It’s inspiring to listen to experts speak knowledgeably and passionately about a particular topic or idea. We’re big fans of TED talks here, but recently I’ve spent some time listening to experts via a different venue. There are thousands of podcasts on any subject, whether photography, writing, business, aeronautics, you name it. So if your character is an airline pilot and you know nothing about flying (except how to reserve a seat, fasten your seatbelt and kick open the emergency door), search until you find one or two or ten good podcasts on that subject.
Recently I listened to a podcast on architecture, which I’ve researched for technical and artistic aspects for The Lost Legacy of Gabriel Tucci, but not for practicalities of the field as a career choice. I came across a group of podcasts called The Business of Architecture by Enoch Sears. In one particular show, he interviewed Eric Corey Freed, architect, author and founder of Organic Architect, his practice devoted to building with an organic and ecological approach. Over the past 15 years or so running his own practice, Freed has been a mentor to numerous college graduates. Because of his generosity and openness to help, he now receives upwards of 1,000 emails a year from newbie architects, feeling either lost or discouraged by their lack of progress or ability to get started in the business of architecture.
Though I was listening to get a perspective of how an architect thinks and what kind of issues might come up in the course of a workday, I was struck by his universal message. He offers to meet with every person who contacts him and is surprised that only a small percentage takes him up on his offer. His mentees have been known to shed a few tears – not because he’s mean or patronizing, but because he pushes them to think internally, to think hard about strengths and goals and passions.
His advice rang true, not only for new graduates, but also for those trying to take their careers to the next level. I think about the stymied writer, one who thinks it’s fruitless to keep trying. I’m not that person – I’ve never once thought of giving up writing, despite my enthusiastic rejection pile. I love the writing part too much. But I know others who have. Eric Corey Freed has put together some excellent advice. Yes, it was intended to be about architecture. But I’m pretty sure his message translates to other ventures, artistic or otherwise. In fact, I've translated it to my own language of writing.
1. Can you think of a problem in your community or town or country that needs a solution? (Can you think of a character on a mission, in trouble, searching for something?)
2. Can you think of it today? (Are the characters talking to you RIGHT NOW?)
3. Can you brainstorm a solution to that problem? Today? (Can you picture those characters in scenes, battling with antagonists, overcoming obstacles?)
4. Can you put that solution in a presentation, whether it be a narrative, YouTube video or in-person presentation? (Can you write it down? Picture it as a movie?)
5. Can you present that solution with passion? (Revise! Rewrite! Add tension!)
6. Then why aren’t you? Why aren’t you doing that today?
The majority of the time, Freed gets the same 10 excuses, which he bats down almost immediately. I don’t have a license or I don’t have the money or I don't have time. From there it continues until he digs to the real excuse. Fear. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of embarrassment.
Most people when asked will say they want to do something extraordinary with their lives. But only 5% of people actually do. (His statistic, not mine, but it sounds right). He argues that the biggest deterrent to reaching your potential is yourself.
So ask yourself a few questions. Do you have a story floating around in your brain? Is it itching to get out? Why aren’t you writing that today?