Michael Wiese is a filmmaker and publisher, as well as the author of Onward & Upward: Reflections on a Joyful Life. His company—Michael Wiese Productions—is the world’s leading publisher of books on screenwriting and filmmaking. Divine Arts is a new imprint for books on spirits, arts and culture. His recent films include The Shaman & Ayahuasca and The Sacred Sites of the Dalai Lamas.
Michael talks about his own writing process, plus offers advice for people wanting to share their story.
Why did you write Onward & Upward?
One day I woke up and realized—like it or not—I was an elder and it was my responsibility to share my life experiences hopefully in a way that would benefit others.
What was your process for writing it? How did you decide what info to include and what to eliminate?
Over the years I’ve collected, told, and retold stories. I realized that these stories, besides being humorous or poignant, also had embedded teachings. Strange as it may sound, I felt that this ‘autobiography’ could be more about the reader than me. They could re-experience their own life’s journey, and its meaning, by reading about mine. Crazy, but it works.
What to include? All the stories had to have a purpose and a reason for being told. My wife Geraldine helped immensely—challenging me to cut anything that wasn’t uplifting. Of course we all have had disappointments or negative things happen in our life but I learned it’s the way we ‘hold’ these experiences and tell ourselves our stories that can be transformative. This book subtitle is “reflections of a joyful life” and that’s what I have!
How was it writing something you were publishing? In what ways did that help the process along?
At first I held off writing an autobiography wondering if I had anything to say. Certainly, I thought, there are lives far more interesting than mine, but once I saw patterns emerge that we all have to deal with I dropped that troublesome self-critic from my process.
I did wonder about publishing the book through my own publishing company. Wouldn’t the book have more credibility if another publisher brought it out. But then I thought, it’s my train set, why not? Isn’t that what we all want to be able to do? Express ourselves creatively? I have the vehicle to do that.
What was your favorite part of writing Onward & Upward? The greatest challenge?
My favorite part was taking pages to my wife, having her read a story that she’d already read 10 times, and hearing her in the other room laugh again at the same material. The greatest challenge was digging into material that had a ‘charge’ on it—and all of it did in one way or another. Someone said, “if it doesn’t hurt writing it, it’s not the truth.” So coming to terms with my life, accepting everything that has happened and the choices I made as being exactly right was difficult but immensely liberating. I have heard now from dozens of people who have read the book who tell me it has had a liberating effect on them. They see their own life in my stories.
Advice for people writing a memoir?
Don’t worry about telling the truth! I don’t mean consciously lie. It’s all subjective. You have an experience. You tell someone else a story about what happened. In doing so, you’ve already edited it down 95% and putting it into language solidifies it. It’s only an interpretation of the energies of the experience. Anyone else that was there would have an entirely different experience. I’ve had people tell me—“but Michael, I was there and it happened like this.” I find that interesting but I write my own version of the story doing the best I can to tell a great story. Salvador Dali told me that all memory is ‘false memory.’ So lighten up and have a good time.
What are the top three things that stop people from sharing their story? How can they overcome them?
1. Self doubt/self criticism. They think their story is not good enough, important, interesting, etc.
2. Being afraid of looking bad. Writers may put on a mask to gain acceptance. The irony is that what a reader (or the reader’s unconscious) is looking for is depth and honesty. Digging deep and being truthful (although this may be painful) will build more empathy and involvement with the reader than writing on the surface.
3. Taking chances. We don’t learn anything new unless we break out of our comfort zones.
Writers can overcome these obstacles by stopping the monkey mind chatter and refusing (by practice and meditation) to have it take over the brain. What’s underneath the chatter is a deep well full of magnificent potential which connects the writer to everything. In this space we recognize the paradise we inhabit and we naturally want to share this experience—and writing comes easily.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
That everything and everyone is your teacher. That the universe is benevolent. That you can’t really fail at anything. That there is nothing to achieve—you’ve already got it. So enjoy this slingshot ride on our little blue ball as it whips around the sun and if you have a moment, write about it.