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

Happy Fathers’ Day, Mom

Not to detract from the well-earned celebrity of men everywhere who receive this single day of praise from their children, but not all of us had a man figure prominently in our childhood. For me, the only men who impacted me growing up were my grandfather (thank you) and a handful of very special teachers (thank you, Mr. Muhlstock and colleagues).

Toronto Island

My mom (purple top) was literally at the centre of all we did.

No, for me and a lot of kids like me, the leading father-figure in our lives was our mom…in my case, Jeannette or Jan.

Although Mom didn’t always meet up to the stereotypes of a father—I can’t remember throwing around a baseball or going fishing with her—she was always there for my brothers and me, ready to help us with any problems we might be facing or ensuring she found us an understanding male to speak with (e.g., Big Brother).

I remember when my youngest brother Shawn played hockey as a young kid. In a rink full of Dads, yelling support for their Lafleur, Howe or Gretzky, there was my Mom, cheering on my brother…almost completely oblivious to any of those NHL superstars.

Connected

Mom is always connected to us (even when we fight her on that).

Mom was the one who made sure we had a roof over our heads. Mom made sure we were fed and had all our school supplies. Mom was the one who made sure we never knew we were as poor as I suspect we were. Mom was the one who made sure our home life was as normal as the next kid’s.

But perhaps Mom’s greatest legacy is that she ensured her boys would grow into gentle, caring men, who respected women, less as people to be protected and more as people to admire and celebrate. And in the case of my brother Scott, also to understand the importance of your children and to be a great parent, which he is.

Mountain top

Queen of all she surveys

So, happy Fathers’ Day, Mom…and to all the other single women raising children. You have my deepest regard.

Party pooper

But never forget she is MOM first, cool Dad second.

See also:

Dads: Not just an oatmeal cookie

12 Days of Gratitude – Alayna

Alayna

This is my friend Alayna. For every reason that I told you Ned was a good man, Alayna defines what it is to be a good woman.

Friend, mother, wife, educator, nut-bar, science nerd: all qualities that make Alayna a very special woman, someone who blesses my life with every witticism and wise-crack. Buried behind a veneer of sarcasm is a passionate soul who is both demanding of and deeply dedicated to others.

To know Alayna is to have your life enriched, your mind expanded and your passions empowered (and sometimes your ass kicked).

 

(Part Ten of my 12 Days of Gratitude…because the rest of the news sucks)

You have the write to know

Write

I write about writing. I’ve seen dozens of blogs that do the same and suspect there are hundreds if not thousands more blogs about writing I have yet to find.

I routinely visit web sites dedicated to writing, reading amazing posts from amazing (and some not so amazing) writers. And I have two bookshelves dedicated to various aspects of writing, from dictionaries and tomes on prose to bound witticisms and opinions on the minutiae of character, plot and the perfect turn of joke.

I have taken classes on sketch comedy, screenwriting and story editing, and have listened in on dozens of podcasts and teleconferences given by the kings and queens of screenwriting—the latest given by Robert McKee. And I have recently started going to writing conferences, bending and rubbing elbows with writers established and in the birthing process.

Conference

All of this information and guidance has been invaluable to helping me understand my craft. But for all those thousands of hours of effort, I’m really not sure that any of it has helped me be a better writer.

In truth, I think there are only really two things you need to do to be a better writer:

  1. Write
  2. Share what you’ve written

Unless you’re willing to write, write some more, write yet again, and then when your body has given up the ghost with exhaustion, write again, you will never get better. All of the academic training and guidance in the world will not make you a better writer if you are not willing to write.

Leonid_Pasternak_001

Writing can be like literally shoving fingers into brain to extract words

But writing is a very insular process, so it is equally important that you share what you have written…with literally anyone: your mom, your partner, your dog, the guy on the subway, the squirrel at the park.

How does the other party respond to your work? Are you communicating well? Do they see, hear, taste, what you see, hear, taste?

