When I look back at my journey from where I began in 2008, as a struggling, procrastinating writer, to where I am now, as a storyteller, there are a few pretty key things that I attribute to helping me get here.
Obviously a big part of it was finding Larry Brooks and discovering story structure (this was the moment that changed my whole writing life). Without that, I know for a 100 percent fact I wouldn’t be where I am today.
But there were three very specific things that stemmed from my finding Larry and story structure, and those are the three things that you need to commit to if you’re going to be a successful storyteller.
Those three things are:
You must learn as much as you can about craft and storytelling and how it all works (or doesn’t work). This is the foundation of your storytelling abilities.
Without a clear understanding and grasp of the principles of craft, you’ll end up spinning your wheels for years and years (and years) and still not have a story that’s finished or good enough to publish. This is what happens to most writers.
Mastering craft is the most important thing you can do for yourself as a writer and storyteller.
Like any other endeavor, whether you’re playing a sport, an instrument, dancing or doing something else that’s creative, there’s always a level of craft that comes into play. There are always principles and rules and foundations you must be aware of.
Otherwise you won’t ever be very good at what you’re doing.
You must spend time every week studying good storytelling, in movie and/or book format. The best way to learn is to study from people who’ve got it figured out.
The more movies you watch and the more novels you read, the more you’ll start to see these elements of craft laid out right in front of you.
I can’t watch a movie or read a book now without the plot points jumping out at me. Craft is that ingrained in me now.
And I’m grateful for it. Because the more movies I watch and the more books I read, the more I realize craft and storytelling works the same no matter what you’re writing.
Pro writers know it. Bestselling authors know it. (Or if they don’t know it, their editor does and makes sure their final product aligns with these principles.)
Exactly like when you’re in high school or college, studying is an important tool that allows you to master the material.
Same goes for storytelling. You can’t expect to be a good or even great storyteller without studying A LOT.
And unlike high school and college where the studying becomes tedious and annoying (and just a means to an end), studying storytelling is actually a hell of a lot of fun and enjoyment.
When I was in my hardcore studying phase (and who am I kidding? I still study story on the daily), I was watching upwards of two to three movies a day, breaking down the exposition and attempting to figure out the plot points.
Without studying as much as I have, I wouldn’t be even half the storyteller I am today.
You must practice what you’ve been learning and studying by working on your own stories. That includes developing ideas, planning them out and actually sitting down and writing them, as well as revising and finishing them.
This is a must. And, sadly, this is often the step writers go straight to, without making any stops at step one and step two.
It may seem fun to just sit down and start writing, without any knowledge of craft or storytelling, but eventually you’ll realize it’s like a rocking chair… fun for a while, but it’s not getting you anywhere.
At some point, you get tired of “shooting the basketball at the hoop in your driveway.” You want more. You want to be able to play with other people. You want to play in a pickup game.
You want to be able to win.
But you can’t do that if you’re not first learning, studying and then practicing on your own stories. Practice only gets you so far if you don’t have a foundation in place for making sure you understand what it is you have to do to be successful.
This storytelling thing isn’t for the faint of heart.
So, which step have you skipped? Or if you haven’t skipped any, which step do you need to spend more time on?
Only you know the answer to that. And only you can make the commitment to become a lifelong student of story.
Dream life or bust,
P.S. The doors to my membership site, The Storytelling Mastermind, open to new members on Friday!! And if you sign up and pay in full, there’s an extra-special Bonus that you have an entire year to use.