steering the craft

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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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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