Therapeutic Journaling Part 6: The Progress Journal

So we’ve been digging in pretty deep into our psyches with the last few posts on journaling. From part two’s focus on chronological journaling and part four’s focus on your Internal Family System, and not to mention a surprise hit entry on Shadow Journaling—I think it’s time to take it a little easier on ourselves today and focus on goal setting.

While I do think it’s important for us to contend with our shadow side and work out the worries of the day in a journal, we can’t always be digging that deep and getting that emotional because that could be very taxing. In fact, although I am a big proponent to expressing your darkest deepest feelings as earnestly as possible, there can be a point where it can be a bit excessive and you can become too identified with your problems as opposed to having them shed on the page.

To reverse that, we also need to learn how to write Progress Journals to keep track of our goals and ambitions. This can range from your progress in therapy, your progress in your novel, or anything else that you’re working on in life to give yourself a moment to take stock of your life thus far, especially when you feel stuck.

Even if you’re not feeling stuck, it’s even more beneficial to focus on your progress because if you’re not inhibited by any emotional weight holding you down, you can propel that much further in your goals by continuing to take stock anyway.

So why should you write a progress journal and how do you even do it?

What You Measure Grows

If you approach your life like it’s a game you start to notice just how much the quality of our lives are based on “high scores” in different aspects of our lives. How much money do we have in the bank? How many reps can we lift x amount of lbs of a dumbbell? How many words can we write a day?

It is important to jot down these numbers because then you could compare and contrast them throughout the weeks to see how you’re faring in a specific goal. So let’s take writing for instance. Say your goal is to write somewhere between 500-2000 words a day. If you have a word count tracker where you mark each date and total word count for that day, you can keep a tally of how well you do throughout the week.

(Keep your eyes peeled for a future post on Word Count Goals as I will share my own Word Count Tracker and how I use it.)

Some days you’ll be under par and some days you’ll be over par, and in a different section of your Word Count Tracker, you can even briefly mention how and why your word count was a certain way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that being under the word count is bad, rather maybe other things came up that day, and that is something you can mention in a Progress Journal

The whole point of a Progress Journal is to have an open, honest, and earnest conversation with yourself about how far you’ve come in the project, and what you have left to do. It even doubles as a perfect pre-writing warm up exercise because you get yourself thinking about your novel at the bird’s eye view rather than being honed in on the story at ground level. Sometimes it helps to get that broader perspective before you pan the camera down to where the novel focuses.

So keep track of your scores for everything in your life and write entries about how and why you were able to achieve so much or so little in the day. If you score low, it’s not about blaming external circumstances for getting in the way of your goals, rather it’s taking accountability over how you allowed external circumstances for getting in the way of your goals.

I get that a lot of us lead busy lives, but if writing truly is our lifestyle as we believe it is here at Your Write to Live, then we should always make the time to write. Much like anything else in life, it’s not that we don’t have time for certain things, rather we don’t make time for them unless we find them all that more important above everything else. And when it comes to self care and mental health, they damn well better be more important above everything else or everything else begins to fall apart if we’re not well taken care of.

But I digress!

The Progress Journal Manual

My Progress Journals before every writing session were always recapping what I’ve written the day before, or the session before if I have more than one that day, and meditating on what I have left yet to write. Sometimes I’d be focused on shifting my mindset toward being positive, and if I had that inherently intact for a day, then the fun begins where I’ve focused a lot on working out my ideas. This same approach can apply to other things too aside from writing. Even something like weight lifting or any other form of exercise you want to do on a daily basis, you can reflect on what kinds of thoughts and feelings arise as you’ve approached your goal for that day.

Sticking to the example of writing, though—since this is Your Write to Live, not Your Write to…Lift?—you could just as easily write about your perceived Writer’s Block. Doing so is what made me come up with the Shadow Journal in the first place, actually. I would get so deep into my head about why I have all this resistance toward doing something I know that I love, but can’t bring myself to do. It was no longer about the book itself, but myself, and how I have to contend with my own shadow almost every time only to realize that after each session, I come out stronger and smarter than I ever thought possible.

While it is best that you know how to regulate your own motivation for writing, there is no shame in asking for help and that’s why I’m happy to announce that I will be offering Writing Coaching services later in the year so I can help other writers cultivate healthy writing habits of their own that suit them, as well as provide a sounding board for their ideas.

