10.16 Dispatches: It Never Gets Easier!

I send out a newsletter every month with information about what I’m up to. It’s fun and short and I’d like to try and interest more people to join. For the next few months, I’m going to post what I wrote in the newsletter the week after it’s sent out. You can have a look and see if this is something you might want to appear in your inbox every month. Scroll to the bottom to sign up.

Ain’t that the truth? Usually, when you work really hard at something, it does get easier. Of course this is true, however, this can also mean you’re not necessarily getting better at whatever thing you’re working on. I think to truly deepen your work and evolve as an artist, unfortunately, at least for me, there is the continual requirement to put yourself in increasingly uncomfortable situations.

I’m mainly talking about writing and storytelling in front of audiences. I do see how things could be easy. In classes and workshops I’ve taken, there was always talk of finding your ‘writing voice’. Essentially, a writing style that is uniquely yours. This takes an enormous amount of work.

For me, I emulated other writers for a while, tried different styles, and eventually zeroed in on what I call ‘letter writing’. My mentor, Wayson Choy, was getting frustrated with my writing. He’d give me exercises to do and with each one, I’d write him a short letter outlining what was to come. One day at our usual meeting place, a diner in the east end, he was flipping back and forth from my letter to the actual writing exercise. He said, “I hear your voice clearly in the letter, but I flip the page to the exercise and it’s gone. If you could figure out how to bring the letter writing into your other work, you might have something.” A lightbulb went on in my head and from then on, I approached most of my work from this mentality.

I also think you need to find your ‘performance voice’. This also takes enormous amounts of work. After a few years of being in front of audiences, I performed with a comedian friend a story about when we accidentally became private investigators. Two things happened. First, I usually talk slow, but I started talking even slower. Second, I pretended that I was deadly serious, even though what I was saying was absurd or comedic. The audience found this very funny. The more serious I became, the more laughs it got. My attitude became: Why are you laughing at this? I am trying to tell you something very serious!

This worked for a while and still works. But there is the danger of complacency. I can keep doing this, and pretty sure I’ll get laughs. Where’s the fun in that? The fun part comes in trying to invert this, or add a song, or talk directly to the audience. Some things don’t work, but I feel that as long as you make a commitment to whatever you’re doing, the audience will appreciate it.

I bring this all up because I’m working on a story for the next Stories We Don’t Tell that has been very challenging. Not in form, but in content. It’s a serious story with serious implications. I want to get it right and communicate it in an effective way. I want to respect the subject. It’s great to have a platform to share these stories. It’s still exciting to go on the journey of finding the finished product. It’s not there yet, but almost.

Check out the latest season of the Storytime Podcast. It’s quite fun and they are short episodes. That’s why I like releasing them all at the same time, so you can binge listen to them. There’s also plenty of new blogs - my secret goal is to write one a week for the entire year, and it’s been happening so far. And if you can make it to the next Stories We Don’t Tell on May 4th, it’d be great to see you there.

Until next time.

-- Paul

Paul Dore