What Henry Ford Knew About Writing Books

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Henry Ford is one of the most well-known American innovators. He’s the guy who brought mass production to the “horseless carriages”–that is, cars–we zoom around in today.

So what does Ford have to do with writing?

There’s a famous quote that, while having an unclear origin, largely is attributed to Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses’.” The basic idea behind the quote is that, while customer input might be important, real innovation often means ignoring them, realizing a concept, and then seeing what the reaction of the public is.

Let’s think about this quote in relation to the traditional publishing industry. Generally speaking, publishers accept new books based on what they predict will sell well. But those predictions largely are based on past sales. So if, for instance, a publisher sees that they sold 5 percent more romances this year than last year, then they’ll assume readers want romances and buy more romance manuscripts.

But what if readers would go gaga for mysteries–or any other type of book–and they just don’t know it? What if they just need a chance, after eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day for a year, to take a bite of ham and cheese?

The readers might think the ham and cheese is pretty da-n delicious, that’s what.

This, to me, is one of the main flaws within the traditional publishing industry. The assumption is that readers want only more of what they’ve been exposed to, and that’s not necessarily true. In fact, most readers I know are huge advocates of all kinds of stories. They are willing to give just about anything a shot, so long as it is engaging.

As writers, it’s important to recognize this flaw because, if you write the ham and cheese of the book world, you’re gonna have a bunch of people point to all the jars of peanut butter and jelly and tell you you’re nuts. And then it’s very easy to lose heart and stop querying your story in the mistaken belief that nobody would read it, let alone adore or recommend it to someone else.

The world doesn’t need more peanut butter and jelly to gag on. The world needs something to bring some zing. To get us out of the rut and help us discover who we are.

Will writers who follow a script about what’s selling make money? Maybe. The numbers publishers throw out aren’t made up, after all. But unless they innovate like Ford and deliver books the people didn’t even know they wanted, they’re not going to be remembered for being very original. And if I had to choose between being rich and being understood as having my own voice, I’ll take the latter every time.

Why Every Serious Writer Should Hate (Most) AI Services

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I saw another one today. An advertisement, geared toward writers, for AI-based content generation.

There was a time when I hated these services just because they were so astoundingly bad. Flow and grammar were awful. The content barely made sense. Consider this gem, for example:

But now, that’s not the case anymore. And some of the largest publications, such as Forbes and Bloomberg, now use some form of AI in their work. They assert that their systems actually free real reporters to do more fact-checking and quality control. Used that way, I don’t have a problem with AI at all.

But what about a writer who just wants to game the system? Who only wants to produce loads of content to ensure they outrank everyone else with Google, whose sole aim is to make buttloads of cash through affiliate and other forms of content-based marketing?

Excuse me as I hurl into a bucket.

Why? Because writing is not about ranking, or getting seen, or driving revenue. Writing is about expressing. Storytelling. And when you use AI just to produce more, more, MORE, all you do is feed into the more-is-better complex society has. You know, the one that drives FOMO, depression, anxiety, and burnout. You make real writers who value the process of writing, who do it to show their soul and truly connect, feel hopeless in the knowledge they can’t possibly get ahead of you.

And just to be clear, it’s not like writers don’t already have enough to deal with. I personally spend countless unpaid hours trying to find the right editors, perfecting query letters, and dealing with people who think the job is unskilled or “quaint”. And I understand that the industry is not at all a meritocracy. You can be a fantastic writer, only to have agents, publishers, and editors turn you down based on what they “think” people will read and earn them money. You can submit to top-tier publications and hear crickets, only to submit to them again as a ghostwriter and have someone else’s name suddenly get you in the door.

So as I see these AI ads come across my screen, I can’t help it. I want to remind every writer out there–including you–that writing is never meant to be a competition. It’s not meant to drown people in more and more stimulation until they get overwhelmed and stop caring completely. It’s meant to be something that unites. Frees.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned. But I believe in creating content one concept, one line, one word at a time, from my own mind and heart. I believe in expending the emotional and energy that takes, even if it means I write only one essay, one blog, one story over the course of my entire life.

Please say you do, too.

6 Essential Things Great Writers Immediately Need to Budget For

Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay 

Good writers don’t need a ton to be successful–your main finish line usually is just to be able to get a MS Word or email draft to an editor, agent, or publisher. You can do that for free at just about any local library. But getting your work out there and gaining readers is easier if you invest a little cash in some key tools. These are the ones I personally pay for and that I think every writer should consider non-negotiable.

