When I have told a story well, I have merely put in place the elements from which you will create your own version of the story.
You meld these elements with your own perspectives, histories, moods and experiences to go places that I can’t begin to imagine.
In this way, Art is a communal exponential experience, and the Universe is as blessed by the one who receives the gift as by the one who first shares it.
There is a bridge that crosses Toronto’s Don River—the Queen Street Viaduct—that is itself bridged by an arch inscribed with the message:
“This river I step in is not the river I stand in”
“Everything changes and nothing stands still. You could not step into the same river twice.”
It is a concept that I have come to embrace deeply through my many walks around and across Toronto, my camera firmly planted in front of my face.
Although I regularly seek new routes to follow in the hopes of discovering previously unknown treasures (at least unknown to me), I also revisit well-trodden routes to explore the changes that occur from visit to visit.
As Heraclitus suggested, our world is one of constant transformation if we but seek to see it.
Every nature walk brings me new species of plants and animals to photograph and opportunities to better appreciate the ones I see regularly.
Every lane way and alley along the grid of thoroughfares that cross my city, offer me windows into the temperments of street artists and social commentators who splash their messages and visions on every surface in dazzling colour.
These displays and their constant revision is one of the reasons why I will never be bored on any of my walks. But there is another reason that resonates within me much more deeply.
I am constantly changing.
Just as Heraclitus suggested that the river flows and so is not the same from one minute to the next, my life and my experiences continually flow and so I do not greet my world in the same way from one minute to the next.
The same yellow warbler might sit on exactly the same branch at the same time tomorrow and I might never see it. And even if I did, I would appreciate it in a completely different manner for reasons I cannot begin to fathom and recount today.
Every experience—regardless of whether I am conscious of it—changes me and influences how I frame and absorb my universe. Acknowledging that helps ensure that I am open to all of these new experiences within supposedly familiar ground.
Thus, to paraphrase the Queen Street Viaduct:
“These eyes I look with are not the eyes I see with”
Believing this, I live in an amazing world and embrace every moment for its wonder.
You suck. It’s true. No need to be embarrassed.
I suck, too; quite regularly, in fact. Possibly unlike you, however, I revel in that fact.
In almost any facet of life, when we are called upon to do something, many of us have concerns that we might not be up to the task, that we suck.
Depending on the task, the individual, the timing and innumerable other factors, this fear may give only the slightest pause or it may result in complete catatonia, leaving us bereft of the will to do anything let alone the requested task.
And I think this fear of suckage—yep, just made that word up—is perhaps the greatest in creatives as it is in creativity that we face our harshest critic: ourselves.
I have myself, and seen others, stare at a blank page, completely immobilized, incapable of the first squiggle that would start the creative process.
At best, we’re trying to consider every starting concept in our heads, lest our suckage be recorded for posterity and later ridicule. But just as often, it is blank-screen paralysis, our thoughts as immobile as our body.
I’m here to tell you that they are just negative manifestations of a positive experience.
In many ways, sucking is not only normal, it is also wonderful.
When I teach screenwriting, I start every lecture with the same question:
“Who sucked this week?”
And at least until the students have adjusted to the question, mine is the first hand that goes up.
You cannot help but suck at something until you don’t, and the timeline of skill is different for every individual and every task.
But actually sucking—as opposed to the fear of sucking—means you are trying. You are making an effort to push through your personal suckage, and that is amazing and wonderful.
Even the fear of suckage is a good sign, if not a good feeling, because it is an indication of how important the assignment is to you. If it wasn’t important to you, you wouldn’t care if you sucked.
So suck. Jump in with both feet, ignoring as best you can that little voice that warns you of doom should you suck.
For one thing, even once you have developed great skill in a field or activity, you will still have occasion to suck.
With apologies to the magnificent screenwriter Terry Rossio, for every Shrek and Pirates of the Caribbean, there is the odd Lone Ranger.
For every record-breaking season, Wayne Gretzky missed an open net on occasion.
No professional photographer keeps every shot she takes, nor painter every painting, nor songwriter every lyric or note.
You are going to suck.
The silver lining, however, is that the more you suck now, the less likely you are to suck later.
God knows I still do. And I’m very happy about that.
To learn more about effective storytelling and maybe gain insights from my years of suckage, visit:
So, What’s Your Story (web site)
So, What’s Your Story (Facebook)
Few, if any, writers have practiced the craft of storytelling their entire lives.
