I just finished reading Larry Brooks book, Story Engineering, and although it certainly isn’t anywhere close to weird enough to feature in its own Bizzaro Book Review, I gotta say, you people really need to pick this thing up, if only for the section on structure.
But while I was reading this book, I came across a theme which seemed to be repeated with alarming regularity. Namely, that some writers simply refuse to accept the idea that there might be a basic format with nearly all good stories follow and that learning and applying that format can vastly improve your chances of getting published.
It boggles the mind to think that someone could write a book saying, “This is the structure on which 99% of all financially successful stories are based. Disregard it at your peril,” and struggling writers would choose to completely ignore it.
It would make sense if you didn’t know about fundamentals of structure, but to know and refuse to apply them seems completely nonsensical. Yet according to Brooks writers do this all the time. And I think I know why.
Writers want to feel special.
Sure, maybe all those other hacks need to pay attention to things like story structure, but not you. You’ve got something unique. And while I don’t want to tear down anyone’s self-image, I do have a bit of cold hard truth for you to swallow:
You’re not special.
I know you’re hackles just went up. After all, you’ve been told that you were special by wonderful well-intentioned people for your whole life. And here’s the thing: pretty much everyone else was told the same thing.
Now, are you unique? In some ways, sure. Do you have something valuable to offer the world through your writing? Probably, yes.
But trust me when I say there are thousands, possibly millions of writers out there who think they’re the ones who’ve really got what it takes if only the big mean publishers would get out of the way and print their stuff.
This is not to say you are not a good writer. You may be a great writer. You may be a great storyteller. (These two things are not synonymous by the way, a topic which deserves a post of its own one of these days).
But the odds are good that as long as you keep thinking of yourself as the next greatest thing in the literary world, you’re not going to be able to learn as much as you need to learn to get better.
Instead, try taking a page from fellow blogger The Hack Novelist. When I first saw Hack’s internet moniker I thought, “Well, that’s odd. I wonder why someone would choose to be so self-deprecating.” But the more I think on it, the more I believe he’s got the right idea.
See, if you start to think of yourself as a hack, it’s very liberating in a way. For one thing you’re freed from the obligation to write the perfect story. After all, you’re just a hack right? You do the best you can and move on to the next project.
You also create a better psychological environment for learning. Because if you’re nothing more than a hack pounding out pulp fiction for the masses, you’re going to be open to any advice you can get.
As always, the single biggest thing getting in the way of your success is you. And the same advice goes double for me. The more I can get out of my own way, the better my chances of success become.
Bottom line: we need to check our egos at the door. It’s a good practice for writers and for life in general. Only through humility can we achieve greatness.