Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Telling Life: Q is for Questioning

I’m participating in the A to Z Blog Challenge throughout April.
Monday - something light to start the week. A bit of self-care, creativity challenge or the like.
Tuesday - telling notes for a specific story or kind of story. Tips and tricks to help you think about what you're telling and how.
Wednesday - my usual #tellinglife post, looking at some of the more personal aspects of storytelling and its role in my life.
Thursday - a dip into some of the issues facing contemporary storytelling or a dive into some of the more unusual applications of storytelling.
Friday - my usual personal post about life following the death of my husband
Saturday - the storytelling coach offers a tip you can use right now. An example of the kinds of tools I encourage my students to use.

Questioning is both among my greatest tools and the bane of my working life. It helps me craft better stories, deeper characters, and do things that are out of the ordinary, but at the same time my internal questioning frequent derails me and makes me wonder if I'm on the right path or just kidding myself. When my internal critics are at their worst it is sometimes a question that helps the most.

Let's take a look at questions as tools and as self-sabotage.

Questions as tools

I find it very helpful to ask myself all kinds of questions when I'm developing a story, workshop or class. After performing, consulting, teaching or coaching I ask myself questions to help me assess how it went. I ask my coaching clients all kinds of questions as a way to help them explore new avenues. Here are a just few examples of each.

Story development questions:

  • Why does this story matter to me? What is, to borrow from Doug Lipman, the most important thing?
  • What do I want the audience to take away from it?
  • Is it appropriate for me to tell this story?
  • I might ask a friend to interview me as one of the characters, asking me questions that help me deepen the telling.
  • Questions for coaching clients are similar.
Class, workshop or consulting questions:
  • What have I been hired to do? What are the expectations I must meet?
  • With whom will I be working? What level of expertise might they already have?
  • Will I need to convince them this is worthwhile and, if so, what do I know about them already that could help?
Post-performance/event questions:
  • Did the audience/students seem to get something out of it?
  • Did I meet the set expectations? Did I exceed them? 
  • If something went awry, what can I learn from it?
Some thoughts about self-sabotage and some tools to break the cycle

Oh, I question myself constantly. I struggle with imposter syndrome and wonder if I have any right to do what I do, let alone try to help people. I ask myself questions like:
  • Why would anyone want to hear my stories?
  • I don't really have anything worthwhile to say, what makes me think I have any right to teach this stuff?
  • How dare I send a newsletter to people who signed up for one? Do I really have anything to say?
I'm telling you this NOT so you will reassure me, but because I'm betting some of you question your own artistic worth from time to time, too. I know I can't stop you from doing this, I struggle to stop myself, but I remind you, your voice matters. The world needs all of our voices and talents. Please don't quit.

When my internal questioning becomes too loud and I struggle to work, if I'm lucky and smart, I do several things. 
  • I get away from the work for a little while, taking a little walk or do something else for a few minutes. 
  • I might ask a friend to tell me something to counteract the fear.
  • And I ask myself questions, things like:
    • Can you remember one single time your work seemed to make a difference for someone? (yes)
    • Okay, so maybe you're making it up as you go along. Does that make it less useful? (not usually)
    • Why are you running yourself down like this, is it about something else? (often) So what can you do about that other thing?
You get the idea.

Questions can be one of our greatest tools and one of our greatest impediments. It all comes down to how we phrase them and if we give ourselves a chance to ask better questions next time. For me, in this #tellinglife, I remind myself all the time that questioning myself can make me a better artist or it can remove my voice from the world. The choice is mine.

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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