5 Easy Steps Toward a Writing Routine

There is no shortage of articles out there that detail the routines of famous and successful writers. These masters of their craft do not wait for inspiration to strike them, rather they approach writing like a habit by having a solid routine that primes them for the moment of truth: the moment where pen needs to touch paper and the thoughts need to flow.

You, too, can also reach a level of mastery with your craft with the Five Easy Steps Toward a Writing Routine I will share with you today. Each of these steps are basic frameworks that anybody can do, but the details are completely up to you. There is no one size fits all routine since everybody works differently, so take the following tips as a template rather than a step by step manual.

By the end of this blog post, you have had gathered ideas as to what things you can do to prime yourself for every writing session so that you can write daily or to whatever level of consistency you desire. The bottom line here is to no longer rely on those random flashes of inspiration in order to write, and instead develop the discipline to transform your writing into a consistently conscious decision.

1. Exercise

As I’ve mentioned in Productive Procrastination, not writing can actually help your unconscious mind conjure up some ideas for you in the background while you focus your consciousness something else entirely. Which is why writers often report coming up with their best ideas in the shower, during a car ride, or even right before they are about to fall asleep.

To take that a whole step further, you should also find and develop an exercise routine to incorporate into your daily life. Not only will it help you live a healthier life, but to tie it into writing, exercise is important for us writers because it gets us out of our heads and into our bodies.

A lot of us spend a tremendous amount of time thinking and a lot of that can actually constrain us from expressing ourselves to the best of our ability because our brains can get overworked, and end up needing some time to rest and recharge. And what better way to recharge than to increase the blood flow back into your brain?

On top of that, being a writer requires you do a whole lot of sitting around, so it’s not a bad idea to get your limbs stretched out a bit as to not feel all cramped and cooped up in your chair after long sessions of writing.

I personally like to do yoga first thing in the morning because if I’m gonna be spending a lot of time sitting down, I wouldn’t want to develop a hunch back and crushed hips, so I opt for hip opening poses and other stretches that allow my spine a wide range of motion beyond being hunched over my desk. I also like to go out for walks while listening to music and do a mish mash of thinking about the next thing to write, and then focusing on the music to let my unconscious figure out the rest as I continue my walk.

But whatever you choose to do is completely up to you. Maybe you prefer to do some running, jump rope, or weight lifting etc. Whatever it is, make sure it’s manageable for your physique and that you give yourself a reasonable amount of reps or amount of time to exercise that you can do on a daily basis. You want to challenge yourself physically enough to get your heart rate up, but not so much that it also tires you out, thus rendering your unable to write at all.

Bottom line is that you don’t want your blood vessels and and muscles to stiffen, so get some exercise in order to increase the blood flow through your body and not develop any cramps from sitting too long.

2. Physical and Mental Nourishment

Now that you’ve got your body moving and blood flowing back to your brain, it’s time to nourish your body and mind with some good food and drink to replenish some of the energy you spent exercising. And since your organs will be more active, the food and drink you eat will digest faster and provide you with much needed energy to write. Take care of the body, you’ll take care of the mind.

I’m not a dietician so I can’t really suggest anything specifically healthy for writers in particular, though we all have some rough idea of what constitutes as “healthy food,” so use your best judgement. You know, your fruits and vegetables, your whole grains, and so on.

I personally like to eat buttered peanut butter toast after yoga and have a hot steaming mug of black coffee to wash it down with. Coffee is a writer’s bestfriend, after all!

I’ve loved peanut butter since I was a kid and it also just so happens to help with improving memory, cognitive function and concentration; brain functions that writers benefit greatly from. You want to remember intricate details about your work, choose the right words and passages to incorporate them, and be able to do so with the focus required to weave it all together in a compelling and comprehensible way.

And, of course, who can deny the wonderful jolt of energy coffee can bring when you most need it? Not to mention it’s quite quite to take sips every few paragraphs of writing, or whenever you need a moment to pause and think about what to write next.

On top of the physical nourishment you can provide for yourself, there’s also the mental nourishment beyond the benefits of peanut butter and coffee. This can come in the form of reading other books or watching a TV show, or consuming any other art form that inspires or even informs your writing.

Once again, choose your own adventure. As of this blog post, my pre-writing mental nourishment is reading about Stoicism for an hour so that I can steel my mind and feel inspired by these ancient intellectual greats, who I’m learning bestowed a ton of wisdom on us that the world now views as commonplace, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Feed your body and mind with good food and good art, you’ll need the energy and inspiration.

3. Warm Up Writing

After taking good care of yourself, it is finally time to do some warm up writing. Whether you consider it “actual” writing or not, it’s a very useful practice that can help ease you into focus. It can also help combat your inner editor and possible perfectionism.

Just like how a singer will do silly sounding warm up exercises before a performance, a writer, too, must do silly writing exercises to be okay with making mistakes and imperfect prose. You get that out of your system, then you’re more likely to feel comfortable with the “actual” writing you want to do, whether it’s a novel, a screenplay, or anything else in between.

