For those unfamiliar, Grahl is the co-host of the popular The Story Grid podcast, during which he and Shawn Coyne, an editor and author of The Story Grid book, discuss the ins and outs of fiction writing.
The dream Grahl is running down? It was an evolving one. From leaving a corporate job to becoming an independent web developer, to establishing a highly successful marketing career specializing on authors’ book launches, to writing non-fiction marketing books, and to, finally, finishing his first fiction novel. He gives a compelling recount of the successes along the way, as well as his failures.
And Grahl doesn’t hold back when speaking of these failures.
As his business grew, he ran into financial problems (The IRS showed at his door demanding $20,000 in unpaid taxes), marital conflict and the struggle to provide for his family (One scene, in which his wife can’t buy food at the grocery store because of an overdrawn bank account, is particularly moving), and personal crisis. Even as his dream takes shape, he still feels a deepening disquiet and struggles to pinpoint its root.
In fact, Grahl’s personal crisis becomes the main theme of his story: his inner turnoil; his deepset belief that he wasn’t good enough; and his battle with Resistance, a term describing the negative forces that oppose those who pursue their dreams.
Grahl speaks of Resistance as if it’s a living force, with those dreamcatchers in its bullseye. “I was this broken mess of a man, and Resistance loved that about me,” he writes.
“I felt like I was constantly pushing and running as hard as I could but nothing was ever good enough. Nothing was working. How in the hell did I move from feeling strong and successful one second into a pit of despair the next?”
As an artist, I found his honesty compelling and refreshing. I’ve journeyed a similar road and have struggled with my own forms of Resistance.
Grahl writes, “No matter how long any of us has been creating and writing, our next project involves us walking to the edge of what we’ve known and seen before and taking another big step into the darkness, into a place we’ve never been.”
Running Down A Dream was published by Black Irish Books, the publishing company founded by Shawn Coyne and author Steven Pressfield, author of The Art of War. Stylistically, the book is broken into short, easy-to-read chapters, making for an enjoyable, almost effortless read.
Grahl’s writing style reminded me of Donald Miller’s—candid and conversational. He includes an appendix at the end, filled with strategies he’s learned to help increase productivity, as well as to fight Resistance.
As I read Running Down A Dream, I realized the book is more than one man’s pursuit to live as an artist. It’s about one man’s pursuit to live as a human.
Grahl finally comes to the root of his struggle: “I hated myself,” he writes. It’s by recognizing this that Grahl is able to find his acceptance. “I give grace to myself and accept that perfection is not the goal, only truth.”
In a powerful scene at the story’s end, Grahl breaks down weeping in his car. But this time, they are not tears of worry and self-doubt. They are tears of joy.
“Thinking of the shame of asking my parents for money. Of the embarrassment of having a sherriff show up at my house. The constant stress of not making payroll. The fear of not creating anything meaningful. And of course, that moment at the rooftop bar in Portland when I had everything I wanted and was miserable. But all of those moments had lost their power over me.
“I realized, in that moment, I’d given Resistance a hell of a fight so far. While he was in now way down for the count, he was hurting and covering up.”