What exactly is Warrior Writer?
People have been asking this question ever since Bob mentioned the two words together. And, to be honest, that is a good question, and a tough one to answer.
…but I’ll try.
Some scientists suggest that every experience we humans have from the day we are born is not only processed, but recorded in perfect detail. I know this seems like an odd tangent, but trust me, it will be important.
I’m helping Bob with the writing workshops in DFW, which means that, although I can observe, there are simply too many other tasks that need tending for me to actively participate. Bob is a really great writer, and an equally amazing teacher. Thus, it is quite the privilege to watch him work. And, in between my trips for more ice to keep the drinks cold, or rescue missions to locate missing writers who’d been locked outside, I paid close attention to what Bob was telling the group perched over pads and laptops. I had problems with my own writing, and I hoped to find answers. But, alas, the weekend came to an end. I still had no idea what to do about my own WIP that didn’t involve an industrial paper shredder.
Structure has always been my greatest area of writing weakness. So after Bob went home, I rallied the courage and asked for help on my own conflict lock (editors are supposed to know everything, right?). I eagerly awaited the same treatment I watched at the Sunday workshop.
I was mentally prepared. Here’s what would happen:
Bob would ask a lot of questions. I would answer. Then he’d e-mail something like, “Huh?” or “I’m confused” or “But why would she do that?” Then I would defend. And then he’d e-mail, “But where’s the main problem?” Parry, thrust, parry until—voila—a conflict lock! Yay for me.
So the Saturday before last (after some of the parrying I’d anticipated) Bob just stops. He informs me that I have been promoted to Warrior Writer Guinea Pig status.
Me: What???? Warrior…what? No. But wh-wh-what about my conflict lock?
Bob: Nope. No conflict lock. Forget plot for now. You have tunnel vision.
Me: But what about my conflict lock? I don’t want Warrior Writer. I want a conflict lock.
Bob: See what I mean?
Me: I hate you.
I have to admit, I was not a happy camper. In fact, I was livid. I was a tantrum-throwing-3-year-old brat howling in the grocery store line because I couldn’t have a conflict lock like all the other kids. This is a tough thing to confess, although I can laugh about it now. When he told me to forget the plot and that we were going to focus on me, I thought he’s slipped while running and hit his head. But, hey, I was the one who asked for his help, so I grudgingly complied.
That was when the questions started. Probing and prodding into fears and weaknesses. OUCH! And I wailed with complaint. Literally. I just could not see how this would be helpful. Looking back, I am embarrassed and amazed at my visceral response.
What’s interesting is that my reaction is a dead-on clue that Bob knows what he’s doing. I have read Who Dares Wins and applied a lot of it to my life, but my resistance and anger to Bob’s questions begs its own question. Do we have the courage to step into the den of the Jabberwocky on our own? Remember Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky? The creature was different for everyone, a manifestation of that person’s greatest fear and weakness.
Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
I now believe our greatest creative power is hidden in a cave within our subconscious. The problem is that the entrance to the cave is guarded by our Jabberwocky. Why we don’t do our best writing is that our most precious “gems” of memory and creative thought are not being accessed. So we write “around” it, and as a consequence, never quite do our best work.
Bob continually preaches how we build our greatest defenses around our greatest weaknesses. Very true. The problem is we are by nature self-deluded. We don’t like pain, and avoid it whenever possible. Or if we must endure pain, we tip-toe on the edge like the chickens we are.
So now we go back full circle to my opening statement. The most valuable memories and experiences your subconscious has collected over your lifetime are locked inside your mental cave. These gems make up your true creative treasure, the part that, when given away, is going to create characters and stories more amazing than you ever imagined. The problem is that this emotional treasure is guarded by your Jabberwocky. Until that creature is defeated, it is simply impossible for you to access the best of who you are, and your writing, your characters, will be a reflection of that.
Permit me to give a bit of my own experience to illustrate.
Not long ago, I ran across some of my own writing from the years before I became a professional. Granted, it was riddled with amateur errors (apparently, at the time, I’d had yet to meet a modifier I didn’t like). But, I had to admit there was a genuineness my current pieces didn’t possess. The characters were far rawer and more intimately real. Something had changed, but what?
I have spent the last year reading on characterization, attending workshops, etc. Yet, my main characters might as well have been cut from cardboard. Even more strangely, my secondary characters developed a nasty habit of stealing the show. What made it worse was that these character problems always generated structure problems—incoherent conflict, a plot riddled with bunny trails, etc.
For the life of me, I had no idea what the hell was going on. I was an editor! These were the sorts of mistakes I ripped through without mercy. How was I, of all people, making these sorts of errors?