1. Microsoft Office 365

Google Docs is fantastic for collaboration. Even so, MS Word is still the standard file format for manuscripts. So although you certainly can use other drafting tools that help with planning and organizing, if you want to do any type of traditional querying, then you have to be able to submit in Word.

Ohhhhhhh, you say. My writing tool lets me export in docx format, so I’m good!

No. Just no.

Office 365 has other features you’ll DEFINITELY want. For instance, you can save to the cloud and access drafts anywhere from multiple devices, sync your files, or use dictation to spew rough drafts in record time. Other components of 365, such as Excel, are important for tracking your drafts or other elements, such as word count goals. Combined with email, customer support, and Publisher (a great option for preparing promotions, newsletters, or downloadables), those features create a package that enables much of the content creation you’d do.

2. A Good Social Media Publisher

You don’t HAVE to be on social media as a writer, but it’s a good way to interact with your readers and other writers and to let them know what’s happening outside of your website. One popular option for publishing posts is Hootsuite, but the publisher you pick really depends on how many accounts you have, the integrations you need, and how often you’re going to send content to your channels. For instance, most publishers let you have 1-3 accounts linked for free, while paid versions can be unlimited. You can find programs that will allow automatic repeat publication of posts, but because you really should change your images and blurbs for every iteration, the main feature to look for is the ability to edit quickly and then reschedule to multiple accounts. Publishers that allow automatic URL shortening, drag and drop rescheduling, image pull from URL, and image AND video upload are best. It’s also nice to be able to see what you have scheduled according to specific account or in different views (e.g., list vs. calendar).

3. Website

You knew this one was coming, right?

A website allows you to create exclusive content via a blog, which you then can blast to readers or cross-publish to platforms like Medium. It’s also a place to direct agents, publishers, and editors for your resume, samples, or your biography. Most authors have websites for this credibility and reference capability.

But websites can be cash cows, too. They’re a place for people to buy not just books, but also fun swag or exclusive downloadables. If you don’t want to publish on a platform like Amazon for practical, financial, or ethical reasons, then your website becomes your primary store.

Can you use simple templates for your website? Sure. Then all you pay for is your domain and monthly/yearly hosting, which is pretty cheap. Tons of providers now let you set things up with easy no-code-required editors. But having someone design and code a customized website can give a much better sense of personal brand, not to mention ensure you rank better with Google. Packages that include 10 pages are pretty common, as that’s usually more than enough for a basic homepage, bio, store, contact, etc.

4. Automations

Zapier is a good example here. These types of services allow you to do things like automatically add rows to spreadsheets from Paypal, add Calendar tasks, or send blog blasts. Simple automations usually can be managed for free, but once you have a lot of automated events going over multiple accounts and require more customization/finesse, you’ll need to bump up your service to paid levels.

I am not advocating automations just so you can pump out more drafts, although automating does leave you with more time to write. I’m advocating it because when you have multiple projects, there’s just so much happening simultaneously that it becomes one giant stressball if you have to do it all manually. It stops you from forgetting things and worrying.

5. Laptop/tablet

My current laptop has been a workhorse, and by replacing the battery and USB port, I’m coming up on 7 years of use now. But that’s not a typical tech story. Average device life is much shorter. And even if you’re super gentle to your laptop, eventually, you’re going to get keyboard keys that don’t respond, ports that aren’t reliable, and update/application problems.

Assuming you can make a device last 3 years, and assuming you’re going to spend $500-$1,000 for every replacement, a good rule of thumb is to set aside $15 to $30 a month so that, when your device kicks the bucket, you can hop right online or into the computer shop and walk out ready to work without any production hiccoughs. Don’t forget the accessories, such as a protective case/cover, either. Those wear out, too.

6. Mental health days/retreats

Writing carries a whole host of blahs, such as the isolative nature of the work, lack of respect for the craft from others, and constant waiting for responses.

It. Gets. Stressful.

From that perspective, there might not be any better place to put your money than into mental health support. Although you might not be able to push back or adjust deadlines every time you feel like it, shove some money into the piggy bank that will let you do whatever it is you need to do to clear your head, whether that’s just taking a day off, hitting a coffee shop for a change of pace, or escaping your family at the hotel down the street for a night. Don’t be afraid to use those funds for professional therapy, either, because the more you figure out about yourself, the more confident you’ll be in setting your writing goals and going after them. That is worth every penny of the investment and can completely change your projects and career course.

