For the past couple of months, I have been reading some Stoic philosophy, and I am starting to see how the intended goal for therapy is to help people become Stoic. And I’m talking about the real kind of Stoic, not the lower case s stoic that is attached to the common misconception of what the state of being entails. A Stoic isn’t entirely devoid of emotion, rather a Stoic is hyperaware of their emotions, but not let their emotions guide their actions. A Stoic chooses and controls how they react to their feelings, along with what ever external stimuli and circumstances they are exposed to.
One of the most prominent Stoic philosophers is Marcus Aurelius, the author of the world renown collection of books called Meditations. The funny thing about these books that so many people have read to ease their minds and gain wisdom from is that it was never meant to see publication even at the time of Marcus’ lifetime. They were personal journals that he wrote to himself in order to keep his ego in check being the most powerful man in the known world at the time.
What we can glean from Marcus’ example beyond his rare and virtuous being as an emperor, and of course his powerful and punchy philosophy, is what journaling can mean for not just the individual, but for the whole world at large. These books are so short and few in number, but their wisdom transcends the ages and remain universally acclaimed to better those who read it, especially repeatedly.
After all, he wrote these books while he was in campaign for a decade, and being the busy guy that he was, had very little time to himself to write, and so made the best use of his time when he found possible.
You too, could follow in his example, especially if you lead a very busy life that leaves very little time to yourself. If the Emperor of Rome can do it, so can you. Just a few lines a day is all it takes. You don’t even have to recount your entire day if you don’t want to, what you can do is reflect on it as you live it, then by the end of the day, write what insights you can glean from the failures and successes of today.
That’s what Marcus did.
Barely ever did he detail the minutiae of everyday life and little events he experienced. Instead, he wrote the words that would remind him on how to be a better man based on all the philosophical teachings he had been blessed with throughout his life. He could have easily sank into his power and enjoy endless luxury, but he understood the responsibility of power he held and how important it was for him to lead a good example for his people.
It’s really interesting to think that something a man wrote 2000 years ago that was deeply personal would end up becoming something that would universally understood. Most philosophers wrote books with the audience in mind, be it their students, the general public, or even letters that they wrote to each other. But Marcus wrote solely to and for himself.
The beautiful irony is that even though he was the Emperor of Rome, what he wrote to himself can easily apply to us naughty future readers who are prying into his personal diary. We may not have had his friends or family, nor his power, fame, or wealth, but what we do have as he would call it, is kinship of the mind. We are all humans who share the same emotions and desires like everybody else. We all seek to love and be loved, and love requires virtue. And so Marcus’ Meditations are fundamentally reminders and demonstrations of virtue.
One way to give and receive such love is shown in the very first pages of Book One in Meditations, where Marcus lists off all the important people in his life and what kinds of blessings and virtues he has received from them. In turn, you can write about the people in your life whose virtues inspire you to become a better person and express your gratitude for their role in your life.
Another prominent theme in Meditations is mortality. It’s a scary thing to think about, but it is a reality we must accept that we will all become dust one day. It’s already cliché enough as it is to say that life is short and how you should make the most of it while you can. Even more pressing is Seneca’s rebuttal to that which is life isn’t all that short, a lot of us just choose to squander a huge fraction of it on trivial things.
In either case, we are given ample time to live and we must not waste too much of it if we can help it. Every day, nay every moment, should be spent consciously in the present moment with intentional purpose. That means less complaining and more action taking. Less worrying and more pondering. Less wasted moments and more fulfilling days.
It can all be swept up in an instant so whatever you do or say should carry the weight of someone who only has one day left to live. See each day you live as your last and be thankful to wake up every morning because you can consider that a bonus.
And if you’ve been journaling, reflecting on your way of being and how to improve it, then each day can stack on to the last providing everlasting change and fulfillment for you.
While we sure as hell hope that our personal journals never end up in the hands of the public, it doesn’t hurt to have stern dialogues with ourselves within them. Okay, I’m lying, sometimes said dialogues can hurt and that’s fine, that’s all part of the process. Consider it a slew of growing pain. But nonetheless, perhaps our very own personal insights can have universal appeal, and while you may not want to share your journal with everyone you meet, you can instead embody the kind of person you present on the page.
Stick around for Therapeutic Journaling Part 4 where I will briefly touch upon a huge variety of different journaling techniques you can awaken the Marcus Aurelius within!
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:
The Perfect Mentor
The Imperfect Mentor
The Flawed Mentor
The Perfect Mentor: Mr. Miyagi
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
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
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 ofmentors 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!
One of the best writing guides I’ve read and studied from lately is The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Mass. It has some incredible insights on not just how to craft the emotional landscape of your work of fiction, but also a handful of other insights on how to get in touch with your own emotional world to better inform the characters you create. After all, the characters we create in one shape or form are extensions of ourselves all of which who yearn to be understood and expressed with the respect they deserve.
