Lessons from a Headless Greek: In Writing, One Size Does Not Fit All — Stephanie West Allen

Today I’m excited to welcome author Stephanie West Allen as she gets inside the heads of a Greek mythological figure, her characters, and — yes, maybe even readers and writers.

Procrustes of Greek mythology was not a role model of hospitality. Yes, he would invite
travelers to dine with him and then offer them a bed for the night before they were on
their way again. However if his visitors did not fit the bed, he would either stretch them
or chop off inches from their legs to adapt height to bed length. This inconsiderate host
met his end when one of his guests was Theseus, a mythical king with great courage.
After having Procrustes lie in his own bed, Theseus made him fit. His method?
Decapitation.

Greek mythology includes some novel solutions and marvelous lessons. Procrustes
may cause us to stop and think about the problems with one-size-fits-all methods. A
procrustean approach today means one that is uniform and homogenous, sometimes
severe, and not adjusting to fit individual differences. Would you like to have your writing
process described as procrustean? Probably not and yet I think Procrustes lives in
some procedures and practices we use as we approach a writing project. Have you met
Procrustes?

Of course each writer is unique. That we bring to writing our own individual mix of
aptitudes, skills, personality, values, and style, as well as other states and traits is not a
new idea. Yet many of us do not realize that each of these differences can be mastered
to make our writing most effective. Once we assess these differences one at a time, we
then can harness them together as a system to our benefit, putting them in service to
our writing. Each of our systems will be different, never procrustean. If we have a whole
room of writers, each will have a distinctly individual way to best approach their writing.

For example, my time frame orientation may be different from yours so our best
methods of goal setting will not be the same. If your time frame orientation is short-term,
you will have a stronger need for immediate results than will I, someone with a longrange
orientation. The person with long-range orientation will be more comfortable
setting goals that are not immediate (but may procrastinate because for her “there’s
always tomorrow”).

Another example: Understanding our most meaningful, cherished values is important to
the process of writing, including in overcoming writers block. One method for besting
writers block is self-directed neuroplasticity. Our brains are plastic and by taking
advantage of that plasticity we can create new brain pathways, and by doing so can
forge powerful and efficient writing habits. A crucial part of the procedure for creating
those new pathways is knowing and affirming our own values.

Unfortunately methods for the writing process sometimes are presented as if they are
the same for everyone. They are not. Once we each carefully evaluate our individual
states and traits, we can create methods that are ours alone. Those methods will
support us in reaching our greatest writing potential. We can say goodbye to the pain of
Procrustes’ bed.

Stephanie headshot.jpg

About Stephanie:

Stephanie West Allen practiced law for a number of years and now is a writer, speaker,
and seminar leader. She taught at several institutions including Hastings College of Law
and University of Colorado Denver. Stephanie teaches workshops on neuroscience of
conflict resolution, the reader’s and writer’s brain, and creating individualized writing
systems. She is writing a novel and Your Writer Brain, Breath, and Bones. More at
WestAllen.com

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