For many of us, creating a support team is the key way to grow. As storytellers, we do many invisible and unpaid tasks, such as experimenting with oral language, finding structure in stories, setting up supportive audiences for practicing, and warming up our voices. If we do these things, they will help us solve important problems. But how do we get them done?
You may be one of the rare people who does all your significant tasks without help. But for most of us, a helper can make the difference between getting certain jobs done and just wanting to. Knowing how to create and maintain your support team, therefore, is essential to improving your storytelling.
A few years ago, I confided to a friend that I was having trouble keeping my office neat. She said, "Why don't you get someone to help you go through the piles of papers?" I stared at her. What? I thought that putting things away was something you just had to do yourself!
Over the years, I have expanded my list of things that it is possible to get help with. At any one time, I may not need helpers for all of them. But just realizing that I can get help has been liberating.
Most commonly, I use rehearsal buddies (peer coaches) to listen to me while I "talk through" new stories, tell stories, or think aloud about issues in stories. I also use these sessions to plan upcoming performances and workshops.
I use other helpers to work on my core skills as a storyteller. I use "feelings buddies" and take classes to encourage the processing of emotional hurts. I have traded time with a voice teacher in exchange for coaching. I have hired people to work with me on my physical movements in performance.
Some support team members help me manage the daily business of my storytelling life. This includes those who listen to me while I decide what to write in brochures, proposals, and grant applications. I write my books and articles in the presence of "writing buddies." And I hire or barter with people who put labels on envelopes, maintain my mailing list, and answer my phone a few hours a week.
Finally, I have helpers who assist me with the larger issues. Such buddies help me keep my larger career goals in mind, help with specific projects, and even help me manage the rest of my support team.
(This chapter of Improving Your Storytelling includes discussions of planning buddies, the three kinds of helpers, ways to begin and nourish helping relationships, and more. It ends with the following section.)
I set up helping relationships in order to solve particular problems. Perhaps I need someone to keep me company while I pay my bills or to pay attention to me while I make phone calls that feel difficult. But the benefits often exceed my concrete goals.
Storytellers, like all artists, face popular misconceptions about our work. Instead of being viewed as a means to understand our true nature, our art is seen as a frill. Instead of being honored as conveners of community, storytellers are often relegated to the oddball fringe. Furthermore, all artists struggle against the idea that unless you are famous you are not any good, and against the notion that "talent" belongs only to the few.
My weekly visits with members of my support team put me in contact with people who remember the importance of my work and my abilities. When I start to succumb to the messages that sap my confidence, my helpers are there to remind me what I can do and why it's important.
Further, our society - with its emphasis on the individual - tends to make us view ourselves in isolation. Living in contact with a support team helps me remember that I need, thrive in, and can have a web of connection to others.
Like all other important and difficult tasks, storytelling will succeed better if I have allies and friends. Without allies, I can only take on what one person alone can do. With them, I can be more effective and have more fun.