Friday, July 22, 2011

Death to Story Gurus (metaphorically of course)!

Gurus: it seems the world is over-run with them. Cults, cults of personality, cults of politics, cults of religion, therapy cults, food cults, sexual cults the list goes on. There is at least one more type we should list, sadly: the story cult.

Yes, story gurus abound these days. Throw a stone and you’ll hit one. I won’t name names (you know who you are), but writing and story gurus use the same tactics as any cult leader to recruit, retain, and indoctrinate their “followers.” Here are some of the red flags to know if you are getting sucked into the web of a story guru:

  • “You need me to help you become a better writer.”
  • “You need my methodology/system if you are going to succeed.”
  • “One class isn’t enough, you have to do the whole series to really get the benefit.”
  • “Sign up for the next class series or you’ll fall behind in your development as a writer.”
  • “My next book has exactly what you need, so make sure you buy it.”
  • “If you really want to succeed, sign up for this writing retreat; you won’t get this information from anyone else.”
  • “Join my writing group, or you won’t make any progress as a writer.”

The message is clear: you need me, you can’t do this alone, and you need a guru/teacher.

(Dramatic pause) … NO, YOU DON'T! You do not need a guru; you do not need a teacher. And anyone who tells you that you do is selling you snake oil and pulling a flimflam on you. But, let me explain why I feel this way.

The word “guru” has developed a bad connotation because of all the vampires out there that suck people’s power and money under the guise of “teaching.” There is nothing inherently wrong with listening to a guru or a teacher. We all benefit from teachers who teach. We all become more for learning from people who have been through experiences we have not, and who can transfer their knowledge to us as a gift. But, when getting that help demands us giving up our personal power, AND our bank accounts, then I certainly have a problem with that—and I hope you do too.

Sadly, there are many people who line up to give up their power to so-called experts in every field, least of all in the story-consulting world. I know, I work in that world, I teach in that world—but hear me, I am no guru! My approach is simple: take classes, buy books, listen to everyone; but, follow NO ONE! My tweet version of this philosophy is: Death to gurus! I speak metaphorically, of course.

Teachers and gurus are never a necessity. You can learn everything you need to learn on your own. But, it saves time to have someone teach you things if they already have the experience and insights you lack. You will have those experiences eventually yourself. You will gain those insights yourself. But, why not take a shortcut if one is offered; ala a teacher or guru? Nothing wrong with that.

But, the job of teachers is to teach themselves out of a job. Their job is not to produce perpetual students, but to produce more teachers. Any good therapist should therapize themselves out of a job by getting patients better, not keeping them hooked on years of therapy. Any good leader does not produce followers, they produce more leaders who change the world and make life better for everyone. The same goes for story gurus.

I teach classes; I sell books; I consult with clients. And you will pay me for the privilege because it has cost me years of time and money to gain my skills and knowledge. I’m worth the price of admission! But, I make no demands that you follow or keep buying, or ever use me again. If you choose to continue to work with me, great, that’s a preference, a choice you make consciously, NOT a necessity that is foisted upon you by my guilting you into following my methodology or “teachings.” You don’t need any story consultant or me. We need you, however, if we want to do what we love to do, i.e., teach and work with great writers.

So, to sum up: Death to story gurus. You are your own guru. You are your own teacher. Use us out of preference, not necessity. We don’t want your power. But, we don't work for free, so there’s the tradeoff. We who do this story work are lucky to have you , so thank you.

Now, go write.

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