 

But when does all this input start to be counterproductive? What if the feedback is contradictory, or just feels off? How do we know which notes to take and which to ignore? 

To give feedback on other’s work is a delicate task; to receive feedback...

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