Writing products and services are incredibly fluid and specific to the needs you personally have. Almost everything now, including website maintenance, is an ongoing cost, too, either because technology will require updates, or because the service/product is subscription-based. With that in mind, I’ve found that most subscriptions are between $10-50 a month. $1,000-$2,000 a year is not unreasonable for the basics above. I anticipate costs will go up, not just because the companies are going to have their own new costs to cover, but because they understand that forcing people to higher tiers is one path to greater profit.

There also are a handful of other nice-to-haves if you can afford them. For example, I pay for Canva, which lets me create images and videos for my content–Visme is similar and likely will float your boat better if you do more professional writing (e.g., presentations, reports). Other items to consider might be smart products that can integrate with your existing tools (e.g., I use my Amazon Echo to set one-off reminders for writing-related tasks, such as sending a draft to a client, throughout the day), writing conferences (a great place to hone skills and network), or even books or subscriptions (e.g., The New York Times, Audible). It really depends on how you work and learn.

The final advice I have with budgeting for your writing is, don’t skimp. Can you “get by”? Probably. Will it suck? There’s a reeeeeeeeally good chance. So while I’m the first person to look for a deal and board the Frugal Train, get the best option you can afford once you’re clear how the functionalities are going to improve your workflow. Options like buying annual or lifetime memberships often can save you a little cash for the long haul if you can afford the upfront costs. But just remember that writing is supposed to be enjoyable, and the last thing you want is stupid little limitations and hassles to ruin that for you. It’s a real, legitimate business, so invest like it is.

Why Every Writer Needs to Draw Their Books

Image by Sutej Arts from Pixabay 

Generally speaking, writers aren’t known for being visual artists. Their whole deal is crafting something beautiful with words, not with color or line or visual perspective.

But if you’re not drawing out your book, you should be.

To be clear, I’m not saying you need to storyboard out every scene. And I’m certainly not saying the pictures you draw have to be gorgeous.

(To drive this home, here’s a sample of what other people do in Paint….

…aaaaaaaand what yours truly can do in Paint…

It’s OK. Go ahead. Stare at it for a second.



What I am saying is that people are incredibly visual creatures. I’ve blogged about that before regarding the potential for authors to include pictures in their novels. And when you draw out images related to your story, even if they look like my Santa, it helps your brain sort out exactly what you want. That has enormous value when it comes to visualizing future scenes in a fun way that really helps the writing process flow well. In fact, you even can use drawing as a shorthand, more memorable outline in the planning stages, too.

Drawing pictures also can help a graphic artist who does your cover or other images get a sense of your artistic intent. Great artists can expand on your concepts even if your drawings leave tons to be desired, as demonstrated in this piece for Huffpost. When you’ve got this intent expressed well, when you can feeeeeeel what you aimed for, it’s the perfect time to pop that image on an aesthetic or vision board to keep you motivated.

If you reeeeeeeeally hate drawing, I’ll compromise. Go online and find some free images–even GIFs–that are as close to what you had in your head as possible. Use those in your outlining or boards. Or use an image editing program like Visme or Canva to create something unique from what you find. You don’t have to start totally from scratch; you just have to finish with something that solidifies the concept and emotion inside of you.

As an example, this is one of my favorite GIFs–it’s of Anne Hathoway in Les Miserables, but it’s got exactly the tone I want for one of my novels.

Sad Mood GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY


You might say that all novels are just the written form of what we have seen in our minds. So make sure you’re seeing your concept or scene clearly and concretely. Focus on it. Be able to help others see what you do. It’s not writing, but it certainly can be part of the writing process.

When Dracula Joins the Circus

Image by Willgard Krause from Pixabay

This afternoon, I was chatting online with an old friend about books. (OK, let’s just pause and appreciate the fact he let me talk about those things with pages, shall we?) Somehow, we got on the topic of why I didn’t like The Vampire Diaries or Twilight or vampire novels in general. (Power to you if you enjoy them, though.) He asked if my disdain applied even to the vampire novel of vampire novels–Dracula.

Of course it did.

I tried to explain to him that, classic or not, vampire stories are just too predictable for me. Or as I put it to him, “What’s Dracula gonna do, join a circus?”

You know he’s going to bite somebody.

You know everybody’s gonna freak out.

You know it will result in more undead…

…who will then bite somebody…

I admit my question is goofy and sarcastic. But it reveals a real problem writers have, too. We have established specific types of characters, specific story arcs, etc., and we lean on them because they are familiar and, in a lot of ways, psychologically workable for the reader. But if we conform to those boundaries too much, then at some point, the reader has so much experience with them that the character or story isn’t novel anymore. You can “see the seams” and know exactly what’s going to happen or how the character will behave, and that’s NOT interesting.