I was soon going to find out. This is not easy for me to write, and you will soon see why. But if you want to know what Warrior Writer is, then I have to show you this.
My father and I were extremely close, as in best-friend-forever close. I was a tomboy, and Dad and I were inseparable. We spent every weekend at a gun range, or hiking, or mountain biking, etc. My father read all the time, and wrote short stories and poetry on every spare piece of paper. He gave me my love for books and my passion for writing.
October 9, 1999 started the same as most every day, only it was a little different because it was my father’s 50th birthday. I got up, went to work, and called a friend of mine to check on the cake. We were going to have a surprise birthday party for Dad’s 50th. Man was I excited. I’d bought him a computer so he could finally write a novel like he’d always dreamed. I’d spent weeks picturing his reaction. It had been sheer torture keeping a surprise party secret, and then keeping a computer secret was enough to give me a permanent twitch.
The big problem was that I knew he hadn’t been feeling well. Part of me worried he’d cancel. Everyone had been coming down with the flu. I, myself, had just recovered from a nasty bout. I just prayed he could gut it through one more evening, and then he could take the rest of the week to be sick…in front of his brand spanking new high-speed computer with a Pentium processor.
I’d been trying to call him since lunchtime with no answer. So when he finally picked up the phone, I was ecstatic . . . until I heard his voice. It held a strange quality that kicked my heart rate through the roof. He was sick. Real sick. In the midst of asking him about symptoms and trying to talk him into going to an emergency room, my father died…while talking to me.
And I would like to say that was the worst, but it wasn’t.
In my heart I knew he was gone. Can’t tell you how. Just did. But my brain wasn’t buying what my heart knew to be true. People don’t die on their birthday, do they?
Did I call an ambulance? Nope. No, I did something I would spend years regretting. I called my grandparents. They lived only a couple of minutes away, and I figured they could bully him and pull parental rank to make my stubborn father go to an ER. I sent my grandparents to find their son slumped on the floor dead with a phone in his hand.
I would later find out that my dad had esophageal cancer, that the strange quality I heard to his voice was him suffocating to death as we spoke. I nearly lost my mind with grief and guilt.
Years passed, and I thought I’d healed. I guess in a day-to-day living and making it through the holidays I had. But when I started doing Warrior Writer, I suddenly realized that the grief and guilt regarding my father was a giant Jabberwocky standing in front of the best memories and richest experience I could hope to draw from as a writer. My characters were flat, because I was terrified to write the good stuff. When I did, it hurt too much, and I would back off.
Thus, my writing and characterization suffered.
So Warrior Writer comes into my life, and, after a decade of waiting, my dad is finally free. I didn’t know that Jabberwocky existed, or probably didn’t want to know. The creature stood for all my hurt and loss and pain, my guilt and fear and feelings of inadequacy. That’s why Bob’s questions evoked such a reaction. He kept shoving me out of my comfort zone, and boy was I rebelling. I’d done a damn fine job of ignoring the 500 pound monster in the room, and Bob was ruining that. He kept pushing me until I finally saw the beast. At last I realized what was chaining down my characters.
I can’t tell you what Warrior Writer is, or what it will be for you. Like the Jabberwocky, it is unique to the individual. Warrior Writer is an opportunity to face your fears and weaknesses, or, like in my case, discover what they actually are. Sometimes your Jabberwocky has a very different face than you might imagine. Or, it is exactly what you imagined, but you don’t have the courage or the tools to take it down.
Warrior Writer is tough, and it takes a special level of honesty and commitment. But, it is worth it. I have never seen such a drastic improvement in my writing. I open documents I created this past week and go, “Wow. I wrote THAT?” “I thought of THAT?” “Where did THAT come from?” I feel like my dad has poured some sort of a magic elixir into my words, transforming everything. My writing is far different. I am far different. Perhaps I was ready to be, just needed someone to guide me.
Other writing books and writing workshops focus mainly on the craft, which is fantastic. Yet, Warrior Writer focuses on the author. Your creations, your characters, the plots you have yet to write are all part of you, locked deep inside. Warrior Writer teaches the tools necessary to face down weakness and fear and gain entrance to your own cave of creative treasure (which usually sits smack dab behind your Blind Spot).
And the cosmically strange part about all of this is that my dad was reading “Eyes of the Hammer” before he died. All he could talk about were these books written by this Green Beret turned writer—a Green Beret turned writer who I would meet by total chance nine years later at a writer’s conference…who would become my friend. My father would have loved the irony.