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eTips from the Storytelling Coach - Number 4

Keeping the Flame Alive

March 4, 2001

eTips is a free electronic newsletter from Doug Lipman. You can subscribe, unsubscribe, or read a more detailed description of the newsletter at the eTips page. You can also read the other back issues.


1) Keeping the Flame Alive.
A. Don't Overlook the Basics
B. Why We Tend to Forget (what we know about ourselves)
Free article:
C. How To Counter Artistic Isolation
2) Product announcement: Storytelling Workshop in a Box
What you get:
3) Workshop announcements:
Two places left in Finding the Sacred in Stories:
Plus: 3 other workshops!
News tidbit: My re-designed website now has an online store. You can order via credit card or check on my secure server.


I just finished an article for the next issue of Storytelling Magazine ( The subject was "What are the basic skills for storytellers?"

Writing about these essential building blocks of storytelling made me think: What do we need, to grow as storytellers? How do we improve? How do we keep from getting stale?


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 (Or ask me to email this free article to you.)


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.

(For a new resource for reviewing the basics - and feeling part of a community of storytellers working on their craft - read on!)

2) Product announcement: STORYTELLING WORKSHOP IN A BOX (TM)

As I was pondering the situation of storytellers striving to improve skills and remember our worth, I had a new idea. Could there be a monthly message that would help with skills and self-knowledge?

I came up with a mixture of audiotape and written instructions, a "Storytelling Workshop in a Box." The idea was simple: give people a monthly shot in the arm that would give an updated perspective on some of the essential skills and basic truths about us as artists.

The tapes are brief - usually 15-20 minutes. Long enough to give an in-depth view of the month's topic. But short enough to listen to on a brief drive or walk.

Each "workshop" includes written exercises you can do on your own or with a partner. And the deluxe membership includes written transcriptions of the tapes and a handy binder for easy reference.

When you join, you get free certificates for my books, tapes, and videos. Deluxe members get additional certificates. One is for free "brain-picking" (a written answer to your most pressing storytelling question). Another is for free telephone coaching - one-half hour, absolutely free.

The first installment, Secrets of Listening, is available now - but only to members of the Storytelling Workshop in a Box. When you sign up, I'll just charge your credit card for each month's installment when it ships. I believe you will find it useful and inspiring. If not, you can cancel at any time. And I'll honor the certificates no matter what.

Future topics will include:

  • The Magic of Imagery
  • Tools of Oral Language
  • Understanding Story Structure
  • Transforming an Audience
  • The Perils and Profits of Personal Stories
and many others.

Special charter member price:

(The remainder of this article has been removed, since the special is no longer valid. Subscribe today (below), so you don't miss the next special!)

Please consult the detailed list of the benefits of membership at

New: you can order online on my new secure server! Just go to Or, if you prefer, you can email, call, fax, or mail me.


The workshops on Creating Stories (CA), Storytelling Coaching (NY) and (MD) are all full. Sorry!

There are TWO places left in Pam McGrath's and my workshop, Finding the Sacred in Stories (CA - March 15-18). Full description:

There is still room in these workshops:

  • Hope: A Storytelling Workshop (CT - May 4-6)
  • Coaching Coaches (MD - May 18-20)
  • Telling Stories to Children (with Judith Black) (MA - June 25-28).
More info at

I hope there are signs of spring where you live - or delightful winter weather.

All the best,


P. S., Email me for any or all of the following, or view them on the web:

My article about finding and using buddies:
What you get with the Storytelling Workshop In a Box:
A full description of Finding the Sacred in Stories:
Details about "Hope: A Storytelling Workshop," Coaching Coaches or Telling Stories to Children:
(To unsubscribe to this newsletter, just email me back with your request. No special format is needed, because a person will read your message, not a machine!)




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This page was last updated on Friday, November 28, 2003
Copyright©2001 Doug Lipman