steering the craft

in praise of teaching

mentors Dec 01, 2021

My dear storytellers, I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving.

I’ll be back with a new livestream next week. Today, I’d like to share some thoughts about one of the great teachers on my own path as writer: Stephen Sondheim.

Stephen died on Friday morning at his home in Connecticut. He was 91 years old and writing until the end.

On the Wednesday before he died, he saw two plays in New York, a matinee and an evening performance. On Thursday he shared Thanksgiving with friends, and Friday morning he left us.

He last appeared the Colbert show in mid-September, talking about what he was working on next, among other inspiring remarks. 

I was profoundly influenced and inspired by his work and supported by his personal encouragement, as so many writers were. (I tell the tale of how I came to meet and work with my idol when I was eighteen years old in this livestream.) 

As artists we must always...

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character archetypes

 

Remember Wilson the volleyball? What a performance! It turns out that even a story about a guy stranded alone on a desert island can have a cast of archetypal characters.

What do I mean by archetypal? That’s our topic this week. Some characters might populate the edges of a tale like extras in a movie, but archetypal characters help provide the energy that keeps your story humming along.

Story energy is a fascinating topic. It’s at the heart of how I think about good writing, and how I teach it in the Path of the Storyteller program, too. If you’ve ever wondered how to design and use your secondary cast of characters, I think you’ll like this episode!


My weekly livestream is on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific. Come live and participate! Or catch the replays here on the blog.

To watch live and ask questions, you can join the Path of the Storyteller Facebook group right here.

Or subscribe to the YouTube channel here. 

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does your hero need a makeover?

 

This is one of my favorite livestreams to date. Listen in as I unpack my not-so-guilty pleasure of watching makeover videos on YouTube. If you want to apply a soothing facial mask while you watch, all the better!

But here’s what we learn from it all: Story means change. Not just on the outside, but on the inside, too. Call it a spiritual makeover!

We readers (or viewers) come for that transformation. The bigger the change is, the better we like it. 

And we we’ll always root hardest for a hero who’s in most desperate need of a shift. 


My weekly livestream is on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific. Come live and participate! Or catch the replays here on the blog.

To watch live and ask questions, you can join the Path of the Storyteller Facebook group right here.

Or subscribe to the YouTube channel here. 

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marathon

I’ve often said to my students: The biggest hurdle we writers face is not mastering the craft, or navigating the industry, or even finding the time and money to carry on writing.

Those are all real challenges, for sure. But they’re not the ones that threaten to scuttle the ship.

No. The biggest hurdle is managing our anxiety about the work. The inner monologue goes something like this:

Is it good? Am I good? Or at least, good enough? Will this be the book that gets finished? Will this be the one that lands me an agent? Will this be one that breaks out? Am I doing this writer thing right? Should I even be doing it at all?

The list goes on. Writers never seem to get writer’s block when it comes to penning words of self-doubt and second-guessing. 

Why so? It’s a big question. Here’s my short answer: The very nature of writing simulates consciousness. The voice in my head that feels like "me” finds expression in the words...

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the practice of writing

“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...

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