I originally published this in Deep Magic Magazine. I release The Author Stories Podcast twice each week, and I’m grateful for the chance to sit down with the best of the best and glean some wisdom from them. I’m going to try to blog about some of those things I’ve learned, and here’s the first in a recurring series. I hope you enjoy it.
I have a theory. Storytellers are born, but writers are made. What does that mean? I think that we are all born storytellers. I think it’s something that’s ingrained in our humanity. From the times when our very survival from generation to generation depended on passing wisdom from one group to another, we as a people were crafting parables, proverbs, stories, legends, poetry, songs, and instruction from our elders. Before we had the luxury of the written word, we were ensuring our survival by passing stories along.
Here’s why I think storytelling is something we are born with. Watch children at play. They will happily create entire worlds to play in, or take a favorite character and live out whole new adventures, all within the confines of their imaginations. If you’re lucky enough to be anywhere near when this is happening, you could get pulled in and be given a co-starring role.
The problem is that most adults have allowed this part of their humanity to atrophy. Like the biceps of an insurance salesman, the creative muscles must be flexed and put under tension and forced to work or else they become flabby and withered.
That is where the difference lies. We are born storytellers, but writers are people that see that small creative spark and continually provide an environment that allows that spark to breathe. They give the spark fuel—not too much and not too little, just the right amount—that will gently and gradually bring that spark to the raging fire of creativity.
I began the Author Stories Podcast in the fall of 2014 as a way to surround myself, albeit virtually, with the best of the best. I sought out writers that were doing great things and making a difference, and asked them to share some of their wisdom with me. For the last couple of years, I have produced this weekly podcast that one listener called “a master’s degree course in creativity”. I like that description.
I’ve tried to take some of the ideas and themes that come up over and over again on the podcast to highlight some that I feel are the most important.
The first thing is that there is no such thing as an aspiring writer. You either write or you don’t, and putting your butt in the chair is the single thing that will help you bridge the gap from wannabe to writer.
The first thing is that there is no such thing as an aspiring writer. You either write or you don’t, and putting your butt in the chair is the single thing that will help you bridge the gap from wannabe to writer. Writers write. It’s as simple as that. If you need some encouragement to help you decide that you want to be a storyteller, here it is. I believe we have survived as a species because we tell stories. We pass down wisdom, information, and tales about the human condition because we can wrap those things up in story form. Sit down and tell your version of it.
Writing is hard. Sure, some days you will sit down and the story flows out of you like a river after a dam bursts. And some days you feel like a miner looking for a last nugget long after the vein has been completely emptied. But the stories that resonate the deepest come from the struggle of finding the thing that is not easy to find. Just like the discovery of a precious jewel long after the cave has been abandoned, you will not regret digging deeper to find the thing overlooked by everyone else.
Trust yourself. Writing is a very solitary pursuit, for the most part. You spend long hours in front of a computer or notebook, reporting on the characters and events in your head. After you spend the months immersed in your imagined world, you have to come back to where the rest of us are. That is when it’s important to have a few people that you really trust help you see things in your story that you were too close to see for yourself. Learn which pieces of advice and comments are truly helpful, and which ones are just opinion. Make changes that help the story be the best it can be, then trust in your gift. You are the storyteller.
The Internet has changed publishing in fantastic ways. You don’t need the gatekeepers to give you the green light to publish your book anymore. With digital publishing and social media, you can publish and build an audience of people that will help you spread the word. In the same way that the music industry has changed and the days of huge advances are essentially over, publishing has gone back to its roots where an artist is connecting directly with his or her readers, and this is a good thing. When the machinery and bloat of a thousand middle-men is stripped away, some really great art comes out. This is a golden time for indie music and publishing.
There are lots of trolls that won’t appreciate what you do, but one day you’ll receive an e-mail or comment from a reader, and they will tell you that the thing that you poured your soul into has helped them through a difficult time. Like a woman that looks back on the pain of childbirth and smiles when her baby learns to walk and talk, knowing that your story has found a home in someone else is worth all the pain and struggle.
I said earlier that writing is a solitary endeavor, and this holds true, but some of my closest friendships have come about from this podcast. Some of the friends I’ve made have sat across the table from me and broken bread in real life, some exist in the alternate reality of e-mail and Skype, but their friendship and input are invaluable to me. Writers are sometimes mercurial, introspective, and opinionated, but at the same time, some of the most humble and generous people you’ll ever meet. Like iron sharpens iron, trading ideas and encouragement with other people in the trenches makes you a better writer and, I believe, elevates the craft for all of us.
I expected to write an article about very specific points of story craft and the execution of writing, but the more I thought about it, I realized that as writers we have the same struggles and hurdles to jump. But thankfully we have the tales of those that have gone before us to light our way.
Now I have to put my butt in the chair and get my next novel out. Thanks for reading.
Stu Remington is a successful novelist, but faced with a deadline for the final book in his best-selling trilogy, he finds himself stuck. Stu turns to an old typewriter that he acquired at a yard for a change of pace. When he realizes the next morning that the nonsense story he typed on the old typewriter has come true, Stu is set upon a path to not only fix his writer’s block, but to face the demons lurking all around him, with the help of his faithful and sardonic bulldog Rolo and a cast of colorful characters that cross his path.
A story full of twists and turns, Writer’s Block mixes elements of literary fiction with magical realism and a supernatural twist. Originally published as a serial, this story has received rave reviews and love from readers.
“Garner’s books never disappoint to lead us ever so slightly beyond the ordinary and into the realm where extraordinary things can happen.” Stefan Bolz, author of The White Dragon 02: Crucible
“Garner’s folksy prose remind us that we’re surrounded by magic, that Weston is every town, and that there is a bit a Stu in each of us.” ~ Daniel Arthur Smith author of Hugh Howey Lives
“Wonderful, inspiring, hilarious, freaky, heartbreaking & yet mystical!” Amazon review by Seamus Colgan