I am not asking do they like what you wrote. Personal tastes are just that. Rather, you want to know do they respond to what you’ve written…good, bad or ugly.

Oh, and I was only being half-facetious about the dog and squirrel…try it. You’ll be amazed at what happens.

Because most animals can’t read—I blame the current education models—you’ll be forced to read your work to them…the minute your work moves from visual to aural, a different part of your brain opens up and you hear whether you are affected by your work. Invaluable.

Love the internet for this stuff..."woman talking to squirrel"

Love the internet for this stuff…”woman talking to squirrel”

So read all you want, whether online or in those ancient paper constructs we call books. Attend conferences, lectures, podcasts and classes. I applaud your effort, your drive.

But I reiterate…there are only really two things you need to do to be a better writer:

  1. Write
  2. Share what you’ve written

Good luck.

You won’t like this

Many of us spend our lives trying to figure out how to do only the things we like, only the things that feel good, while leaving all of the other stuff behind us. An entire industry—retirement planning—has been built on the belief that if we can put up with the stuff we don’t want to do for a bit, then we can spend the rest of our days comfortably doing only the things we want to do.

Thus, what I’m about to ask you may sound crazy or counter-intuitive.

Have you given any thought to doing something you don’t like?

We read books that match our world view of the way things should be. We see movies and watch television shows that fit comfortable patterns. We hang out with friends and in places that work with our vision for ourselves. But with all due respect to those things and people, these choices limit us.

I’ve read a variety of business books over the years, and I found a number of authors who I think are pretty intelligent, so I read everything they produce. But what dawned on me a couple of years ago was that rather than simply expanding my understanding of how things worked, most of these books really just helped rationalize what I already felt to be true—or at least what I felt ought to be true. (I’m looking at you, Seth Godin.)

I first noticed the inverted reasoning when I read a book entitled Be Unreasonable by Paul Lemberg. His basic thesis was that companies run into trouble because they only do things that would be considered reasonable or expected by their peers and their customers. This behaviour, he holds, severely curtails progress and practically kills innovation.

It is the old “madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” scenario.

His response was to be unreasonable, to do the unexpected, to pretend the box doesn’t even exist. He was quite forthright in his demands on his readers to change their habits, demanding we make specific changes in our behaviours, which I will not go into here.

In principle, I agreed with him, but when it came to actually doing these things, I balked. The things he wanted us to do were completely unreasonable. Ahhh. And there it was. His thesis, slapping me upside the head, or perhaps more accurately, holding the mirror of smug superiority to my face.

Most of what I did was within the normal boundaries of my work or family life. And when I did step outside of those bounds—much to the angst of my bosses or family—my actions were still within the bounds of my personal beliefs, and were thus still limited.

In the years since, I have tried to be more unreasonable as a way of expanding my universe, even if it makes me terribly uncomfortable or those around me nervous. On the macro scale, I quit my job to try to become a working screenwriter…still an effort in progress. At a more micro level, though, I have explored new foods, lifestyles, arts and communities.

Image Dance class, hunh.

I recently watched Anime—Japanese cartoon—for the first time. Don’t see the appeal, but I’m willing to try a few more to see if I can understand the art form better. I listen to a broader selection of music and speak with a broader assortment of people to see what makes them tick and understand how they view the same world in which we both live.

So, I ask you to try doing something unreasonable with your life, however large or small.

If you like rock music, take in a live opera performance.

Gather a few coworkers together and brainstorm the hell out of a work problem…and then present your ideas to someone senior in the management chain.

Rather than go on that golfing weekend, run guns with Somali pirates across the Gulf of Aden (okay, I can’t advocate that one with a clear conscience).

Just because you’re dead certain you don’t like something still doesn’t guarantee you won’t or that you can’t do it. And in doing it—whether you liked it or not—you will have opened up another space in your universe and may find ways to expand your Art.