Why story coaching?

Coaching

No matter where you are in your writing career, your work can almost always be helped by feedback from fresh eyes that do not have a vested interest in the work itself.

Story analysis can help you see challenges in your story that might be invisible to you, whether through inherent biases or because you see the story clearer in your head than it has been recorded on the page.

Story analysis can also help you see opportunities in your work that you overlooked, if only because you are too close to it. Your priority for that early draft, in all likelihood, was simply to get things out of your head and onto the page, and we all walk with the fear of wandering down so many blind alleys that we never come out of the other end, wherever that end may be.

 

So fine, story analysis is helpful. But what the hell is story coaching?

Almost by definition, story analysis happens AFTER you have completed a draft (or several). It comes AFTER you have wandered the desert of creative confusion. It comes AFTER you have bled your creative juices onto the page and have become smitten with your creation.

And in some very unfortunate cases, it never comes at all, because the storyteller never completed the project, whether due to fear of failure, a sense of being intractably lost, or simply because Life intervened to distract from the task at hand.

This is where story coaching can help.

Story coaching is about a work-in-progress, whether a screenplay, a novel, the writer him or herself…whatever the storyteller needs most.

Hurdles

As with life coaching, business coaching or athletics coaching, story coaching is about providing guidance to the storyteller on a regular basis, whether simply as a second set of eyes to critique the work or as a mentor who uses the work-in-progress as a framework within which to help the storyteller develop as an artist.

Story coaching is also about commitment and accountability for the storyteller.

By hiring a story coach, the writer has made his or her creative art a priority in life. Why else spend the money?

And working with the storyteller, the story coach establishes expectations and deliverables, whether that is new story ideas, number of newly written pages, rewrites. These are the foundations of creative habits that can be difficult to develop and entrench in solitude because the creative process is so personal and fraught with self-doubt and self-recrimination.

 

But I can get this from a writing course or a writers’ group.

Yes, this is true…to an extent.

Writing classes can be invaluable, depending on the composition of your classmates and the skill of your instructor.

With a roomful of students, however, it can be difficult for the instructor to provide truly focused guidance to an individual student. More typically, the student is presented with a spectrum of general direction, all of which can be valuable but only some of which may be germane to a given work-in-progress.

Writers’ groups can also be a wonderful resource, again depending on the composition of the group. That composition and the individual writer’s position within the skill hierarchy, however, are critical.

Most writers’ groups are comprised of peers with relatively equal experience, and so may not be able to provide the more advanced analysis and mentorship that an individual wants or needs. And if an individual is the most advanced or skilled within a given writers’ group, he or she may find little opportunity for improvement.

[NOTE: I firmly believe that you will always find something in the feedback of any group of readers. The question is more whether it is worth the effort you put into the group.]

Sports

Although it is not impossible, you are very unlikely to ever become a professional football or hockey player by spending any amount of time playing flag football or pond hockey with friends. Why would we expect storytelling to be any different?

 

How do I know a story coach is right for me?

You don’t. Well, you don’t until you start a conversation with him or her.

 

Oh, hey! Is the story coach going to try to tell me what stories to tell?

Absolutely not.

The story coach is here to understand what story you want to tell or help you understand it better yourself, and then help you tell it in the most effective manner.

You are the Creator. The story coach is not.

 

If you want to learn more about Story Coaching, feel free to reach out to me (no obligation) at:

So, What’s Your Story? (web site)

So, What’s Your Story? (Facebook)

SWYS-Facebook-Cover

Faith

Image

Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.

– Fred Gailey (John Payne), Miracle on 34th Street

 

We all have doubts.

Doubt that we are good enough to accomplish our goals. Doubt that our goals are even realistic or rational.

And sadly, most if not all of us have had or currently have a long line of people who are more than willing to feed those doubts with their own. Often, their superficial motive is to be supportive, to help cushion the blow of failure, to save you from certain doom. But more likely, their motive is to take comfort in the belief that your doubts make it okay for them to have doubts about their own lives.