Whether you can’t afford writing coaching services or simply want to do it alone, though, Progress Journaling is the next best alternative to keeping yourself in check and bouncing your ideas around to see if they are sound. You can even join writing forums online or a critique group in person, but I believe that the less people there are and the more intimate the experience is, the more value you can get from reflecting on your progress.

So if you’ve got a grip on the whole mental and emotional aspect of writing, then you get to have a whole lot of fun simply writing about your ideas for your current chapter. Progress Journaling is also a less structured way of outlining, though outlining chapter and GMC graphs are still important, and can lend you more freedom to write and retract some of your ideas as you write them.

Often times you will find yourself writing about a particular idea and realizing it sounds dumb out loud or doesn’t even getting used in the end anyway. Which then makes room for the good ideas you’ve been waiting for, and that’s the thing about ideas which I’ll write about next week: the fact that generating ideas is a muscle you need to exercise. The more you do it, the better you get at them.

Therapeutic Journaling Part 2: How and Why You Should Journal

For this week’s Meaningful Monday post, I shared a little bit of my own personal experience with therapy so far as a way to lead into today’s Workshop Wednesday where I’ll tie it to journaling. Therapy and journaling go hand in hand the same way going to school and doing homework go hand in hand with each other. Or if you have an aversion to homework for school like I do, let’s take a more fun example like learning how to play the guitar.

It is not enough to go to a guitar lesson and think that 30-60 minutes with your teacher will be enough to improve your playing. They are there to guide you toward that, but ultimately the rest is up to you in and out of the classroom. A good teacher demonstrates what it looks like for you to teach yourself the very thing you want to learn. They open your mind up to what’s possible and challenge you in a way that you need to start challenging yourself.

Therefore, going to therapy alone is not enough to heal past traumas, get hopeful for the future, and learn how to be content in the present moment. You can still get a lot of value from going to therapy and going to a guitar lesson, but ultimately you need to take home with you all that you’ve learned and apply it all on your own. A good therapist, much like a good teacher, makes it their job to make themselves obsolete to you because you want to eventually develop the skills to educate yourself long after your mentorship from them.

This in mind, consider journaling as the homework equivalent to therapy. To use what you’ve learned and ask yourself the kinds of questions your therapist has asked you, and more, so that you can get ever deeper into self inquiry.

Plus, you’ll even cut down on your need for therapy by helping yourself because you’ll learn to discern what issues you have that are actually worth talking to your therapist, let alone worth thinking and talking about in the first place.

Without further adieu I would like to introduce you to three different ways in which you can journal about your life, thoughts, and feelings all dealing with the top three tenses in life and narration: past, present, and future.


Dwelling in the Past

If there are things in your distant past that still haunt you to this day, then it’s worth writing about certain instances and eras in your life that often keep you up at night. You may have had a traumatic childhood in its entirety, or an otherwise okay childhood, but still remember a few traumatic moments or eras in your life that still have an effect on you now.

We all know we shouldn’t dwell on the past because it holds us back from enjoying the present moment, and some of you might be thinking then why write about it? My answer to that would be so that you can finally let that part of your past go. If something in the past still bothers you, it means you’ve yet to process it and learn what you can from it.

Whether you were the victim, or even perpetrator, of an injustice, it is important that you analyze your past to get a better understanding of how and why things turned out the way that they did. Life is mostly random, providing us with fortune and respite in one moment, and then torturing us with trauma in the next. However, as autonomous human beings, we are still responsible for how we may be complicit in some of the things that happen to us.

So long as you’re mired by the past, people and events that have hurt you remain as things that happened to you. Writing about them in great detail is how you make your past happen for you. The distinction being that one was out of your control and continues to control you, and the way out of it is to regain control of yourself by learning how to avoid similar mistakes moving forward.

This requires a really hard look at yourself and being honest with what happened. It is easy to write about the ways in which you’ve been wronged, and believe me I’ve done it, even here on this very website, but it’s not enough to write a detailed account of what has happened to you. You also need to take responsibility for how you may have been complicit in prolonging your own misfortune by dwelling on these events.

I’m not saying that if you’ve been abused in the past that it’s your fault, but what I am saying is holding onto that hurt is only going to hold you back from experiencing any joy or relief unless you learn something from this trauma. Perhaps it’s learning how to treat others better than you have been treated because if you know how much it hurts, and you want to be a good person, then you can make it your responsibility to never enact any similar atrocities onto anybody else.

