Red Shoes and Rattlesnakes.

You never know what some people will take home as souvenirs.

I’m just back from the NPPA’s Advanced Storytelling Workshop in San Marcos, Texas. It’s a week-long gathering designed to help journalists improve their craft.

Some are pretty intimidated at the start. I know I was when I was asked to join the faculty six years ago. I felt like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree in the land of the giant Sequoias. (Still do.)

So when students today tell me they feel “really stupid” after the first assignment, or that the examples they’re shown at the workshop seem completely unattainable to them, or that they’re thinking seriously of going to law school, I get it. I REALLY get it. That’s what makes watching what evolves over a weeks time so magical.

Some of the people who have attended this annual event come to the workshop from places like Canada, Denmark, the Middle East and China. Others have joined us from the Army and from TV stations and newspapers all over the U.S. Most will complete the week having learned something about “Focus Statements”–the road map to keeping a story on track. They also carry home writing, shooting and editing techniques. But above all else, I think they learn something about themselves. That we are our own worst critics.

We try to stress that it is all about “progress not perfection” and that practice and patience really are the keys. By Friday you begin to see some of the ideas talked about in the lecture sessions come to life on the big screen in the classroom. People who’ve never recorded their own voice to narrate their work discover it sounds O.K. Just about everyone experiences what it’s like to have people they didn’t know a week ago, encouraging and congratulating them.

I’m always in awe of the Danes who come in their cool european clothes, DNA wired to have more fun than all of us. This year there was a Danish intern named Jannik who was visiting the U.S. for the first time. He desperately wanted to see a rattlesnake. We ended up buying him a plastic one and he seemed genuinely thrilled. (Hope that doesn’t cause him any trouble at customs.)


I always bring back a sense of hope about where the business is going–a booster shot to keep me reaching for something better in my own work. My souvenirs from the workshop this year include a new insight into the world of Zombie culture; a warning to choose my words carefully in a classroom where students “tweet” what you’re saying for their lecture notes and a reminder that the kindness people show to one another at these events is more important than trophies.

I hope the people who attended took home something useful. If nothing else, to “trust that you are gifted” and keep searching the coal for diamonds.

3 Comments on “Red Shoes and Rattlesnakes.

  1. How wonderful to leave a seminar with a renewed sense of inspiration towards your work. And I’m so glad you are passing on your own gifts to many other storytellers. Now I’m curious:how do I have some Danes in my life? I’m ready to have more fun!

  2. Your participants are so fortunate to have you and the rest of the forest sharing what you know about how you do what you do. I can only imagine how challenging and invigorating this week-long intensive must be for all of you.

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