But, if you’re lucky, you have those special few in your life who have absolutely no doubt in your future success. They’re the ones who listen to your ideas with a smile, an eager nod, and perhaps some sage constructive advice to help make your goals even more realistic.

The latter group are the people you need to heed, for they see the potential of your efforts in the absence of your fears and just as importantly, in the absence of their own.

I am not a religious man—although I have become quite spiritual—so faith has never been top of mind for me until recently. It’s not that I didn’t have faith, in hindsight, but rather that I had a very narrow definition of it. And, like my friends for me, it was easy to have faith in things external. It was faith in myself that I lacked.

More recently, however, I have realized that faith isn’t about rejecting the possibility of failure. Rather it is about accepting the possibility of failure but with the further understanding that failure does not mean your journey has ended.

Failure does not put your destination off limits. It is merely a diversion from your original path to that destination.

I know I am a good writer and story teller, but I also know I have challenges ahead in translating those skills into the money I need to make to continue writing and story telling.

Faith comes in telling myself (and believing) that through hard work on my part (e.g., networking, classes, practice) and unknown forces outside of my control and understanding, those challenges will dissipate at the appropriate time.

Like those well-intentioned naysayers, drawing a line in the sand about giving up (e.g., going back to my former career) only gives voice to my doubts. I will not allow myself to do that anymore.

I have faith that I will endure failure and that I will succeed at whatever it is I am to accomplish, no matter what street I live on.

I wish you that faith as well.

 

For an interesting piece on questions about talent and faith therein, check out this post from Plotting Bunnies: The ingredients of Writing: Talent…?

(Image is property of owner and is used without permission because I have faith they’ll get my point.)

Packing it in

Cardboard conundra;

A thousand puzzles

Demanding attention.

Sticky fingers clawing

Invisible seams;

Tortured screams

Muffle buried treasures.

Swaddled icons

Nestled strategically;

Memories layered

On things forgotten.

The paper-laden tomb

Of a modern day pharaoh;

Heiroglyphic notes

Of fumed pitch.

Life in a box

Awaiting release.

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Writer’s Block-ed – Part Two

In Part One, I discussed the idea that the only difference between creatives and non-creatives or people who are blocked is a psyche filter that has become clogged; a filter that sits between thoughts generated deep within and expression of those thoughts to the outside world.

Below, I offer some thoughts on what I have found effective in unclogging that filter.

Step over it or go around it. Nowhere is it written that you must solve this problem right now. Depending on the nature of the project in which you find yourself stuck, is there an opportunity to simply mark a placeholder for where you’re stuck and move to the next part? Personally, in any creative endeavour, forward momentum is key and once lost is hard to regain. It’s easier to push a car that is already rolling than to get one rolling. A number of my manuscripts contain notes to myself along the lines of [something exciting happens here].

Likewise, for a written work, don’t feel like you have to solve all of the plot details early on. I had one screenplay that required my protagonist be in disguise. I had no idea how to do this logically, but proceeded as though it would come to me later…and it did. If you’re in a good space, the spirits will guide you and you will find your answers. But you have to be open to those answers.

Walk away. For most of us, these are very personal projects the only deadlines for which we hold internally. So, screw the deadline. Walk away from the project for a bit. Go see a movie. Read a book. Listen to music. Go for a run.

The longer you focus on the problem, the more inflamed it becomes until it becomes a creative cancer. Let it rest. Give the rest of your brain something to do. Let it do the heavy lifting for a bit. You may just find that the rest of the brain has ideas your creative centre wasn’t able to deal with and those ideas may just sneak past the filter (so have a notebook in your pocket, just in case).

Move to another project. I think a mistake a lot of new writers make is only having one project, as that blows the importance of the project way out of proportion. At any given moment, I have at least a dozen different creative projects on the go, at various levels of completion. That way, the minute I see the first signs of boredom or frustration with a project, I can move to another one to maintain my personal forward momentum. Perhaps the one thing that clogs a filter quickest is creative fallowness as lack of movement breeds insecurity.