I’ve written several blog posts in the past about different forms of free writing you can do, often suggesting that depending on how “stuck” you feel, the longer you will want to free write. On a good day, I give myself only five minutes to free write before I sit down to work on a project, otherwise when I’m feeling a ton of resistance, my free writing can go from 10-20 minutes depending on how stuck I feel.

Here are the three types of journals I’ve written about before that you can potentially use for your warm up writing exercise:

  1. The Personal Journal – I cannot stress enough how important it is for people to start journaling because it helps you understand yourself tremendously when you pour your heart out onto the page about your true thoughts and feelings about your life. As of this blog post, journaling for an hour is my personal writing warm up exercise because 2021 was an eventful year for me and I’m still processing some of the things that happened in it for me.
  2. The Free Fall Journal – One of the first things I learned in Creative Writing class was to free write for about 10-20 minutes about anything. And when I say anything, I mean anything. You can write lyrics, a loose outline of your novel’s next chapter, or you can even write a whole ton of gibberish, it doesn’t matter. As long as you’re warming up your mind to get any sort of thoughts out onto the page.
  3. The Shadow Journal – For the really resistant writers, this kind of journal could help you contend with your own dark side. You know the one. Your ego. The thing that constantly tells you that you’re not good enough and that you shouldn’t even bother writing today, it’s a waste of time. Or it’s too hard, so why bother? Writing a Shadow Journal is a deep and intense discussion with your own dark side, arguing as to why you are capable of writing. Not just today, but in general. You give your inner critic a voice and listen to what it has to say, but then you squash it with counter arguments that restore your belief in yourself. If you so dare, of course. This type of journal is risky, so proceed with caution!

There’s also a variety of writing prompts you can do that are out there if you are looking to do something a little lighter than full out journal entries like I’ve suggested. Looking at this list now, I’m surprised how I haven’t even written about The Progress Journal, so make to follow the blog in order to get notified when that post gets published!

The bottom line is: warm up writing is like a singer doing vocal warm ups, and you can think of writing your actual project as showtime!

Speaking of which…

4. The Actual Writing

Now it’s time to do some actual writing!

Hoping that you’ve nourished your body and mind properly, and warmed up your writer’s mind, it is time to finally write what you’ve probably been thinking about writing for a long time.

If it’s a big project like a full length novel or movie script, which require a huge time and energy commitment, it is that much more important to have these pre-writing routines set in place so your body and mind can associate this sequence of actions to serve your ultimate purpose: creative self expression.

This purpose can often get stifled when we do not build healthy habits that help support us toward integrating writing into the rest of our daily lives. Since writing a huge project can take so much time and energy, it’ll only be natural to not feel like it on certain days, but if you develop and stick to your routine, you can make it a lot easier for yourself to sit down and write when you know need to.

This part is self explanatory so we won’t linger on it for too long.

You know what to do, just do it!

And then of course…

5. Reward Yourself

Last, but certainly not least, you should have a reward in place for all your writing troubles. I personally like to play some video games and produce music after a long and hard writing session.

Once again, whatever you choose is entirely up to you!

The idea is to have something to look forward to after each writing session, especially on the days in which the writing itself isn’t the thing you’re looking forward to doing. And understandably so because not only is writing difficult, so is the simple act of getting your self started is arguably even more difficult.

Otherwise posts like this wouldn’t even exist to help people with a very common problem. I will write more in the future about how you can reignite the flame that initially inspired you if it happens to be flickering out later in the project’s lifespan. But for now, give these tips a try and let me know how it goes!

How Fan Fiction Can Improve Your Writing

For the uninitiated, fan fiction is when a writer takes characters, plots, and locations from already existing stories and writes their own spin on it. From Harry Potter to Twilight, writers across the world have repurposed these stories to their own liking, often reinterpreting the stories in a way that either expands on the lore, or changing up some concepts and plot threads to what they would have loved to see happen in the original story.

Writing fan fiction is a pretty common practice among writers and is often a springboard for writing their own original stories. After all, Fifty Shades of Grey actually started off as a Twilight fan fiction and later became its own original story, which could explain the similarities between the dysfunctional relationships of each story’s respective starring couples.

Now despite fan fiction being a common practice, there are other writers out there who look down upon it because writing fan fiction lacks originality and is considered “cheating.” If you’re one of those writers, you’re not alone, because I was one of them. If you’re a fan fiction writer, maybe this will be a nice refresher or an eye opener as to why what you’re doing is pretty valuable.

The Originality Trap

For a long period in my life, I was overly concerned with being original. I often thought to myself and explained away to others, “why do what everyone else is already doing? I want to stand out, otherwise how else would I ever get noticed?! I want to be original!”

Time and time again, I see a lot of writers and creators get too hung up on wanting to be original because they want to stand out, only to stifle their own creativity because they’re afraid of being a carbon copy of someone else. Having been in that state of mind myself, I can confidently say that this mindset is a surefire way to kill not only your own creativity, but your own confidence as a writer.

This goes for all creators, actually.

Being too concerned with originality could lead to trying too hard to be eccentric and weird to stand out, but then miss out on possibly adding any depth to your work. The harder you try to be original, the more difficult you might make it for others to even comprehend what you’re trying to convey.

