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HowTo: Keeping the Flame Alive
By: Doug Lipman

How storytellers keep fresh, enthusiastic? How can we keep growing? Sometimes the question seems to be, how can we even keep going?


Like all artists, we need to revisit the basics of our craft. We need to return again and again to the concepts of imagining, listening, expression in oral language, intention, story structure, etc. And we need new information about how to tell.

Professional dancers take daily classes. The great cellist, Pablo Casals, played simple Bach pieces at the piano every day, always finding new information and inspiration in them.

How do we storytellers integrate the simple lessons over time? We attend workshops and classes, we teach others, we read books and articles. We watch great storytellers on video or in person, or we listen to them on tape.

Each of these methods has pros and cons, so we need to be thoughtful. Some allow in-person experience, some don’t. Some are convenient, others are expensive or difficult to arrange.

We each need to combine methods to best meet our individual needs and preferences. We need a balance of sources of information.

Yet we need more than information. We need self-knowledge.


We need to be reminded of what we know about ourselves.

On a good day, we can remember that:

* we are artists;
* we have something important to offer;
* we have unique strengths.

But we are up against big pressures that can make us forget.

We live in a society that thinks of art as "fluff," as a non-essential luxury - rather than as an essential part of being human. Beyond that, our society views artistic ability as something rare. Certain artists and performers tend to be held up as great, yet it is assumed that all others lack "talent." In the end, financial success is too often taken as a measure of our ability and worth: "If you were any good, you’d be famous."

Having heard these messages - and many others - since childhood, most of us have internalized them. As a result, we hear these discouraging voices not only from others, but from within.

Faced with such pervasive misinformation, very few of us can always remember that our difficulties are not signs that "we don’t have the talent" or "can’t make a difference, anyway."

We need to claim the deeper truth about ourselves and all humans. To do so consistently, we need all the help we can get.

Buddies and artistic partners are an invaluable resource in this struggle. They can help us get down to work; they can give us the benefit of an outside eye and ear; and they can help us remember on the days we forget. (I’ve written an article about how to use and get buddies - at


I know what it looks like when someone forgets their ability, their creativity, their worth as a storyteller. I, too, forget from time to time. I also coach many successful storytellers who (believe it or not) have crises of confidence every year or so.

Saddest of all, I have known excellent storytellers who so lost touch with their brilliance that they quit altogether - thus depriving the world and the storytelling community of their unique voices.

Even when we’re not "down" about ourselves, isolation is a constant issue for artists, especially solo performers like storytellers. We work on stories - too often, alone. We negotiate with people who hire us - without any backup. When the day to perform comes, we drive alone, perform alone, and, after the applause is over, find ourselves alone again.

We need to feel part of something larger, to know there are others out there striving - to be inspired by what other folks are doing and thinking. That’s why we hold so tightly to the pieces of community we have, including organizations and electronic communities.

In the end, we need committed artistic relationships. "Lone hero" myths to the contrary, nothing worth doing in this life can best be done all by ourselves.

The time and energy we spend forging supportive relationships is never wasted. The commitment may make us uncomfortable. It may challenge conventional ideas of what’s worth doing in life. But the connections we create based on mutual help are essential.

A tree’s roots conduct nutrients and hold the tree up. Our relationships with other artists give us nourishment and strength.

(This article first appeared as part of the free, email newsletter, "eTips from the Storytelling Coach": .)
C.2002 Doug Lipman

Author Information:
Name: Doug Lipman
The contents expressed in any article on are solely the opinion of author.

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