The nice thing about working on multiple projects is that the creative act on one project often stimulates the creative response on another. You may have your answer to project one; you may not just be able to see it until you work on project two. Which leads me to…

Try another creative activity. Creativity breeds creativity. For me, photography stimulates writing (I suspect it works the other way, too). When I’m taking pictures, I am focused on the task at hand, the object on the other side of my lens, but because I am a storyteller, part of my brain is applying context to that image. You may have seen examples of this in some of my other blog posts. It allows me to visually tap into other emotions and contexts not previously obvious in my mind and those may inform my writing dilemma.

The key is to actively engage your brain. If you want to do something more passive like reading a book, as suggested earlier, try reading it aloud. Forcing yourself to actually engage with the written material will stimulate different parts of your brain, including your auditory centres. Responding to the movie screen, however, will likely get you thrown out of the theatre.

Hang with other creatives. First off, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with a pity party. It can be good to commiserate and share war stories from the trenches. It helps us to understand that we are not alone and that there is another side to the current blockage. And who better to help you with that than fellow members of the society.

Likewise, simply sharing your dilemma opens the floor to multiple brains with filters at various stages of clogging. Hopefully, around the table, there is enough creative force to blow the walls of those filter pores and clear things out. Yes, it’s your project, but you don’t have to do it alone.

If you think screaming at the gods will help break your writer's block, give it a go! (Photo taken in Hope, BC, ironically enough)

If you think screaming at the gods will help break your writer’s block, give it a go! (Photo taken in Hope, BC, ironically enough)

Writer’s Block-ed – Part One

Anyone who has stared at a blank page or screen and been incapable of adding words to it understands the living nightmare that is writer’s block. The whiteness of the sheets or the blinking of the cursor mocks you as you struggle before it, desirous of wondrous expression but incapacitated and mute. You feel incapable, devoid of ideas, and worry that your creative ju-ju will never return.

But are we correct in feeling this way? What is writer’s block?

To my mind, the only difference between creatives and non-creatives is a willingness to create. We all have it within us; it is just that some of us move unbridled to the fore while others linger back. It is as though there is a psyche membrane or filter that separates us, or perhaps, to be more granular, it separates thought from expression.

Think of any filter in your house. The air filter in your car, for example. The filter keeps particulate matter—dust, dirt, debris—from damaging your engine while still allowing air to reach the combustion cylinders that convert fuel to power. When that filter gets clogged, however, less air can reach the cylinders and therefore the car underperforms or does not run at all.

I think the psyche filter works similarly but with a twist. In creatives (and likely in children), the filter is clear and wide open, allowing thoughts generated deep within to pass through freely and find expression in the outside world.

In non-creatives and people experiencing writer’s block, it is less that the pores of the filter have become clogged, so much as the pores have shrunk to microscopic size—a self-clogging filter, if you will. This prevents almost all of the generated thought from reaching the surface to be expressed.

You are generating ideas, but for whatever reason, your filter is keeping you from letting them free.

Alternatively, the filter works more like the car filter in that your psyche requires stimulating input to convert brain energy to creative power. In creatives, the filter lets in everything (or a large part of everything), whereas in non-creatives, again, the pores are too small to let anything more than the rudimentary information needed for survival enter and so the creative engine stalls.

In either case, the capacity to generate thought and to express those thoughts is the same in both groups of people. It is the nature of the filter that distinguishes us.

I wish I could present you with the secret answer for unblocking that filter when it becomes troublesome, but the working mechanisms of each filter are unique, yours attuned to your psyche.

In Part Two, I’ll offer some thoughts on what I have found effective in dealing with a clogged filter. They don’t always work, but by having multiple outlets, I hedge my bets that something will work.

The following gallery explores colour at one of my favourite buildings in Montreal, the Palais des Congres.