This is not to knock on genuinely eccentric work that for whatever reason is difficult to comprehend, and trust me, complexity can be part of the fun in consuming an art piece. It satiates that part of our creative minds that like to think really hard and extrapolate meaning through concerted effort like a puzzle, then feel rewarded once you figured it out, or at the very least created your own interpretation of the piece.

However, I would argue that less is more when it comes to art. This is why a lot of the “simpler” things like pop music and popular fiction can easily be seen as reductive and good for the “uneducated masses.” There’s this huge contention with music where artists tend to start simplifying their music to appeal to wider audiences, and that is often seen as “selling out,” thus leading to people begroaning that “they’re not as good as they used to be.” And, “oh, they just want to make more money so they make whatever the radio stations will eat up like candy.”

In my opinion, this elitist way of thinking of art does a huge disservice not only to ones self, but also the artist themselves that these critics are trying to disparage. Because what if this simplification of their work is actually a byproduct of their genuine desire to change up their style and communicate their message in a clearer way without all the intellectual fluff? Whether consciously or unconsciously.

Again, not knocking genuinely complex and intellectual work. I’m not saying everything should be simplified so everyone can enjoy your work. What I am saying is if you aim to be original you might end up alienating an audience that may have otherwise loved your work regardless of its originality factor.

As consumers, most people don’t really care much for originality no matter how much they claim to. In actuality, people want to connect to a piece of music, a movie, or a book in a way that is personal and intimate for them. No matter how consciously one may claim to seek to be original and only want to consume original work, sometimes the simplest pieces of art become their go to loves for life when they can let go of all expectations and just surrender to what the piece has to offer.

The last thing I’ll say about the Originality Trap is to focus more on what you want to convey—even if it’s been done a thousand times before—in whatever way you feel natural to you. If you have something worthwhile to say, how you convey it won’t matter as much as you simply putting the effort to convey it at all. Any sense of originality and profundity will naturally emerge if you are earnest and honest in your expression, without trying too hard to impress your audience with attempts to seem original and unexpected.

Originality should be the natural byproduct of genuine expression, not a concerted effort.

Learning From the Masters

Originality Trap rant aside, now it’s time to talk about the beauty of fan fiction because it is something I learned how to embrace again recently.

From a consumer’s standpoint, fan fiction can help fans get a little more mileage out of their favourite stories when a fan fiction writer can fill some gaps and provide more closure for a story that may have officially ended long time ago by the original author. We grow so attached to certain characters, locations, and plot threads that maybe we’re not ready to let go just yet, and so fan fiction is usually a good way to extend that story a little more, kind of like how video games now feature mods and downloadable content that extend the lifetime of them.

From a writer’s standpoint, you could be doing yourself a ton of favours by Learning From the Masters. If you are so inspired by another writer’s work that you want to repurpose and re-contextualize your favourite characters in either familiar or new settings, then it’s an opportunity to not only understand their work better, but your own.

Here’s how:

By taking existing characters and writing about them with the conscious, or even unconscious, decision to respect their way of being, you are understanding the nuances of character. If you can accurately write a character in a new situation where readers can say, “that is exactly what they would do/say!” Then you’ve done your job at truly understanding the character’s behaviours and growth from the original series, thus giving you a good insight on how to write your own characters down the line, which we’ll get to a little later.

Then of course, if you choose to build upon an existing plot thread from the story that either left you wanting more because of unresolved issues and unanswered questions, or you see the potential for more storytelling—then once again, doing so can teach you how to understand the importance of stakes in stories and the impact they have on audiences. Not to mention the characters themselves, of course.

Let’s take Cobra Kai, for instance, since I gushed about it in last week’s post about The Paragon of Potential. While this series is an official continuation of the Karate Kid series, the writers of Cobra Kai can easily be seen as fan fiction super fans of the series. Out of all the reboots and sequels in existence right now, in my opinion, Cobra Kai does it just right. There’s a few sprinkles of nostalgia here and there, but fundamentally, the writers have a deep understanding of all the characters and lore the original movie series contained, and so they are well equipped with expanding the universe with a huge new slew of karate students from all the different dojos.

Thirty years later, how would the rivalry between Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso manifest? This is probably the question the writers asked their selves upon the story’s conception. And to think it might have been sparked by a joke video on YouTube about who the “real” villain of Karate Kid was.

It posits that while we were lead to believe that Daniel, the protagonist for the original Karate Kid Trilogy, was the hero of the series, the true hero of the first movie was Johnny Lawrence. He was an ex-degenerate who just wanted to do better for himself upon his senior year of high school, but Daniel’s presence threw a wrench in his plans by moving in on Johnny’s ex-girlfriend and beating him at a karate tournament he held dear to his heart, thus leading to his downfall in life that robbed him of all confidence and self esteem.

This video was made as a joke, but the points made were so valid that they were probably the catalyst for expanding on the Karate Kid series to the extent that Cobra Kai has done.

Now, likewise with whatever fan fiction you write, if you take in account all these important details about the behaviour of certain characters, the issues they have with each other, and the overall effect their relationships have on the people around them, you can end up writing fan fiction that can make readers feel as though your take is a God honest continuation as if the original creators wrote it themselves.

