New year, fresh start! If you haven’t quite written down all of your New Year resolutions, let me add one more to your list.
Forget about the words, and focus on the story.
If you have attended one of my workshops you will remember me saying this to you “don’t worry about making it all perfect, just tell the story”. If you have attended one of my workshops you will also remember that I double-triple-quadruple check everything. So how can your story stay true to itself and be diligently checked? Here is an example and a few tips with it.
Stories come naturally
A good story will sound natural. The only way of that happening is for you to own it, live it and repeat it. Perfectionism in the storytelling business does not come from stringing words together nicely, and making beautiful sentences. It comes from delivering the story to your readers truthfully.
Recently I filmed a video testimonial for my workshops. I asked a few of my students to come by and talk about my workshop for a maximum of 30 seconds. (these are coming soon, stay tuned!) When I originally asked them, they wanted me to put together some questions, to give them a direction. I thought yes, this is a great idea. They arrived to be filmed with fully rehearsed answers, so when the camera came on they froze. Those that didn’t sounded like they had just memorised everything. The problem was that they were saying things they thought sounded good, that I wanted to hear, to help me get my workshops off the ground. Lucky for me I had an experienced videographer who kept saying to them, “don’t worry just start talking it will come naturally to you“.
She was right. As soon as people relaxed and actually said what was important to them, why they liked the workshops and what they learned, the testimonials became real stories. Once they focused on the story and stopped worrying about what words to use the testimonials became convincing.
Top tips for focusing on the story
This is all great in theory, but how do you focus on the story when you have to do it yourself.
Tell the story like a child would
If you stop trying to use impressive vocabulary, you will be able to recognise what the story is. Listen to how children tell stories, what they focus on. Sometimes when we start writing something, we immediately start by looking for the optimal opening sentence. This often distracts us from telling the actual story.
Write and rewrite
It’s rare for anyone to complete a first draft and say “yes this is a great piece of writing.” Here is the biggest writing secret, writing is all about the rewriting. Don’t worry about it, get those words down on paper first. The story is all that matters and all that will determine if your writing is worth reading. Once you have the story you can go back and like I said double-triple-quadruple check everything.
What is the moral of the story
You are more likely to get sucked up into worrying about details if you are missing the point of the story. This is especially important if you are writing a business piece. When working as an editor on a business blog, I noticed that new writers were not getting the value of our product across. It’s because they were thinking about SEO and catchy headlines. Without a story, you have nothing. Before you write, make a list of what you are trying to educate your audience about. Start from there.
The best place to start is with the story. Think of the story like the core of every piece of writing. Without the core to build on, you are at a loss. It’s never the other way round. No one will want to read your impressive showcase of vocabulary, because it’s not interesting.
However, with practise you will also be able to improve how you express yourself, and your writing will become more sophisticated. It’s never OK to have grammar or spelling mistakes, and that’s why I urge you to always go back and check your writing (double-triple-quadruple check even). Words are tools, which we use to tell our stories. With time our toolbox will grow, and we will create bigger and better stories.
I hope 2018 brings you a multitude of stories!