Crafting characters, as you know, is one of my favourite aspects of writing because without people there are no stories. It is through the characters that we get to relate to in navigating the human experience, and that’s why it’s important to make them as true to life as possible, no matter what the setting is or whatever other lifeform they take that isn’t exactly human.
For many years I’ve had pre-conceptions of what makes relatable and likeable characters, and unfortunately a lot of those pre-conceptions were at a very shallow, if not obvious, layer of the human spirit. Make your characters flawed like real people. Take traits from people you know and blend them together. Oh and let’s not forget; give them goals, motivation, and conflict like every other human being has.
And while these are all important aspects of what create multi-dimensional characters, I am here to introduce something that I’ve missed over the years!
Virtue as the Cornerstone of Love
We live in a world where gritty anti-heroes are starting to take centre stage, villains are becoming more sympathizable, and we have overall entered into an era in which there’s a strange embracing of the darkness. And yes of course this all important to our evolution in not only our tastes in fiction, but also our human progression, but one thing that hasn’t had much spotlight on lately is virtue.
An act of kindness goes a long way.
They seem insignificant in the moment, but a bunch of tiny acts of kindness add up.
And in the end, it all makes for a better world to live in if we could all just give each other a helping in whatever way we can.
Whenever we see someone or hear about someone doing a good thing for someone else, it makes us feel good by extension. That’s because we’re social empathetic creatures. We end up feeling the good nature of the giver who gave a helping hand to someone who needed it and we feel the gratitude of the person in need. Throughout our lives we fluxuate between being people who are capable of giving to the less fortunate, and being in unfortunate situations ourselves in need of the generousity of others.
Whether it’s from a stranger or a close loved one, we can’t help but feel a sense of euphoria from an act of kindness we either give to or receive from others. This can range from simple things like dropping a few coins in the shaking can of a homeless person on the street to something more personal and expansive like lending an empathic ear to a friend who has a problem to deal with. Nothing feels better than a win-win situation where we don’t have to lose something of value, whether it was a long awaited desire or a piece of our conscience.
Whatever way you choose to create your characters, it’s imperative that you give them an act of virtue that makes your reader develop a natural admiration for them. Even if you choose to create an anti-hero character who is resistant to their responsibility of greatness, we want to see at least a glimpse of goodness in them because it’s the potential that we want to root for so it can come into fruition later on in the story.
Saving a Cat Moment
In Emotional Craft of Fiction, Donald writes about how a simple saving a cat moment can make a protagonist instantly likeable, especially if you include it early on in the story. This gets us to admire the goodness in thecharacter and in turn remind us of the goodness in ourselves–and to take it even further it allows us to see the potential in ourselves to become even better human beings.
So what does a Saving a Cat Moment look like?
It can literally be saving a cat that’s stuck in a tall tree.
Or it can be something more subtle or even more grand than that!
Here are some rapid fire examples from my own stories and other stories I’ve enjoyed over the years. None of them will be ultra specific as to boil down the core principles of the acts themselves.
How to Save a Cat in Several Ways
Stepping in when someone is being bullied
Mentoring an eager apprentice in a specific skill or vocational path
Comforting someone in grief
Equipping someone with an important life lesson
Providing someone with a sense of purpose
Volunteering at an old folks’ home or a homeless shelter
Helping the disabled get around town
Saving a suicide victim moments before they execute their plan
Saving a child from an abusive home situation
A parent bonding deeply with their child
A spouse bonding deeply with their partner
Admitting to fault and asking for forgiveness
The list can go on forever. There’re definitely an infinite amount of other examples I could have put and some that you are starting to think of right now, in which case feel free to share in the comments below!
The point is that whatever good deed your characters perform, they need to come from an earnest and authentic place, even if they have resistance toward it at the beginning. It might be a hard sell if the character performs the deed for admiration and ego gratification as opposed from the goodness of their heart. But you can even make it so that it can start off as an ego boost that eventually touches the character in a deep and moving way where it inspires them to seek even more virtue.
So there you have it, one of the best ways to make instantly likeable characters. It may be obvious to others, but this fell under my radar for a very long time having been so obsessed with the more technical aspect of writing over the years. Sometimes we all need to get back to the basics and remember what we all (hopefully) learned in kindergarten: be kind and share your toys with other kids.
Now I’d like to hear from you, the reader!
What are some other good deeds can we add to the list? What good deeds have you writte your characters to perform in your stories? What acts of kindness from fiction and reality have inspired you?
And as always, if you have any feedback on my writing tips feel free to comment down below. Did I miss something? Should I elaborate more or less? Even feel free to tell me if it was completely useless information, in which you are welcome to give me your two cents on how I can improve Your Write to Live!
