How Watching “Iyanla: Fix My Life” Can Make You a Better Writer

Dear Reader,

No, this is not an official advertisement for Iyanla: Fix My Life, nor is it a disorganized mess about how wonderful this show is (at least, I will try my best not to turn the post into this). There is something that is really great about Iyanla: Fix My Life. Perhaps the fact that Oprah is involved has something to do with it. Or the fact that it has Iyanla Vanzant in it, a woman with her own inspirational story. (If you don’t know her, here is a pretty thorough bio up to about 2000. Not only has she had to build herself up to have a career on The Oprah Winfrey Show, but she then had to build herself up again after there was a falling out with Oprah, a drop in her career, financial problems, and the death of her daughter. You can read more about that here. Now she’s back with one of the highest-rated shows on the OWN network.)

To some, this may seem like a strange connection to link Iyanla with having a better writing career. I get it. But stay with me for a second. I’ve seen many doctor shows before that work with patients and diagnose them. Most of the time, it takes a lot of drama, a lot of pre-recorded flashbacks, and a lot of screaming (usually from the patient/guest) in order for the doctor to say something like “It seems to me that you’re upset. We’re going to get you some therapy.” Because of time/budget constraints, many self-help shows make the healing happen off-screen. All the viewer knows is that there are “issues” that the patient needs to work through in order to become a better, more self-aware, more healed person. And that’s all nice and fine for some, but Iyanla really changes the definition of help shows.
IyanlaIn Iyanla, the healing happens right in front of you. Iyanla stays with the patients for three days and gets at the root of the issues. It’s not just that the patient (Iyanla gives them the more gentle, loving term of “beloved”) has “issues.” Iyanla makes the person actually work to see what is really going on. Yes, a husband is abusing and/or cheating on his wife. Yes, a family of sisters refuse to speak to each other. Yes, a man is addicted to drugs. But those aren’t the problems, nor are they the real issues. The real issues are the motivations that cause the person to continue behaviors that do not serve them. And the key is motivations (plural) because the truth is complicated. There is never just one answer. As Iyanla teaches, everyone you meet in life teaches you something, whether it be positive or negative. All of these lessons help to shape who we later become.

Again, this is all great, but what does it have to do with writing? In many cases, writing means creating characters. Characters have to have back stories in order to be interesting and  truthful. Unless you are writing about a God who was created from dust, there are going to be things, many things, that influenced the person they became.

Take the issue of suicide. An okay writer will write that their character “was sad.” An adequate writer will write that their character “felt very alone.” A better writer (and don’t we all want to be the better writer?) will examine how relationships with friends, family, neighbors, enemies, and the public, career choices,  experiences in school (or lack thereof), and other significant moments in life all impacted the path that the character took. (Remember too that it is not enough to simply blame these circumstances and relationships. Everyone has free will.) If you do this, you are bound to make strides in developing three-dimensional characters who are living, breathing souls. The truth is not easy, but once it is acknowledged, you feel its impact.

Have you seen this show? Do you feel that this assessment is correct, or am I stretching it too far? Feel free to share your opinions down below.

And if you do want to watch the show, check here for when it is on in your area.

Sincerely,

Charlie

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6 Responses to How Watching “Iyanla: Fix My Life” Can Make You a Better Writer

  1. I’ve never seen the show (and in fact never heard of it – I guess it hasn’t reached the UK), so I can’t comment on that part. But I like your comments on building three-dimensional characters by giving them convincing backgrounds and motivations. People are complicated beasts after all,

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