By Steven Pressfield
Published: July 27, 2016
Here’s an exercise to drive you crazy:
Ask yourself, “What is the theme of my life?”
I suggest this for two reasons. First, because it’s so hard for us as writers to grasp the idea of “theme.” What the hell is it anyway? How is it different from “subject?” From “concept?” An exercise like this (aside from being fairly mind-bending) is a great way to get a sense of exactly what “theme” means.
My second reason is because I was watching the documentary about Tony Robbins last night, “I Am Not Your Guru.” I only got to watch the first quarter of it, so I may have grokked its message prematurely and incorrectly. But my early assessment is that a lot of what Tony Robbins does in his “Date With Destiny” 6-day events is to force the attendees (often one-on-one and very much in-their-face) to at least consider the question, “What is the theme of your life?”
“Who are you?”
“What is your destiny?”
“Why were you put on Earth?” “Is there something that you, and only you, are equipped to do? What is that—and why the hell aren’t you doing it?”
At this point, lemme let Tony Robbins off the hook and continue only in my own voice, turning to what only I myself believe.
The hardest aspect for most of us to grasp about such questions as “What is the theme of your life?” and “What is your destiny?” is simply the seemingly egomaniacal idea that our lives do have a theme and that we ourselves do have a destiny.
Do you believe that? You? Me? One of seven billion egos/bodies/carbon units on the planet? Us? Isn’t that pretty exalted? Pretty megalomaniacal?
Or let’s put it another way: what is the theme of your life as a writer? The theme in your work?
It’s one of my bedrock beliefs that we discover who we are, not just by our actions (though that’s a big part of it) but, if we’re artists, by the works we produce. What films has Matt Damon made? What poems did Sylvia Plath write? What albums has Beyonce recorded? Is there a theme to the collected works of Bob Dylan?
What about you and me? Have we written (or even partially-written) more than one work? What do these works have in common? Is there a thread running through them?
If a graduate student in Literature were to examine our writings, even our uncompleted works and works in progress, what theme would he or she identify within them?
If you’re a reader of this blog, you know that I believe in previous lives. I believe that you and I did not arrive in this dimension “in utter nakedness,” as Wordsworth once wrote, but as already highly-individuated and evolved souls.
Yes, I believe in destiny.
Destiny = theme.
Do we have a purpose, you and I? Yes. Were we put here for a reason? Yes. What is that reason? That’s our job: to find out. To find out and to act upon that finding-out.
If we’re artists we find out what our destiny/theme is by doing our work, even if we have no idea why we’re doing it, why a specific idea seized us, why we were compelled to write about the stuff we’re compelled to write about. Write it first, then step back and ask, “What the hell was that about?” What does it tell me about my own preoccupations, my passions, my obsessions?
That’s our theme.
That’s our destiny.
If you watch the Tony Robbins documentary, you’ll see that he uses extreme methods of theater, of confrontation, of personal proximity, touch, voice, profanity. Why? I think it’s because most of his event attendees are so young. They haven’t been on the planet long enough, or had enough experiences to provide them with a graspable reflection of who they are, what they want, what their destiny might be. So Tony has to shake them up. He has to rattle their cages, not just to wake them up so that they’re receptive to something, but to seed the belief that they do have a destiny, they do have a theme, their life is about something.
For you and me as artists, time and the work itself will tell us our theme. What do we love? What subjects capture us? And how does our treatment of these subjects change and evolve over time? Do we “solve” one issue and move on to the next? How is Issue #12 related to Issue #1? Did Sarah Vaughn’s last album display an evolution from her first?
What was her theme? What is mine?
What is yours?
Posted in Writing Wednesdays
By Shawn Coyne | Published: July 29, 2016
As many of you already know, over at The Story Grid Podcast, I’ve been serving as newbie fiction writer Tim Grahl’s developmental editor.
We’ve been at it for about nine months now and while Tim had to discard just about everything from his first draft, we’re making steady baby-step progress as he pivots into a new narrative direction.
It has been enormously gratifying to witness how the fundamental story principles that took me so long to understand are beginning to embed themselves into someone deliberately learning the craft.
But it’s a frustrating process too. And that’s no knock on Tim. It’s just the nature of mentoring creative work.
It’s frustrating in the same way it is when you try and teach someone a skill that abides an M + TEn = IF equation.
Posted in What It Takes | 15 Comments
By Callie Oettinger | Published: July 22, 2016
“Hello,” worked for Jerry Maguire, helping him win back his girl.
For pitching, if someone says, “You had me at hello,” it means you’ve won a place in the trashcan instead of in that person’s heart.
The pitch below is an example of a recent “Hello/Hi” pitch sent to Steve. It’s followed by a mark-up pointing out areas to avoid if you find yourself making similar pitches one of these days.
My name is Xxx Xxx and I am the social media manager of Xxx Competition. Established in 2012, we are one of the fastest growing Xxx competitions and I am getting in touch to see if you would like to join us in some cross-promotion over the summer/autumn.
2016 is a big year for us, as we have already announced the 1st winner of the new Xxx, Xxx Xxx’s ‘Xxx’, and as the film goes into production we are busy expanding our Judging panel for our new Xxx category. Leading lights of the TV industry join our existing Feature and Short Script Judges, Xxx, Xxx, and 22 other Oscar, Emmy, Cannes, and BAFTA winners, to make up the most distinguished panel of judges of any screenwriting contest in the world.
Our competition is all about launching new writing careers. Xxx is unique in that our objective is to get winning scripts into the hands of those who can get them produced. Proof of our commitment can be seen in our alumni successes. Xxx was a winner with ‘Xxx’, which was produced as a feature starring Xxx. This year, Xxx, a 2013 winner went on to win this year’s Xxx.
We want to create more winners, and to do that, we want to reach out to as many new screenwriters and filmmakers as possible. We’d like to talk to your followers and tell our followers about you.
We’re open to any cross-promotion ideas and we can offer discounted competition entry rates, Facebook mentions & Twitter tweets, Instagram contests, original articles, and email blasts. We would be happy to reciprocate by promoting your announcements and events, so do get in contact if you feel like there could be an opportunity for us to work together.
Thanks for taking the time to read this email. I look forward to hearing from you.
Here’s the mark-up: