Warrior Writer—Formula for Disaster Meets the Recipe for Success (Part I)
I have had the unique privilege of experiencing Warrior Writer on two levels—as an individual and as part of a group. The Warrior-Writer concept is so life altering, so mind-blowing and unique that I find it a real challenge to put its essence into words, but I’m going to give it a try.
One of my favorite shows is “Kitchen Nightmares” with Chef Gordon Ramsay. Why? Because it is amazing how much the culinary world and the world of writing have in common. Opening a restaurant is, by and large, an emotional thing, fueled by ego and unfulfilled dreams, often attempted by amateurs with no real professional training for success. The restaurant business is brutal, with a standard failure rate of almost 62% in the first year. And while many will chalk up this shocking rate of failure to the “ways of the industry,” Chef Ramsay certainly provides us all with “food for thought.”
Bob Mayer, with Warrior Writer, is doing something very similar. Most of us didn’t become writers to make money, much like most independent restauranteurs. We write because we have to. It fulfills, releases, or validates something inside. For many, writing is the reward for living a responsible life of working a “real job” for others. Likewise, watch “Kitchen Nightmares” and I guarantee that, within three episodes, you will meet the retired police officer or the former construction worker, or the mom who wanted a family business, all of whom opened a restaurant for very emotional reasons…yet they are dying because they didn’t understand that one must possess more than passion to succeed.
These eager, well-intending individuals remind me of so many writers I’ve known over my career (including myself). Many writers dive head-first into the publishing world with little to no training, and struggle to thrive in an industry that doesn’t properly value the talent it depends upon. In one of my earlier blogs, I stated, “To believe college English constitutes proper schooling for commercial fiction is like saying Home Economics is proper training for a chef.” This is true when it comes to the writing, but it is much truer when it comes to the mentality of the professional author. This is where Warrior Writer comes in.
The publishing industry may or may not change, but with Warrior Writer, thankfully, we authors can.
Until now, there has been no real formal training on what it means to be a professional author. It is highly complex. Thus, I have decided to dedicate a new series to exploring it. As Bob will tell you, we writers are in the entertainment business, which is an oxymoron. Entertainment is emotional, while business is rational. The two have a tough time coexisting.
And I will be blunt here. Part of what hurts most writers (especially new ones) is that they fail to understand you cannot separate entertainment from business or vice versa. Thus, many writers tend to either focus all their energies on the writing, or they scope-lock on the business. Both have to coexist. What good is a brilliant novel if we don’t learn the business well enough to survive, let alone thrive? Similarly, what good does learning about finding an agent or even great marketing serve us if our product is crap?
For the sake of brevity, I have chosen to tackle only one half of this today. I believe one has to let this part of Warrior Writer sink in for the others to make sense. So today, we will address the entertainment part of the entertainment business, because these two words alone lend to internal conflict that will translate into external conflict if not understood and handled properly.
Writing is something all of us love, ergo why we became writers. Yet, after going through the Warrior Writer training, my eyes were opened to something key. As an editor for going on ten years, I had a hard time understanding why writers simply came undone if their work was criticized, sometimes violently so. I mean, this is a business, and that isn’t being very professional. We are critiquing the writing, not the writer. WRONG.
The writing is a key indicator of the person producing the product, both strengths and weaknesses. When Chef Ramsay is invited to help save a restaurant that is on the verge of disaster, what is the first thing he does? Does he look at the location? The menu? The management? The advertising? No. That all comes later. The very first thing he wants to see and taste is the food, and there is a very good reason.
Food, like writing, is interminably linked to emotion. Ramsay often can tell virtually everything about the restaurant that needs to be fixed by the food he is served that first day. Does the chef have pride in the food? Is the dish far too fancy with 20,000 ingredients and more garnish than substance? Is the food rotten, raw? Did the chef focus more on the presentation than quality of the food? Does the chef have focus, or is he making Mexican Irish Spring Rolls with a Curry Chutney?
This is a direct parallel to writing, and a lot of what Warrior Writer teaches us to see. What is the quality of the “food” we are serving up? And, more importantly, what is CAUSING us to do what we do? If you read Who Dares Wins (used in Warrior Writer), the first question Bob asks is, “WHO?” for a very good reason. We have to define who we are before we can find what we fear. Warrior Writer’s FIRST goal is to kick our FEARS out of the driver’s seat to our careers, and replace those fears with something more positive…like talent.
No writing class will fix this. I will give you an example. I sat in the Warrior Writer class very dutifully, near the front with my laptop. Bob instructed us to write down our big goal for writing. Right away, I typed in, “My goal is to become a best-selling author in five years.” For a second I felt very proud and daring, then I looked closer (remember I had already run through an individual Warrior Writer, so I had new eyes). I swear I literally heard the tumblers in my mind falling into place. A best-selling author of what? Romance? Suspense? Origami cookbooks? Here I thought I was making a specific goal, yet I was miles off base. But here is the strange part. I have been taking classes and reading books on structure, structure, plot, structure, plot. I was going crazy on why my novels kept breaking down over the long haul. Why could I fix it in others, but kept screwing it up myself? This one-sentence goal revealed my answer. If I, the author, had no clear direction or focus, why would my writing or my characters? No wonder I was serving up Mexican Irish Spring Rolls with Curry Chutney.
Everything we put on that page is a part of who we are. For those who read my earlier blog “Facing down the Beast,” we can end up sabotaging ourselves by not digging deep enough, not putting enough out there and thus failing to deeply resonate with the reader. If we the writer are not genuine and vulnerable, how can our characters ever hope to be? The plain fact of the matter is that we cannot separate who we are from what we write. Thus, we must become the best to write the best. Bob always says, “To become is hard; to be is even harder.”
And later, I will explore how this translates into how we handle the business part of the entertainment business because I guarantee you that the same fears hindering your writing are going to, at the very least, be kissing cousins with the fears holding you back in the business part of the equation.
So, in the meantime, think about what food you are serving up as your signature dish.
Until next time…
I highly recommend visiting Bob Mayer’s site for more information on Warrior Writer training near you www.bobmayer.org
You can also get familiar with Chef Gordon Ramsay via this link http://www.hulu.com/kitchen-nightmares. Episode 5 “Olde Stone Mill” is a great one to watch to better understand Warrior Writer.