So the trick, in my view, is to shatter the statue in front of you and rearrange the fragments into totally new art. Maybe one of your characters is a vampire. But what if they really did join the circus? What if you’ve got a vampire who, instead of getting into an ill-fated love affair, starts a business or who goes on a quest to become mortal again?

Suddenly, you’ve got something fresh. Distinct.

What was that agents always say they’re looking for?

Oh, yeah. Fresh. Distinct.

To be clear, this isn’t just a matter of sticking a stereotypical character into a different space, which is what a lot of writers do to “modernize”. It’s not even about finding nuances within the stereotype that prompt important discussions (e.g., yes, vampires can be gay). It’s a matter of challenging the stereotype itself. That’s why I don’t like most vampire novels, because even if they’re in, say, a modern high school, at the end of the day, it’s still teeth, biting, and the supernatural.

This doesn’t mean you have to abandon everything. You’re still using the pieces in front of you, and those fragments still need to be understood for what they actually are. The vampire cannot be a duck, per se. But no one else gets to decide how those fragments get put together and whether the end result “makes sense” but you.

I joked to my friend that my vampire-joins-the-circus idea would be my next book to tackle when sleep deprivation removes the little mental/verbal filter I have left. But I was only half kidding. Because when it comes to stories, the only question you really should be asking yourself is…

Why not?

What to Do When Your Draft Genuinely Sucks

Image by Anuj Chawla from Pixabay

Every writer I know understands that producing a book–or even an article or blog post–is a process. It’s rare for people to spew one version of something, hit publish, and have the world applaud. Instead, most of the time, content goes through multiple, painstaking rounds and is shaped over many days, weeks, or months. We accept that first drafts, although crummy, can become beautiful.

But sometimes–maybe even a lot of the time–you might read your draft over and know in your heart of hearts that no amount of reworking is going to fix it. What do you do then?

  1. Look at the concept, not the technique.

When a draft is beyond repair, it’s usually because there are flaws in the concept itself, not because you “can’t write”. So just as a contractor would move to better ground instead of investing in a resource suck on sand, you need to move on to something more solid and have faith you can build elsewhere, too. Having one bad concept doesn’t mean that all of your ideas are awful, and when you get a new one that works, your technique will still be there to build it up.

Before you start your next project, think critically about what was wrong with the concept. Maybe biases got in the way, for example. Or maybe the concept was just too “busy” and didn’t fit into any of the usual story archs enough to be workable. Other people can help you figure it out with good feedback. Whatever it is, once you’ve identified the issue, you’ll be in a better position not to make the same mistake next time.

2. Pick out the gems.

Even in the shi–iest of drafts, there’s something that sparkles. Maybe that’s just one chapter. Maybe it’s a particular character who feels realer than real and speaks really deeply to you. Maybe it’s a single sentence. But I guarantee there is something shiny. Go pull it out. You don’t have to even know how or where you’ll lose it. The point is that you recognize the shine and have the courage to save it. You’ll know when you have the right context or “home” for whatever you’ve saved because the placement into a new draft will feel incredibly natural or like an “aha” moment. As you wait for that right context to manifest, you can look back on those gems to keep your confidence up that yes, you CAN create something pretty amazing. It’s right there.

3. Go read something.

I know, I know. Reading great writing as you battle your own Drafty McDraft Suck experience might seem like the last thing you need. (How could you be on par with those writers?) But when writing is really good, it stands on its own and you stop comparing. You start thinking. You can feel all kinds of emotions and have all kinds of questions run through your head. Jot that all down in a notebook or a digital doc. Let it be fodder for later and use it as inspiration for research. If you analyze why you’re thinking and responding as you are in the context of what the author did, then you’ll know exactly what to do in your own voice to get a future draft that yields the reaction you want from your own readers, too.

4. Review your big picture.

Does a single bad draft mean that you can’t query something else? Nope. Does it mean all of your previous successes disappear? Nope. Does it mean you’ll never have a book on store shelves? Nope.

All a bad draft means is that you figured out one path that wouldn’t take you to your finish line. But the finish line itself and all the work you’ve done up to today to get closer to it is still there. Zoom out to see it. Ask yourself if it’s one you still want to cross–it’s OK if priorities and goals change! If that finish line still excites you, then congratulate yourself on what you learned from taking the wrong path and come up with a new route.