Or at the very least, you’ve had a ton of fun playing puppet master to your favourite characters and laid down the foundation for characterization which can later inform your own original work down the line.

Taking Creative Liberties

On the inverse, writing fan fiction can also mean Taking Creative Liberties with the property. Maybe certain characters who were never originally meant to be romantically involved can be, if you make it so! Actually, this is the most common thing fan fiction writers do. It’s calling “shipping” because you’re pairing two characters into a relationship that audiences may not have expected. The meme ship has long since sailed with shipping being the sole reason for fan fiction existing in the first place.

But memery aside, of course, you can take creative liberties in other ways such as putting familiar characters in fresh new situations they might not have otherwise been in in the original work they featured in. What would it be like for Harry Potter to get shackled to a boring office job in his adult life, long after his adventures in Hogwarts? What would it be like for the Ninja Turtles to upgrade their weaponry to include guns? What would it be like for—

You get the idea.

These are the kinds of open ended questions you can ask yourself when wanting to re-contextualize existing characters in unexpected settings and situations. By doing this, not only do you expand on your favourite story, but you also expand your own capacity for creativity and originality.

As mentioned before, Fifty Shades of Grey started off as a Twilight fan fiction, but obviously characters and concepts were changed drastically to remove the supernatural elements and replace them with more contemporary concepts, but still maintaining that dysfunctional relationship dynamic Edward and Bella had.

Fan fiction can start of as a blueprint for your own original work when you realize the characters you are writing are no longer the ones you’ve borrowed from an existing piece of work. Maybe then you can change their names, their roles, and traits and make them your own. Likewise with the new plots and locations you come up with in your fan fiction writing. If fan fiction isn’t an expansion of existing work, then they can definitely be used as springboards for original work.

In the best case scenario, they’re both!

And don’t worry…

It’s Not Stealing, It’s Borrowing

Almost all creativity starts with as an imitation of other existing works. That’s what they exist for: inspiration, not competition. Being too fixated on originality gives you the mindset that everybody else’s work out there is your competition, rather than your inspiration. It disgraces what you were originally inspired by because there’s a part of you that aspires to do something just as great as they did to create the impact on others in a way you were impacted by it.

And that’s what the real focus should be when it comes to creativity: impact.

Fan fiction can help you understand its importance whether you consume it or write it yourself. When a story affects you so much that you want to expand on it or write something similar, it’s a beautiful thing. It did its job. And as creators, this is something we must all embrace if we want to stand any chance at ever standing out above the crowd. Because it’s not about how original you can be with your ideas.

The originality will come from how you take existing ideas and repurpose them in the way that shows your own individual style and perception of them. The purpose of an artist is to open the eyes of their audience by hyper-focusing on certain details of life and the world that the audience may otherwise miss. It’s through art that you inspire others to expand on their perception, just as much as fan fiction can help you expand on your own perception of not only the work you’re borrowing from, but expanding on the perception of what you think makes for a good story.

Which in turn allows you to create that original story burning inside of you.

Do you read or write fan fiction?

How has fan fiction benefited you as an audience/creator?

Let me know in the comments below!

The Paragon of Potential

The Paragon of Potential in fiction is the character that the protagonist looks up to and aspires to be. Sometimes these Paragons of Potential are mere side characters that the protagonist spends a little bit of time worshipping and seeking guidance from, and other times Paragons of Potential can be well woven into the story as integral to the protagonist’s personal journey.

Expanding on the principles from The Importance of Mentorship, I introduce this idea of The Paragon of Potential so these concepts can be incorporated in both your real life and in your fiction writing. It is my belief that humans are always striving to improve themselves, and what better way to gauge your own self worth than by comparing yourself to someone who already “has it all,” and can have a lot to teach us in how to improve ourselves?

Like in real life, mentors in a work of fiction can serve as an important catalyst for a character’s development, whether they are a momentary afterthought, or a character well baked into the overall narrative of a story. Today we are looking at three characters who are more than well baked into the narrative of one of my favourite shows; Cobra Kai.

The three types of Paragons of Potential in fiction are:

  1. The Perfect Mentor
  2. The Imperfect Mentor
  3. The Flawed Mentor

The Perfect Mentor: Mr. Miyagi

Mr. Miyagi From The Karate Kid training Daniel LaRusso.
Photo Credit: Delphi II Productions

Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid is the prime example of The Perfect Mentor. And what makes a good mentor is the student who follows in their teachings because the contrast between student and teacher is often what exemplifies the greatness of a mentor.

So enter in Daniel LaRusso, a hotheaded teen who moves to a new city and new school with his single mother. He is fed up with the unfamiliarity of the new environment and is in desperate need of male guidance to redirect all of his pent up aggression and frustration.

This is where Mr. Miyagi comes in to fill in the role of a bit of a father figure to him, teaching him not just the ways of Miyagi-Do Karate, but also very important life lessons metaphorized by the karate and kata. Mr. Miyagi does this all by remaining Zen, most especially when Daniel expresses resentment toward learning new things that are seemingly unrelated to karate.