Earlier this week, For Meaningful Mondays, I wrote “a little bit” about how I’ve been learning to integrate my shadow.
Today, I will share how Playing Tag With Your Shadows can inform your writing.
More particularly, how you craft your characters so that they can become multi-dimentional beings that pop out of the page.
Whether you’re writing a protagonist or antagonist, it is important to give them a dark side that isn’t dark for the sake of being dark. You want to make their malevolence understandable and rooted in believable reasoning–no matter how horribly they will behave in your story.
Audiences these days are starting to catch on to how lazy and boring stock villains are. You know the kind, the ones that wake up in the morning and wonder if there’s a cute little puppy somewhere out there that they can kick for sake of being evil. There’s a time and place for such a generic villain, but the villain (or even protagonist) that I will help you create today could massacre that generic villain into oblivion.
So be prepared for a very unconventional type of writing exercise that isn’t your run of the mill plot graph or haiku practice. We’re going to dig deep into your discomfort, and use all those disgusting and disturbing feelings inside you for your benefit. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be grateful that you even have them in the first place!
Tag, You’re It!
The most common writing advice is “write what you know,” and so in regards to crafting a malevolent and sympathizable villain, or even a flawed hero, you need to guage how well you know yourself. Here’s how you do it:
Keep a journal, if you don’t already. It’s a useful tool in taming the chaotic mind.
In order to create genuine darkness in your characters, you need to first understand the darkness that dwells within you. What kinds of disgusting and disturbing thoughts enter your mind on a daily basis? What causes them? Are they of your own making or are they reactions to circumstance? These are the kinds of thoughts that you usually keep to yourself and have, for better or for worse, not told anybody if not for a handful people (possibly even a professional clinician).
Whether you feel guilt, shame, or embarassment, write them down and explore them. Take the time to understand why you may think and feel this way at times. Most importantly, don’t hold back on saying what you really want to say. If you feel yourself thinking “that’s too harsh, I shouldn’t say that,” then actually say it. Give your shadow the space to express itself.
Maybe you’re grieving the loss of somebody you loved, or even hated, and have yet to process what your relationship to them has meant to you.
Maybe there’s somebody in your life that you love, but for some reason often get frustrated with because you either haven’t told them why or you don’t even know why yet.
Or maybe somebody wronged you in the past. A family member, a friend, or a lover has hurt you and you hold a grudge against them.
Writing Prompt #1: In your journal, write about a person or situation that often stirs up negative feelings in you. What kinds of irrational and dangerous things do you fantasize yourself doing in order to have your emotions be known? Don’t actually do them, but write them down no matter how horrible they may seem. The worse, the better.
“Tag. Now You Are the One Who is It”
If you thought understanding your own dark and disturbing thoughts was hard enough, try this even more difficult exercise:
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has hurt you, or someone who you simply cannot stand for hurting others. Or maybe they haven’t hurt anybody at all, and it’s just their entire mode of being itself that disturbs you (like US President Donald Trump).
These are real everyday people just like us. They have their own troubles and concerns, and in their minds, they too are the heroes of their own stories. Whether we agree with them or not is not important, but what is important is understanding where they’re coming from.
Everybody has their own reasons, no matter how rational or irrational, for doing what they do. Everybody is driven by their own goals and motivations, and often times those goals and motivations just so happen to be misaligned with the opinions and values of others. Everybody hurts; everybody gets hurt.
You know the saying, “bad guys are just sad days.”
Or better yet, to quote one of my favourite lines from Netflix’s Daredevil series, “you’re just one bad day away from becoming me.” It’s what The Punisher says to Daredevil when Daredevil argues for why he has never and never will murder criminals.
So maybe these people you can’t stand have been hurt themselves and are acting out their hurt in a way that’s inconvenient, if not downright disturbing to you. Maybe they get on your nerves because they lack basic self-awareness of how undesirable their behaviour is. Or better yet…they remind you of yourself.
Sometimes the criticism we have for others is criticism we need to apply to ourselves so can ultimately improve. After all, it’s so much easier to see fault in others and wish they would change rather than admitting to our own faults and actually doing the work.
Writing Prompt #2: Put yourself in the shoes of someone you dislike despise. Try and see if you can understand why they might have done what they did to you or others, or simply why they might be the way they are. Again, the worse they are, the better. And if you can ascribe understandable reasons on their part, whether they are close to the possible truth or not is not what’s important. The important thing is to see if ou you can empathize even with the worst of people so that you can create villains who people will understand.*
*Understanding where someone’s coming from is not condoning their actions. It’s simply the difficult, yet very important practice of admitting to our own human follies. That we are all flawed, make mistakes, and misunderstand things at times.
Game Over, Man!
