From birth we’re trained.
The training we’ve received from birth is (mostly) well intentioned. It is meant to keep us safe by teaching us not to run into traffic or light the house on fire or eat Tide Pods. Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
That initial training puts us on a training treadmill on which we are fed even more training, the kind that also helps us conform to societal expectations so that we’re “successfully integrated” into the hierarchical power structure.
While avoiding alligators and learning to get along with other people are good things, all of that training can have unintended and deleterious effects on our creative selves.
In short, we’ve been trained to be trained, like circus lions in cages trained to perform by puny people who require whips to keep us lions in line.
The assumption remains that you are not equipped to self-actualize (at least not on your own). Only someone other than you is qualified to direct you, correct you, and protect you from yourself.
The same is true for those independent writers trying to find their voice and to learn the writing craft. The perpetual cycle of training and being trained can get in your head. Suddenly you’re trapped in a cage of your own making, beating up on yourself while using the harsh language of the lion tamers.
In this mindset, you will never feel quite ready to step outside of the cage. You will remain captive in someone else’s circus.
“Obviously, you are not equipped to take on such a monumental challenge as writing a book all on your own,” the lion tamer says. “You need to copy Great Author A’s style or join a Critiquing Coven of Professional Lion Tamers or pursue your MFA.”
These are all cages for us lions.
Do you need to learn and study the writing craft?
Yes—that is, if you’re interested in connecting with your readers. Maybe your spelling and punctuation are so lousy the grammar police keep you on a no-fly list.
Well, good news! You can learn those rules without breaking your creative spirit. (Or you can hire professionals to fix these things for you.) Fun? No. Useful? Yes.
Grammar and syntax are merely tools for storytelling. They are not the story itself. The same is true for dialogue, character development, three-act structure, pacing, inciting incidents, and every other element needed for a ripping good yarn that draws readers in and won’t let them go.
Those lion tamers also beat into us the idea that there is something immoral about making mistakes. A low grade on a school paper or receiving a negative review on the internet is on the same spectrum as murdering babies.
Phooey. Or insert a stronger expletive here if the mood strikes you.
I happen to be the kind of lion who often practices T & E: Trial and Error. It’s not a perfect process, and often it’s not pretty, but I make unusual discoveries in pursuit of my own solutions to writing challenges. There’s gold in them thar mistakes.
For one thing: they’re your mistakes. You created them. You own them. You can learn from them.
The world doesn’t need more caged animals. We need free and powerful beasts who amaze us with their unique strengths and (yes) weaknesses. Get untrained and untamed.
Do it your way, but do it well.
Roar, lion, roar.