Not every draft is going to be a winner or sellable. That’s OK. But every draft can teach you something and make the next piece you create a little better. Hone in on that and don’t let yourself ever believe that that win is even close to any kind loss.

The Ultimate Writer Self-Care Checklist

Writing tends to be a pretty lonely and thankless job. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t take care of yourself so that everything you write has serious oomph. That’s especially the case when you’re writing about really tough stuff or your scene has you in an emotional puddle. Here are some of the best things you can do–aside from the typical nap or trip to the gym/spa–to give yourself a little love and get the words flowing.

  1. Set a Pomodoro timer. When it goes off, get up and stretch or walk around.
  2. Read a book you want to read, not one you feel you’re supposed to read.
  3. Reward yourself after meeting a writing goal with one inexpensive item that will improve your writing output or enjoyment, such as the Pro version of a writing program or a nice pen. OR choose something entirely unrelated to writing as a reminder you are more than just what you put on the page or the number of copies you sell.
  4. Join a writer’s group (in person or online) to make sure you have feedback and support.
  5. Keep yummy nom noms near your desk to fuel your writing sessions.
  6. Declutter your workspace to help you focus. Better yet, declutter your entire house so you spend less time cleaning and have more time to create.
  7. Turn to social media with purpose. Instead of comparing yourself to others on your favorite networks (seriously, it’s nice they got an agent, and all, but…but… 😭), celebrate with them so they will feel comfortable celebrating your wins with you later with genuine joy (and yes, those wins WILL happen).
  8. Schedule a writing-free day so you can go experience the world.
  9. Destroy imposter syndrome and advocate for your craft by using the “writer” label when you engage with others or on your profiles.
  10. Set up automatic backup systems based in the cloud so you never lose a word, can work across devices, and have the option of working wherever you are.
  11. Take time to enjoy and get inspired by the creative works of others, whether that’s going to a museum, checking out awesome Youtube videos, or reading about the latest research breakthroughs. Remember that there are lots of creatives in the world and that you don’t have to carry it all.
  12. Get a manicure or wrap your hands in a warm heating pad for a while.
  13. Temporarily change the height of your desk or chair.
  14. Give your hands a break by using voice-to-text programs to create your next draft. The practice speaking also will make you more confident sharing your ideas in podcasts, videos, pitches, or presentations.
  15. Create playlists that can get you in the mood you need for specific scenes, or alternately, get you back into real life.
  16. Write somewhere you usually don’t.
  17. Use a program like RescueTime to track your habits and limit where you go when you’re on your devices. Analyze how you really use your time with those programs so that you are realistic when setting your writing goals.
  18. Clarify your boundaries with others and yourself so that people don’t infringe on your plans to write, and so you don’t feel unnecessary guilt and stress.
  19. Let yourself write in a genre or style you don’t normally use.
  20. Keep a notebook–or even a Google Doc–ready specifically so you can jot down other great ideas you have when writing other things.
  21. Reread your previous work and pick out your favorite phrase, sentence, or word. Make a note, voice audio, video, or other media about why you like it.
  22. Cosplay your current MC or writing period.

How to Keep Gratitude Journaling from Totally Sucking

Image by Kranich17 from Pixabay

You don’t have to look very far to find the benefits of gratitude journaling — stress reduction, for example. But if you don’t approach it the right way, then keeping this kind of journal can start to feel more like a chore than a tool to relax and appreciate. And if that happens, then the odds of you tossing the habit into the trash are pretty high.

So from my own experience, here’s what I recommend you do to make gratitude journaling way more fun and easy to stick with.

1. Explore variety.

One of the reasons social media is so popular is that it can offer lots of different types of content. You can get links to text-based pieces, short little blurbs, comics, photos, videos, and so on. So don’t limit yourself. If you choose a digital platform to do your journaling on, or even if you just take more of a scrapbook approach, then you can pull all of these things together and create posts that will be more interesting to you in the future. You won’t get stuck in a rut of always doing the same thing with the journal, and making an entry subsequently will feel more novel each time you go to do it.

2. Skip the scheduler.

If you get a kick out of being able to do something for 6 minutes and 3 seconds every Wednesday at exactly 6:00 p.m., that’s fine. Some people do really well with this type of structure. But I personally find that an anytime, anywhere approach works better specifically for gratitude journaling, given the intent. It lets you create an entry right when your ideas and feelings are fresh and more genuine, and the flexibility can help the journaling process feel more spontaneous and natural.