For the most part, Mr. Miyagi is The Perfect Mentor because he does not seem to exude any flaws, save for his drinking habits and his broken English. But let’s be honest here, he’s only seen drinking once in the entire film series for a very good and heartbreaking reason, and the broken English makes his quotes all the more epic anyway, so he gets a couple passes over very benign “flaws” if you can even call them that.

Mr. Miyagi is The Perfect Mentor because he teaches Daniel the virtues of potential, patience, and perseverance, while also exuding those virtues himself without fail and without question. Potential meaning the malleability of the human spirit to adapt to any situation. Patience in the sense that that is what is required to master anything. And finally perseverance meaning the tenacity of the human spirit to survive.

Daniel lacks all these virtues at the beginning of The Karate Kid, but by doing chores for Mr. Miyagi that are at first seemingly unrelated to karate, he develops patience and perseverance because he is tapping into his potential. Then once he starts learning karate in the more direct way he was expecting, Daniel is shaped by Mr. Miyagi into becoming a more centered and disciplined young man.

We are all familiar with the whole wax on and wax off scene in The Karate Kid. For a lot of the movie you just watch Daniel doing all these chores including waxing Mr. Miyagi’s cars. Then just when he’s about to get fed up with not “actually” learning karate, Miyagi starts throwing punches and kicks at him, and Daniel is able to block the oncoming strikes.

All the hand motions required for painting fences, sanding floors, and waxing cars ingrained into Daniel’s muscle memory the exact kind of hand motions to block a variety of strikes coming from different angles. That’s the moment all his training clicks and he realizes what all those chores were actually for. It wasn’t just child labour on Mr. Miyagi’s part, he was indeed teaching him karate by not teaching him karate!

It’s an epic and monumental scene, probably one of the most iconic scenes in all of cinema.

Everybody needs a Mr. Miyagi in their lives. Yours and that of your characters in your writing. The Perfect Mentor is the one who practices what they preach and provide a ton of value and guidance to even the most broken of protagonists, showing once again the beauty of the human spirit’s ability to grow and adapt to whatever hardship comes its way.

The Imperfect Mentor: Johnny Lawrence

Johnny Lawrence training Miguel Diaz as the only student of Cobra Kai
Photo Credit: Netflix

Up next is The Imperfect Mentor Johnny Lawrence, the original antagonist to Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid. Three decades later he becomes the main protagonist of Netflix’s hit series Cobra Kai where Johnny goes on a journey to rekindle his love for karate and redeem himself for his troubled past.

Even from the very first scene we see him in The Karate Kid, we get the sense that he’s just an imperfect person. Johnny’s opening lines are about be an ex-degenerate who is willing to do better for himself for the following years of high school, but his motivation to do and be good is squelched when he sees Daniel chatting up his ex-girlfriend Ali.

In the original movie, Johnny spends most of his time being a snot nosed kid who picks on Daniel and blindly following the advisement of his mentor John Kreese, the original sensei of the Cobra Kai dojo. You really learn how to hate him throughout the movie in the way he terrorizes Daniel, but when Daniel defeats him at The All Valley Under 18 Karate Tournament, there’s a moment of goodness conveyed by Johnny in saying “you’re alright, LaRusso,” and humbly handing Daniel the first place trophy.

Then if you watch the second movie, you start to feel pretty bad for Johnny because Sensei Kreese breaks his second place trophy and starts trying to choke him to death until Mr. Miyagi comes to rescue him. Johnny pleads that he did his best, but Kreese says his best wasn’t good enough, and Mr. Miyagi’s words from the first movie hit ever harder:

“There is no such thing as bad student. Only bad teacher.”

You get the sense that Johnny was only trying his hardest to live up to the pressure Kreese had put on him to be a champion, even going insofar as to agreeing to cheating in the tournament. That was the day Johnny’s love for karate died and Cobra Kai had to shut down since it wasn’t good for business to know that the sensei is willing to assault one of his own students.

Now fast forward 30 years into The Karate Kid’s story timeline into the Netflix series Cobra Kai. Johnny is a broken man in his 40’s with not much going on his life. He’s an odd job repairman with an ex-wife and a son he’s both estranged from, lives in a tiny apartment, and is no longer surrounded by the luxury or loyalty of friends he once had in his golden days of high school.

It was almost as if losing that karate tournament sent him down a dark path throughout his adult years because that’s just how much karate meant to him. Without karate, his life lacked meaning. Not only did Daniel end Johnny’s two tournament winning streak, but his own mentor John Kreese has broken his spirit via nearly killing him for only getting a second place trophy.

One crappy night, Johnny witnesses his teenaged neighbour, Miguel, getting assaulted by a bunch of bullies. At first he tries not to mind them, but then they make a mess on his car, that’s when Johnny steps in. Using all karate he hasn’t used in three decades, he beats up a bunch of snot nosed high school kids to rescue Miguel. Miguel is then impressed by it and gets curious if he could learn some karate from Johnny so he can learn how to defend himself from bullies.

Johnny is reluctant at first, but after some events you just gotta see for yourself by watching the show, he decides to become Miguel’s sensei and open Cobra Kai back up under his ownership.

