Story Medicine


I received an email from an old client recently who wanted to let me know she was getting ready to submit some essays to magazines and had opened Fearless Writing for a little inspiration. I always like hearing from readers and students, but I found this note particularly pleasing. Not because she had turned to my book for inspiration, though that’s great, and not because she took the time to quote what she’d found inspiring, though that’s great also; it was because she ended the email thanking me for, “writing this story.”

Technically, Fearless Writing is not a story. There is no beginning, middle, and end; no character development or narrative arcs; there isn’t a setting or an inciting incident. But I have always thought of it as a story. The job of the storyteller, after all, is to hypnotize the reader into forgetting one reality and believing another one. Just as a stage magician might put an audience member into a trance where they believe they are about to go skiing, so too the writer weaves a spell in which a willing reader forgets about time and chores and the very chair they’re sitting in while imagine they’re solving crimes, falling in love, or flying through space.

I was at a pre-conference dinner last year where a literary agent asked me what I wrote. After describing my work, she said, “So it’s prescriptive?” This is a common publishing term for a certain category of non-fiction book. It wasn’t until I heard it that I realized that about the only prescription I ever offer is, “Don’t worry. You’re fine.” I happen to think this is the best medicine for whatever you believe ails you, but I also know that it’s easy to feel you are absolutely not fine and that the very best and practical thing to do is start worrying as soon as possible.

So I tell stories about feeling stuck and then feeling inspired, about getting into the flow, about how good it feels to find a story, about how unique we all are. I tell them and tell them, hoping the reader will forget what they’re afraid of, forget how bad they felt this morning, forget about that rejection letter, forget about making money, and somewhere in this dream remember how much they love to write, love to weave their own spells, love and have always loved being who they are.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.