Sure, almost all of us have written since we first learned how, but few saw this expression as anything more than personal amusement or a passing phase. And when we completed our last essay in high school or college, most put the quill aside for more socially acceptable vocations.
In my case, it was a life in Science, getting first a degree in zoology and then a degree in molecular biology. Others went to law school or into medicine. Yet others worked a production line or took up a trade.
In any event, we all largely dismissed writing from our lives or at best, saw it as a hobby on par with doodling.
And yet, despite putting our pens away and mothballing our creative tendencies, these years were not lost. Quite to the contrary, these years have been invaluable to making you the writer and storyteller that you are today.
Friends will sometimes ask me to speak to their adolescent and college-aged children who have expressed an interest in writing. They want their offspring to understand both the opportunities and challenges of the lives they desire. And I am happy to oblige.
Where the kids are willing to share with me, I listen to their interests and goals, offering insights where I can. But in almost every conversation, my ultimate piece of advice is the same.
Live a life and experience your world.
This is not to say you should give up on your writing, even for a brief period. Dear god, no.
Write. Write. And keep writing.
My point is more that your writing will be so much deeper, richer and more meaningful when you have life experience under your belt. Your greatest asset as a writer is the time you’ve spent interacting with your world, even when only as an observer.
Life exposes you to the amazing diversity of people and perspectives that populate this planet.
Life teaches you about human interaction, in terms of both relationships and conflict.
Life unveils the subtleties and nuances in communication, and the insane power of silence and subtext.
Life is how you instinctively know what to write next. How your character will respond to an event or statement. Why your stories will resonate with others who have similarly lived lives.
And because my life has been different from yours—at least in the minutiae—we will write different takes on a story even when given the exact same starting material.
As you can imagine, the advice is not always welcomed. Life can feel like a delay to the gratification of self-expression.
And yet, not only is it not a delay, a life lived is the embodiment of the self in self-expression.
Your life lived is your truth, and good storytelling (even fictional) is about truth.
To improve your storytelling skills, check out:
So, What’s Your Story? (web site)
So, What’s Your Story? (Facebook)
Human beings connect through story. We define our individual selves by story. We even define our universe in terms of the stories we tell ourselves.
And despite often sharing experiences with others, my understanding and interpretation of those experiences—my personal Truth—is the story that I build around those experiences.
If I see something I have never seen before, I immediately construct a story. I give it context from items around it or its location or its presence at this time of day.
And remarkably, if I came upon this same thing tomorrow rather than today, the story I construct then might be entirely different from the one I build today.
Thus, story is malleable. It lives and breathes as we take in new information from our surroundings and incorporate that information into the story, making tweaks and adjustments to ensure that everything continues to make sense.
When the story doesn’t make sense, when congruence is lost, we get upset, and in some cases, put up hostile blinders. This is when human beings lose connection.
Because story is such a personal thing, the Creative—whom I define as anyone who pursues a task with passion—is faced with an essentially insurmountable challenge: How do I share my story through myriad personal filters?
Ultimately, you cannot control how another receives and interprets your story.
Even if the Painter tells me her intent in painting a portrait or landscape, the Novelist types out in no uncertain terms precisely what he means to convey, the Musician strikes notes and chords to instill specific feelings, I can remain oblivious to those intents, consciously or un-.
This simply is; and we can only hope that it does not negatively influence the passion to create.
That passion, the drive to create, must be given voice, however; and so the Creative moves forward, doing his or her best to share (much as I am doing now in writing this).
A dedicated Creative struggles on, regardless of the insurmountable barriers, and strives to convey the most effective story he or she can, looking for ways to layer thoughts and emotions and spiritual energies onto the personal stories of others.
We practice what we know. We experiment with the unknown. We seek guidance and critical analysis.
And most importantly, we accept that we will never achieve 100% success instilling our stories in others, and yet push ourselves and our Art as if it were possible.
As Creatives, as people of passion, that is central to our stories.
If you’re interested in learning how to build stories more effectively, seeking guidance for nascent projects or critical analysis of existing works, feel free to check out my website So, What’s Your Story or reach out to me here or via my Facebook page.
In the meantime, I wish you all the success in the world.
Each of us tends to undersell (or completely disbelieve) our expertise on subjects that are near and dear to our hearts. Expertise, we believe, is something other people have.
And yet, I am convinced that we are more expert than we think. And fortunately, we are living in a time where methods to convince others of our expertise has never been easier.
Watch my recent Facebook Live video Demystifying Expertise and see if you agree.