Miguel is a shy, quiet, and meek kid when he first steps into Cobra Kai, and Johnny being rough around the edges, teaches him how to have a bit of an edge himself instead of always being so straight and narrow. What makes Johnny The Imperfect Mentor is that while he does teach Miguel how to develop some more self confidence and take more proactive action, his methods are often quite aggressive, dangerous, and come from a place of repressed anger.

Johnny knows that life is tough and that to toughen someone up they must face insurmountable challenges that help them grow. While Johnny does teach other meek kids to stand up for themselves and develop self confidence, the first season shows that some of his methods lead to enlarged egos and short tempers because empowering the weakest among us can often mean that they inadvertently end up abusing the power that which they were lacking for so long.

Johnny Lawrence if The Imperfect Mentor because while he does provide value to his students, he can often seem callous in how he does it because some of his motives for teaching them toughness comes from a place of shame and guilt for when he was weak and aimless like they were.

To compensate he constantly insults them, undermines their character, and even creates legally questionable training methods that are meant to teach his students mental and physical toughness like seeing if they can out run rabid dogs and seeing if they can turn a cement spinner from the inside.

Needless to say, Johnny’s approach to teaching karate while not teaching karate is very different from Mr. Miyagi’s calm and peaceful approach of teaching it through safe and honest chores.

The Flawed Mentor: John Kreese

John Kreese and Johnny Lawrence at the All Valley Under 18 Tournament
Photo Credit: Delphi II Productions

Mr. Miyagi said it best, “there is no such thing as bad student, only bad teacher.” And John Kreese exemplifies this to the extreme. This is the kind of horrible mentor you should never want guiding you, but you can become susceptible to falling under the tutelage of if you’re desperate enough.

Case in point with Johnny Lawrence when he was younger.

The Flawed Mentor is the one who does nothing but challenge you. Mentors should challenge you rather than just give undying support because it’s within that challenge that a student can have a safe place to test out their skills. But without a healthy balance between support and challenge, a student might not grow.

If you get nothing but support, you won’t know where you can improve because everything you do is simply seen as good enough and there’s almost no point in being mentored in the first place. The inverse is true as well, if a mentor does nothing but challenge you then your confidence can be crushed and you will always be unsure of your progress as a student.

John Kreese is intense with his methods and teaches: “Strike First. Strike Hard. No Mercy.” A very ruthless approach to karate where the fundamental style is all offense and that the best defense is even more offense. This is discipline in its corrupted form because it leaves no room for compassion, even toward your own comrades, as substantiated in a sparring scene in the original movie:

Two Cobra Kai students are sparring and while one has knocked his classmate off his feet, Kreese advises the standing student to finish him off, and despite the hesitation, he strikes his classmate while he’s down to live up to the “No Mercy” mantra of Cobra Kai.

More of this kind of attitude is shown in Cobra Kai the Netflix series where Kreese instructs his students to be as lethal toward each other as they would to their rival dojo Miyagi-Do. This causes the students to have a very warped and entitled view of karate and the world, that the number one thing in life is winning at all costs. It doesn’t even matter whether you win with honour or not, in fact it’s encouraged to win by playing dirty if you have to.

Life isn’t fair so you should fight all the same, basically.

Johnny Lawrence as a sensei may be rough around the edges and quite aggressive toward his students, but he still fundamentally cares about them as people even though he doesn’t show it much. He reserves most of that for his star pupil Miguel, but otherwise he will throw the odd compliment and inspiring word here and there.

John Kreese on the other hand only pretends to care about their wellbeing so long as they do as he says so it serves him in the end, and that’s the prime example of The Flawed Mentor. One who is teaching others for their own selfish benefit rather than the mutual benefit of human connection and personal development.

Mentors vs Potential

At their core, students are nothing but endless potential to be molded into whatever they so choose and whatever their mentor has to offer them. Mentors can be The Paragon of Potential to them—someone to aspire to—and so in your writing be sure to write your mentors and students in such a way that they compliment each other based on their individual characteristics as seen in The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai series.

If you decide to include a Paragon of Potential/Mentor figure in your story, try and decide which of three main types would be a good fit for your protagonist and their development needs. If you got a hot head protagonist, give them a Zen mentor like Mr. Miyagi. If you got a meek protagonist, give them an imperfect mentor like Johnny Lawrence.

Otherwise, if you want to go deep and dark with a protagonist who wants to be good, but is easily tempted toward the dark side, give them a fundamentally flawed mentor like John Kreese who shows them why they should or shouldn’t succumb to the dark side.

Who are your favourite mentors in fiction?

What kind of mentors have you written in your work?

What are your thoughts about mentors?

Let me know the answers to all these questions and more in the comments below!

The Interpersonal Economy

Building on how Stories Are the Study of Being, and combining it with The Very Heart of Fiction for this Workshop Wednesday, I present to you today the Interpersonal Economy.

It’s the idea that interpersonal relationships are like a marketplace where we trade value for value. And much like a marketplace, each individual holds a hierarchy of values that determine whether or not they do business with another. In a way, we are businesses in and of ourselves, and everyone else we interact with are like customers who we want to sell ourselves to.