Even on the inverse where you know you did something wrong and you’re crushed by the weight of your own guilt, then you take in account how it must have felt for the person you hurt and promise yourself to never act similarly again. And while you do have to be brutally honest about how horrible you must have been, you also need to sympathize with the past version of yourself who may have acted poorly due to a variety of reasons.

We all act out sometimes due to unbearable hurt within ourselves, maybe even out of intentionally malicious intent, but most of the time it’s really due to ignorance. Life and humanity are already so complex as they are, so there’s no straight answer for our behaviour. That’s why it’s worth processing and understanding what drives our behaviour and in turn become better people for it.

Living in the Moment

Technically, even if you journal about your current life as it is, your are writing about “the past,” but of course it’s a lot more local and current than dwelling on your childhood. While I personally like to journal about things many months after they have occurred—so that I can have a lot less emotional bias and more objectivity about certain events in my life—writing about the day you just had can have its advantages in keeping yourself emotionally up to speed in real time.

The drawback I’ve experienced in just writing about my past all the time is that it feels like my heart and mind are lagging between each other because my heart wants to live in the moment, but it gets bogged down by my mind’s incessant obsession with my past. Even as of this post I am journaling about things that happened to me in 2021 and finding ways to rethink them so that they happened for me.

But I digress.

Writing about your life as it unfolds day by day is a good way to keep your mental health chronologically in tact with life. This way, you’re always up to speed with yourself rather than playing catch up like some of the past driven journal entries you may doing. This way you even get a more linear experience of exploring your life, thoughts, and feelings, whereas the more distant your past is, the more scattered the events and your thoughts might be.

Daily journaling about each passing day is essential so that you can achieve much more immediate results from your self reflection. Whether you are going through a time or you’re living the life you’ve always wanted, it’s always worth taking the time to contemplate how you feel about your own fortune and misfortune.

If you are going through something, journaling can help you gain a sense of clarity about the situation and provide yourself with more options as to how to approach your life moving forward. If your life is trouble free for the most part, it’s also good to take stock of what you have and be grateful for it because unfortunately, not all things are meant to last and there’s always…

The Uncertainty of the Future

We don’t know what the future holds and that can cause us a lot of anxiety. Especially considering that the future isn’t even guaranteed because today might very well be the last day you get the tremendous privilege of living. And no, I’m not saying as a threat, I’m just stating a fact of life.

It’s often said how life is short, but the Stoic philosopher Seneca argued that life is not short at all, but only feels that way because of how much of our time we squander one trivial manners. Life is actually pretty long, especially if you’re fortunate and healthy enough to live well into old age. We are given, on average, quite a lengthy amount of time to live and it’s up to us how we make the best use of it.

So journaling about the future and the kinds of things you want to accomplish can help prime you for finding ways to achieve all that. You can set goals and detailed plans about your future. It doesn’t even matter if it seems like wishy washy wish fulfillment at first. The point is to get hopeful about the future so that you have things to look forward to assuming you are even granted the benefit of a bonus day to live tomorrow.

Then on the flipside, if there are things you are worried about, it’s worth writing about these fears so you learn how to better defend yourself against them. Seneca also said that, “we suffer more in imagination than we do in reality.” If you have constant concerns about a future that may never come, it’s worth writing them out to explore as to why you think these painful events will occur in the first place.

Are you still stuck in the past and think the future will be more of the same?

Are you suffering now and think it will only be the same, if not worse, in the future?

Or are you just conjuring something to worry about for the sake of having something to worry about?

It’s easier said than done, but don’t fret. What you can do about this is create action plans that safeguard you from potential threats, or even more preferable, realize that you are causing yourself unnecessary suffering in the present about the unguaranteed future and just stop torturing yourself already.


Time Traveling and Other Hobbies

Which ever timeframe you choose to write about in a given journal entry, the point is to be as objective, honest, and vulnerable as possible so that you get the most of your writing session. Journaling, real journaling, is a lot of hard work. People get the misconception is that you just write about what you ate and did that day, or you draw a bunch of hearts around it with your crush’s name written inside of those cartoon hearts.

And while you’re free to do that if you want, especially if it makes you happy, that’s perfectly fine.

But for those seeking to understand and improve themselves, you must grit your teeth and do the hard work of having these conversations with yourself. Paper is more patient than people, and so just like I said in part one of this series, you will be doing yourself, your friends and family, and your therapist a huge favour by doing your own heavy lifting on your own time.

The more mental and emotional baggage you clear for yourself, the lighter your interactions will be with others, and in my mind, that’s probably the best we can all ever hope for in getting along with our fellow man.

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!

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!