3. Share your entries.

You don’t have to share everything, and you can set the limit on how personal you go. But when you share your gratitude journal in person or online, it creates the potential for it to become interactive. People can leave feedback on what you experienced or thought, and you can have amazingly deep discussions that help you strengthen your sense of who you are. You might even inspire someone or get them through something.

4. Incorporate “you”.

Me? I like unicorns and Yoda. (OK, I’m borderline obsessed.) I also like felt-tip and liquid ink pens, Chipotle chicken bowls, and Stephen Colbert monologues. Find ways to bring everything that screams “you” into your journaling process.(Hint: These things are usually things you’re grateful for!) Maybe pick…

To continue reading, please visit the original version of this post on Medium at https://medium.com/change-your-mind/5-strategies-to-make-gratitude-journaling-not-suck-3299d1b37585. Love the content? Follow Wanda Thibodeaux on Medium and you’ll get an email every time a new post is up!

The Real Reason a Great Writer Needs the Perfect Pen

It happens to me every flipping year. School supplies come out, and there, somewhere between the Sharpies and zippered plush pencil pouches, I melt faster than the Wicked Witch of the West. I cognitively understand that I already own dozens of writing utensils. Yet…well, away goes my resolve and money, and home the new package comes.

I’m not the only writer, I’m sure, who does this. But why do we do it? Why do we get so obsessed?

Because as silly as it might sound, writing utensils aren’t just functional. At least to me, they all have an individual feel. An aesthetic. It comes not only from elements like color or weight, but from the way it flows, the way its dance is coordinated with fresh whiteness of the blank page.

Why is this feeling so important? Because for a writer, feelings shut or open the door of creativity. As buzzy as it might sound, we need a sense of psychological safety to let our guard down enough to let the story flow more freely out of us. To try new structures or word choices, to listen to our own pace and lean into the next paragraph. To even have the courage to start the story at all.

As many writers will tell you, when you do find the perfect pen or pencil, it feels like it chose you the same way Harry Potter’s wand chose him. The rush of surety and power and confidence flows from your fingertips, and you glow with the light of a new wholeness.

Like Harry, we browse. We try different ones out. Some of them might be pleasurable for a time, if our mood is conducive to it. But most of them lack the consistency to be named our pen, the pen, the one that we will turn to over and over again over all others, and that we will mourn when at last it fails. We get excited in the search, even so, because we know there is the potential to find the one that will choose us.

So when you go looking for a specific pen you “have” to have to outline or draft or edit, don’t feel silly. It’s not all in your imagination. Or, if you see a writer friend do it, don’t tease. The pen really does change how you feel, and when you change how you feel, the entire process–and importantly, the result of that process–is different. Take the time to find your ideal match, because your readers will thank you for it.

How to Get Storytelling Right Every Time

As I peruse social media (which I do a lot for *cough* marketing), I see writer after writer step up and ask the same question:

What makes a good storyteller?

Or, to put it another way,

What makes a story engaging?

Lots of answers go into technical detail about how to tell your story well. For example, engage the senses. Get the pacing right and cut the fluff.

But great storytelling isn’t about perfectly arranging technique like flowers in a vase. Think about it. Dickens isn’t Rowling, Rowling isn’t Patterson, and Patterson isn’t Hemingway. They all have wildly different approaches, yet we’d never dare to say that any of them stink. And that’s because great storytelling is far less about voice and much more about empathy.

What this means in a nutshell is that, if you want to write well, you have to connect to the audience. And doing that, paradoxically, requires you to forget your own story for a moment and hone in on theirs. What have they experienced? What makes them excited? Sad? What dreams do they have?

It’s only after you know their story that you can match them to you, that you can pinpoint what elements of your story that they’ll find relatable. People don’t really like to hear that, because learning someone’s story can take time–lots of us want immediate gratification and results, the ability to create a draft on demand and at rhythm of our own choosing. But once you have reliability, you have engagement.

It’s all about knowing who you’re talking to. And by “know”, I don’t just mean what you write in a proposal package (e.g., Caucasian females, aged 18-40). You have a sense of how they think and what they do, and you have to know how to use what they know to paint your picture. You have to feel as though, even though you’re putting words to the page in a way that’s your own, you are having a very instinctive, reverent conversation. Everything you write is something your ears have spoken.

So don’t worry so much about your paragraph size or any of that. Worry about how deeply you know people. That is what will train your pace, give you the analogies, and allow you the important details all great stories are built on.