And I’m not even talking about mere monetary gain where you buy some Pokemon cards off each other or whatever. I’m talking more about selling our ideas and values to others in order to see if we want to do business together. This can range from shared values like the appreciation of art, literature, or any other hobby you can think of. Going even deeper than that, we also want to trade value through the exchange of ideas. Ideas on how one should conduct their lives, their relationships, and contribute to society.

All of these things are values that we measure within our own lives and seek to find those who may either share our values or help improve them through civil discourse. I’m talking, of course, about conflict, which is another thing that is inevitable in the marketplace and in relationships.

Sometimes customers are not content with the service they get, and so the business has the responsibility to humbly receive criticism on how to improve how they serve their customers. That’s assuming that the business is at fault, though. Because on the flip side customers can sometimes mistreat a business due to a myriad of reasons. Maybe the customer is entitled and expects more than the business can actually provide, or maybe they hold a grudge for having been served poorly before.

Whatever the case may be conflict among humans are inevitable in the Interpersonal Economy.


Business Drama is Just Relationship Drama, but Fancier

If you’re planning to write a story with a memorable ensemble cast–or in the middle of it already–I would suggest creating a character web that shows how each character is connected to each other. You could do this with pen/pencil and paper or with a mind mapping program, but I personally prefer Scapple from Literature and Latte.

And no, I am not sponsored by them *wink wink, nudge nudge.* I just really love the writing programs they’ve made, most notably Scrivener for having met so many of my writing needs for many years now. But back to the post!

Creating a Mind Map of how your characters interconnect with each other and detailing what the cost/benefit analysis of their relationships will help you write more meaningful dialogue and plot points. When you know exactly how your characters benefit from each other and what their conflicts cost each other, it will make for deeper and more exciting drama.

What makes human relationships so interesting is how we can get under each other’s skin, yet somehow muster all the forgiveness in the world to keep certain individuals in our lives. For better or for worse. These are things that are hard to measure because several costs might be made up for in one big benefit. Or vice versa. One big cost can tarnish an otherwise seemingly beneficial relationship.

For example you might have a friend who you can air out your frustrations to and they’ll do the same for you, but other than that, you don’t offer each other much else other than free and half baked therapy for each other. There’s no fun in the relationship and there might not even be growth from the sharing of problems, rather the exacerbation of them.

This kind of cost/benefit analysis would be the cornerstone of conflict because people have very unique and individual goals and motivations that drive them, and more often than that, a conflict of interest arises when we have counter values from each other. If not similar values that are approached with methodologies different from our own.


Designing Your Interpersonal Economy

Taking a deeper look, here is an example of what an Interpersonal Economy mind map could look like, drawing straight from my 5th draft of It Starts at Home (which has evolved into a whole other monster and deserving of a new title since I last mentioned it here at Your Write to Live).

The new premise for “It Starts at Home” is that there are four juniors in high school who want to become professional gamers who want to win 1st in the international Atlantis Assault tournament.

Atlantis Assault is a 4v4, team based, first person shooter that is all the craze in the universe of my story. Each of these teens are equipped with their own anxieties about their futures after high school.

Pressured by their parents to succeed academically, and the one thing that brings hope and sparks joy in the lives of these teens is not only playing Atlantis Assault together, but the kind of friendships that develop between them in and out of the game. Both as individuals and as a group.

Each character is designated a specific color, so whenever that color pops up in another character’s web of influence, it’s detailing a cost or benefit of their relationship with each other. Some costs and benefits are recurring and that points to how that one person has the same effect on different people.

You will notice that some of these are tagged with either a + or – and occasionally a +/-. That is describing whether or not the effect one character has another is positive or negative, or maybe even both as a lot of trades of value in relationships end up being double edged swords like any other good cost/benefit analysis could give insight to.


Your Interpersonal Economy and You

Your Write to Live has always been about providing fiction writing tips that could also apply to your real life if you pursue self knowledge and personal development. It is my belief that fiction writing (and reading for that matter) is our way of understanding ourselves and the world better. It’s through these larger than life characters we draw inspiration from to become better people who act in good faith in the world.

So with that said, I encourage you to create Interpersonal Economy mind maps for both your fictional and real life ensembles. For your work of fiction, it will help you heighten the drama by creating well crafted characters with nuanced relationships. For your real life, it could give you a better understanding of how valuable your relationships are and where they might need some work.

After all, stories are fundamentally the expression of human relationship, and it’s through them we come to understand our place in the world

Did you find this post helpful?

Do you have any thoughts and criticisms about the Interpersonal Economy?

Is this the kind of content you would like to see more of here at Your Write to Live?

Leave a comment below and let me know!

Making the Mundane Memorable

Some of the most common writing advice writers are given is to leave out the minutiae of everyday life in their stories. Now while I do think it makes logical sense, because you want to get to the meaty dramatic parts of a story that much sooner to keep readers engaged, I think adding a little bit of mundane everyday life can actually enrich the experience. After all;

“How you do anything is how you do everything.” – Harve Eker.