I originally intended on a third writing prompt, but I think keeping it at a more local and personal level was the best way to go about this Workshop Wednesday. The third method of integrating your shadow in your writing is a lot more abstract and impersonal, and you can feel free to request it of me for a future article, but for now this is what I impart to you:
Dig deep into the darkest parts of yourself and understand it, and on the flipside, take the time to understand the people you usally perceive as disgusting and disturbing. Maybe you’re more alike than you think, and that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe they reflect parts of yourself that you repress and being aware of these parts can help you keep them under better control.
If you found this lesson helpful, please feel free to share it with others who you think can benefit from it and leave a comment below if you have any feedback or criticisms!
Have you ever been so paralyzed by fear that you couldn’t take action, let alone think straight? Does your mind swarm you with fear, constantly imagining the worst case scenarios? Why can’t we give ourselves a break?
Even when we’re anticipating days that we’ve since longed for, there is always the fear of things not working out as we expected, or even worse, we fear everything blowing up in our faces.
It’s only natural since human beings are hardwired to scan for danger and prepare for the most convenient survival strategy. While this is our ancient repitilian brain keeping us safe, I think in our modern world, we have evolved beyond plain survival. I think we have evolved to strive for more since becoming more intelligent and ambitious.
We’re no longer here just to survive. We’re here to thrive. We’re here to live.
For years, I’ve silenced the sound of my life’s calling. Why? The typical excuses that writing doesn’t generate any profit. That it’s a hard market to break into. That I’m better off working a safe and secure day job.
Furthermore, for the past couple years in particular, I’ve had the intention to host writing workshops, but never had the nerve to host any because I doubted my own abilities. I didn’t think I would have the public speaking skills, let alone ability to create and present my work at these supposed workshops.
This past summer, after several months of taking a break from life and deciding it was time to revive my business, I felt even more resistance with the added fears of people being bored at my workshops. That it wouldn’t be anything new or compelling to them. Maybe I’d even speak too fast or be unable to articulate my incredible ideas, only to convey them in a way that makes them sound stupid. Or worse, having nobody come to my workshops, making all my hard work and anticipation a massive waste of time.
And it’s that kind of thinking that held me back for a very long time.
It even prevented me from booking my events for a couple weeks after creating my first ever Power Point presentation which would later serve as the introduction to my workshop series: The Four Pillars of Fiction.
After a while of obsessing over these possibilities and feeling intense anxiety, I finally got sick of myself. I realized it was all in my head and I was doing this to myself. The days and moments in which I thought this way, I was pretty safe from harm and embarassment living my life in solitude with the freedom to work or not to work.
What made me decide to finally start working was realizing I should stop preparing for the worst case scenario, and start preparing for the best case scenario.
I realized that if I were to host workshops at my self hating state, the way I would show up would reveal that to my guests. Why show up all strung out at an event I should be excited for?
It took some work, but I decided that I would focus more on how things can go right and stop doing what I’ve been doing all my life, which is obsessing over all the things that could go wrong.
Why not get excited and start fantasizing about the tremendous value I could provide to other writers? Why not get excited and start fantasizing about the connections I would make with wonderful people? Why not get excited and start fantasizing about the idea of stepping out of my shell and doing something I’ve been wanting to do for so long?
When I shifted my mindset from anxiety to excitement, things started to take an unexpected turn. I gained the confidence to work my ass off to craft the workshop introduction. I gained the confidence to book my workshops with a wonderful cafe that provides event space to the public. And as of today, I have hosted four workshops so far in the past two months, and in regards to those, I gained the confidence to show up and present my work.
And you know what?
It’s been the best time of my life by far.
Getting to geek out about writing for two hours, talk everyone’s ears off about all the things I’ve learned from this past decade of self directed study, and even more compelling is the participation I’ve gotten from workshop guests–it’s more than I can ask for.
When I see my guests’ eyes light up, or resounding oohs and ahhs when I’ve introduced a concept about writing that they haven’t previously thought of. When I see my guests’ hard at work answering the questions I pose at the end of each section of a presentation. All that makes my stress and anxiety go away, and makes all the hard work and dedication worth it for me.
And none of this would be possible if I hadn’t given myself the permission, the option, the power to prepare for the best case scenarios.
I prepared the presentation, thus ridding my fear of having nothing to talk about. I prepared the workshop dates, thus ridding the fear of not having a venue to express my work. And most importantly I prepared myself self-confidence, thus ridding the fear of showing up with intense anxiety and inability to deliver my work with the energy it deserves.
It doesn’t mean I’m completely free of fear and anxiety, but at least with this new mindset I’ve adapted, I’m better able to manage these limiting thoughts and feelings, and move toward my goals more.
When it comes to taking a risk and starting new adventures, my suggestion is to make the appropriate preparations for the best case scenarios. It doesn’t guarantee the best case scenarios will happen, but it sure as hell gets you close to it! And on the times you do experience the best case scenarios, it can actually be pretty intimidating.