Some Days

song in my head — “One Foot Before The Other” by Frank Turner

Some days the words come. They flow from mind to fingertip or pen as easily as a river flows to the sea. The Muse is with us and there’s magic in our bones.

Other days the words are hard to come by. They hide in dark shadows just on the edge of our vision; they gang up on us and overwhelm us until we can’t make sense of them. On days like these, we might think we’ll never write again.

The great Steven Pressfield would call this feeling “Resistance.”

In the opening of his masterful creative manifesto, The War of Art, Pressfield says:

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”

But are you a real writer or a wannabe?

If you’re a real writer then do the hard part. Sit down to write.

This doesn’t always mean the words will arrive, but it means the intention to write has. Struggling with the work—thinking of it, pressing through it, mulling it over—is the valuable work of a writer, too. It’s not just words on the page. It’s butt in the seat and story in the head. It’s exploring. It’s discovery. It’s wrestling with yourself and the material, battling with the Muse and the forces of Resistance. If you run from it, you’re lost. But if you face it, if your intentional, you’re doing the work.

So are you intentional with your writing time whether the words are there or not? Good. You’re being persistent. And Resistance hates persistence.


Just Keep Writing

Just keep writing.

You won’t always be understood. You won’t always be taken seriously or correctly. Your message might fall on deaf ears. Or hostile ears. Or ears with lots of opinions.

It doesn’t matter. If you have something to say, say it. The right people will find it.

That post your wrote that only one person read—that might have been just the encouragement that person needed. That little movie you made with your friends and no budget because you just had to get it out—that might become someone’s favorite movie, or a catalyst that inspires someone else’s long-shot story.

In his book, Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting, the incomparable Robert McKee says, “In a world of lies and liars, an honest work of art is always an act of social responsibility.”

If you have an honest work inside you, something within you that needs to be said, say it. There’s a reason that spark is there—in life and in art, there are no accidents. So set it off. And pretty soon, you’ll have a bonfire, a career. You’ll be writer, and no one can take that away from you.

“A writer isn’t done being a writer until they decide they’re done.
No matter what has gotten in your way: Just. Keep. Writing.”

Just keep writing.

—G (and @Massawyrm)

Predictable, But In A Good Way

song in my head — “Predictable” by Good Charlotte

One of the most important things I believe a storyteller can learn—especially one who wants to push conventions yet still reach a large number of people—is the subtle art of audience expectations. What does my reader or viewer expect from a story like this one?

Many factors play into audience expectations, and they vary from medium to medium. In the film world, for example, something unrelated to the actual movie, like the budget or some behind-the-scenes drama, can have a significant impact on how a viewer enters the theater (if they enter at all.) In most stories, however, regardless of medium, genre conventions and "tropes" often play a highly critical role.

One thing I find exciting to try and achieve in all my stories, no matter the genre, (and a quality I really enjoy experiencing as an audience member,) is the idea of predictability. Is this story predictable?

Now, you often only hear about something being "predictable" in a negative criticism, but I think being predictable in a good way—what some might call “inevitability”—is a worthy aim. It means you have set up your story well, and that the payoffs are clicking. It means an audience is tracking with you. It says you're playing all the right notes.

Of course, being predictable in a bad way is undesired, and usually comes when a story isn't inspiring, unique, or well-crafted. When an audience can see every moment coming from a mile away, well, that's not very satisfying.

However, an audience (especially a mainstream one) generally likes to be one tiny step ahead of you. Most people can't tolerate being in the narrative dark for too long. They want to understand the story—want it to feel familiar in some way, even if they can't articulate that need. It feels good, then, to have that flash of revelation, that moment when you see how the story has stacked the dominos, just before the storyteller topples them.

If you can hit this sweet spot—making the audience do a little work for the joy of revelation—then I believe the potential for more people to enjoy your work is higher. And what artist doesn't want that?


The End

song in my head — “Duality” by Bayside

I opened things up with beginnings. Now let’s be devious and skip to the end.

There's a fundamental idea prevalent in modern storytelling which coincidently finds its origins in ancient forms of storytelling. Hollywood, in particular, loves this structure, and I'm sure you've experienced it, even if you think you haven't.

It’s called The Hero's Journey.

In short, if you've seen Star Wars, you've seen The Hero's Journey.

There are many steps on this path of the proverbial hero, and they go by many names. I’ll expound on them all at one point or another of this there is no doubt. However, today I want to focus on the last step: Returning With the Elixir. In other words: The End. The journey is complete. The hero has succeeded.

But what does it mean for the hero to return? And what exactly has she returned with?

It’s no big secret that storytelling in its many traditions has often been used as a proxy for real life, that the journeys and growths of fictional characters mirror our own lived experiences, and that by investing in their telling, we can come to understand ourselves better. In other words, if you’re breathing, you are the hero. You are on a quest, as uneventful an adventure it may sometimes seem. This life is your story.

Writers and creators hopefully understand this better than most, especially in regards to our craft. We set out on a quest from our Ordinary World into a New World, the world of our imagination, embarking with little or no idea as to where we are headed. We face dragons and obstacles and Resistance; we make friends with the fictions in our heads, and we fall in love; we reach the Point of No Return or The Dark Night of The Soul, and we press on anyway; we face death and are reborn. And when it’s all said and done, we return with a finished tale (the elixir.)

Now, if your someone who views your work solely as a product (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that), then the physical (or digital) output of your finished tale is most likely your elixir. It's the completed thing, the thing you’re ready to share.

But if you feel as I do that a story can be more, then perhaps the elixir itself is something more, something less tangible. Something magical and medicinal, as the name suggests. Something that helps and inspires others. Something that ultimately saves us all.

In the story (and in life), the hero doesn't always "return" precisely to the place or the community in which they began. But they do come back. They do find their tribe. They do deliver the goods.

For heroes as for writers, you don't always have to go home again. But you do have to return.

Because the world needs what you're bringing with you.

— G