Readers can gain insight on who your characters are based on how they tackle everyday chores like washing the dishes or doing their laundry. It sounds boring on its own, but with what I’m about to share with you can either be a fun exercise you keep to yourself to get a sense of your characters, or let it become a full scene in your story that provides that insight for your readers.

The Meaningfully Mundane

So what am I talking about? How can one possibly make the mundane memorable? How do you even start?

You start by understanding your character’s temperament and how well or how poorly they take on the boring chores of everyday life. Do they brush their teeth only enough to get the taste of morning breath out of their mouth, or do they meticulously brush every single tooth from every nook and cranny? Do they hop in the shower for less than a minute or do they make it a meditative practice of feeling the warmth of the water wash them of their worries of the day?

What you want to do is invoke your character’s personality in how they take on these everyday tasks. Depending on what point you’re at in the plot and what has happened so far, how they take on daily tasks can also become part of the symbology of your story. That is of course, if you want that particular task to be repeated more than once in the story to symbolize your character’s state of mind.

Therapeutic Routines

Let’s take for example a therapist named Linus. He is everything you’d expect from a therapist; someone who has his life together who helps others get their lives together as well. He starts the story off with having healthy hearty breakfasts in the morning, listening attentively to his patients at work, and then coming home to relax by keeping the place tidy and habitable.

But then somewhere down the line, he is confronted by hardship. Linus is given a client named Damon that is so down in the dumps and desperate that despite Linus’ years of experience, he can’t seem to help Damon open up about his life or take any positive action to improve it. Linus prides himself on being an effective therapist, but that pride holds no weight now because he begins to feel like a failure due to not being able to help this downtrodden man.

Now Linus is rattled about himself and all his years spent studying psychology in university. His goal was to help people, but he feels insecure about his capacity to do so. He is lost and mere routine is no longer enough to keep himself stable and capable of being the therapist he knows how to be.

Taking a second look at his daily routine further in the story, it would then devolve compared to how mindfully and meaningfully he once approached it. Instead of taking the time to fry up some eggs and bacon, toast some bread, and brew himself a mug of coffee, he starts settling for a granola bar and drinking an entire pot of coffee to force himself to get through the day.

He goes to work barely listening to any of his patients because he’s obsessed with how and why he can’t help Damon, and he barely has the energy and motivation to keep his place tidy when he gets home from work. A once spotless kitchen now sports unwashed dishes, trash bags that have yet to be taken out, and a dining table cluttered with unopened mail.

For Linus, taking care of his home and his patients was his own personal therapy. It’s what gave him a sense of purpose and joy in his life, but it has been disrupted by one challenging patient he can’t seem to help. Maintaining his home routine and doing well at work go hand in hand, one affecting the other. Maybe now what he needs is a break in his routine and actual therapy himself from a trusted mentor.

Whatever the case may be, how he approaches mundane tasks like preparing breakfast and tidying his home have changed because his mental state and life circumstance has changed as well.

Micro and Macro Triumph

In my example story about Linus the Therapist, he starts off with a solid routine that he falls off from when he’s confronted with conflict at work. It is through self reflection and growth that he must return to wholeness by disciplining himself to take care of himself and his home in order to become an effective therapist again.

Being able to help Damon with his personal life and his daily routines would be the macro triumph and that would be symbolized further with the micro triumph of both men cleaning up their homes and their selves in order to act properly in the world, which would be the macro triumph.

Each man doing tiny things in their private lives would greatly impact how they present themselves to the world and operate in it because the way they handle their micro responsibilities greatly affects how they tackle their macro challenges in life.


Give Your Characters Meaningful Mundane Routines

Now obviously you don’t want to bore your readers with excess detail on mundane day to day tasks, but choosing a particular daily routine for your character to symbolize their current state of mind in the story is a sure fire way to making the mundane meaningful, as well as flesh out the plot and characters further.

What I’ve described in this hypothetical story about Linus the Therapist was very bare bones and basic for the sake of simplicity, but for your own work, it could be much more complex than breakfast, work, and keeping a tidy home. The goal would be to emphasize in enough detail how one can approach a daily routine with their heart and soul when things are going well in their lives and then neglecting that kind of discipline later on in the story because of the challenges they face, only to return back to order or something better when they’ve overcome their personal struggles.

Or even have your character start off in a state of absolute chaos and disorder either in how they maintain their homes or selves. Grooming could be a good one too where you have an unkept character not brushing their hair, barely showering on a regular basis, and wearing dirty clothing. Consider a man who wants to find the love of his life, but is constantly rejected because despite his efforts to pick up women because he’s not well groomed and all it would take is basic grooming and self care to begin appearing attractive to not only women, but also friends, family, and potential employers.

Whichever way you slice it, there is more to mundane everyday life than often noted if you take in account how much our daily routines actually affect how we appear and operate in the world.

What are some mundane daily tasks you take pride in excelling at?

Are you a great cook? Do you have a pristine home? How about a well disciplined workout routine?

Whatever you’ve got going for you, let me know if this helps you consider the importance of mundane daily routines in your life and/or the fictional characters you are writing about!