Writing is the most powerful of all professions. Everyone needs us. And I do mean everyone. Readers need us to entertain them and transport them from the challenges of their daily lives. Businesses need us to describe what they do in compelling language that helps sell their product or service. Children need stories to help cement their learning and teach them about life. Even the storytellers need the stories and creativity that flow through their veins. Stories provide writers with joy and hope and respite from dreary everyday life things like pandemics.
Research has proven that oral storytelling particularly assists with the development of social and emotional abilities, cognitive growth, and language skills in babies. It's why we see so many ads telling us to talk, sing and read to our children. Spoken stories are good for our mental health. (Can anyone say audiobooks?)
Whether it's the Hawaiian hula, which tells a story through dance, or the oral stories that were passed down around the fire, the art of telling stories is a tradition long-honored. The Irish seanchaí were welcomed everywhere and provided room and board for the gift of their stories. The troubadours, or minstrels, of the Middle Ages were honored members of the royal courts. The ancient Greek fabulist, Aesop, is still famous today for his fables.
Interesting read: How stories are told around the world.
Our creativity can be a blessing and a curse (often at the same time), but most of all it is a gift with far-reaching power. Earlier this week, Barbara Linn Probst wrote a post sharing the tangible ways her debut book affected two peoples' lives. One of the people who wrote to her credited the book with saving her life.
Story is always there, underneath everything that resonates and engages with others. Lisa Cron has made a career from helping writers discover the power of story and showing them how to tap into it. She's quoted in this Jerry Jenkins piece, explaining how and why story is the most important element of any story.
What grabs readers isn’t beautiful writing, a rip-roaring plot, or surface drama; what grabs readers is what gives those things their meaning and power: the story itself.- Lisa Cron
Lisa and Donald Maass said this in an article at Writer Unboxed:
"When it comes to crafting a compelling story, a writer’s most important job is to relentlessly ask 'Why?, the better to drill down to the real reason behind every action the protagonist takes. After all, isn’t that what we continually do in real life: wonder why things happen, largely so we can figure out what the heck to do about them?"
A sampling of great WITS posts from Lisa Cron:
In the business world, Simon Sinek has made the question of "Why" famous with his TED talk on the subject. Leaders everywhere are "finding their Why" and stuggling to put those concepts into words.
(I highly recommend you spend the five minutes on this video!)
There has never been a better time to make a living as a storyteller. Brand-driven storytelling is killing it in the marketplace these days with luminaries like Seth Godin saying, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories that you tell.”
Think about that from a writer's perspective for a moment.
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories that you tell.”
Yes, this applies to our stories, but it also speaks to how we brand ourselves as authorpreneurs. Somewhere in your personal bios, WHY you write or why you write WHAT you write needs to be included. That story forms the basis for how readers will relate to you. I remember the "how I got started writing story" from every author I've ever heard speak, even if I've never read a single book of theirs.
Like everyone else, I'm more likely to pick up an author's books if I like them and their story. Our personal stories help our hard work (aka our books) jump into readers' hands.
Just as Colleen Story's post last week illustrated that our author photo tells a story about us, so does our bio. These quick visuals of us are evaluated in the six-second glance people give anything new on the internet. Yes, you heard me. Six. Seconds. That's all the time we get to make that first impression, so it better be easy to see who we are with a photo, a tagline, a catchy phrase.
Remember: stories change lives and minds and buying decisions. This means that you, my storytelling friend, are one of the most powerful beings in the world.
I'll close with this quote from Carmine Gallo, the author of Talk Like TED and The Storyteller's Secret:
“Ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century. In the information age, the knowledge economy, you are only as valuable as your ideas. Story is the means by which we transfer those ideas to one another. Your ability to package your ideas with emotion, context and relevancy is the one skill that will make you more valuable in the next decade. Storytelling is the act of framing an idea as a narrative to inform, illuminate and inspire.”
What are the details that make up your story?
Have you ever spent time thinking about your own personal "Why?" Do you struggle to write your own personal profile, mission statement, tagline, bio in a meaningful way? Share it down in the comments if you want Jenny to give it an edit! (Limit to two paragraphs please.)
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By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Facebook at JennyHansenAuthor or at Writers In The Storm.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
My gosh, Jenny, I feel as if my post (the one before this) was the perfect opening act for your piece, which opens the point in such a broad and compelling way! I'll add this to what you've shared: Years ago, when I was a clinical social work professor, I taught (and often practiced) a form of therapy called narrative therapy that helps people rewrite the story they tell about themselves, to others and of course to themselves as well. By finding a new story to tell—a more empowering and hopeful one, rather than a story of victimhood, for example—the person has a base from which to act differently, since we're always enacting the story of who we believe we are or want to be. So stories go deep into our psyche and have enormous power that begins within, We can't help seeing life that way, as we search for meaning How many of us have said, at one time or another, "It all happened for a reason?" It's at the core of who we are as human beings.
Thanks for lobbing the opening pitch, Barbara! I absolutely believe that stories help people make sense of their lives. Aren't we all lucky we hear stories in our heads?
Asking "Why" drives my writing. Thanks for this post. I heard Lisa Cron speak at a conference, and she was amazing. I'm reading a book for my book club right now that's filled with beautiful writing, but the story isn't grabbing me. But that's probably more me and the times than the story itself. I'm not looking for misery. I need happy.
You are very welcome, Terry! Lisa Cron is absolutely amazing. I've heard her speak twice in person and a few times in online workshops and I just can't get enough of her concepts. Every time she speaks, I hear something different.
I've read a few books lately that have great premises and beautiful writing...and I just don't care about their story. (Laura is laughing right now - she's used to me and the whole "I don't care. Make me care!") I can't invest all that time in a book I don't care about.
And yes, HEA for the win! I love me some uplifting books!!
I learn something new every day. Several somethings.
I'll add that Why is important for each of my three main characters - and mainstream stories can't ignore why they have (if they do) several main, pov characters - the selecting of this small set which may contain a single protagonist or, in my case, three, is the most important thing you can do for your story.
I started with six. It was surprisingly easy to remove the three sidekicks - and impossible to remove the villain.
I love the constant learning that comes with the author life! It's one of my favorite parts. And how very interesting that it was a little WHY work that allowed your three main characters to shine. That is a fantastic story, Alicia. 🙂
Awesome post, Jenny! You always provide such great links to posts that broaden the scope. Looking back, story IS my life in all its permutations.
You have had a very interesting life, Barb. I think incorporating it into your author story would really be beneficial.
Thank you, Jenny. Once again you have functioned to center me and make me think hard. It's interesting to note how many people have such a hard time with bios, myself included. Asking ourselves "why" we write can sometimes be difficult waters, mentally. Delving into our character's 'whys' can be equally challenging. After all, our own life story makes us write the stories and characters the way we do, whether we acknowledge that or not. All our ideas and reactions are somehow made up of a conglomeration of our past experiences, and all the good, the bad, and the ugly that may be buried in it. Or sometimes the beautiful. If we can filter past that, maybe we can better embrace the 'why's of our writing and of our characters.Thanks for sharing another great post, and so many great links.
Maybe thinking about it differently will help... What emotion do you want to evoke from your reader, and why? Some writers want to simply entertain, some to scare (and then give readers the comfort of a safe HEA), some want to make people think, some want to heal past hurts.
Even in my day job, I had to really examine which businesses and writing niches made me happy. Small business is my love. Why? I think small business is the backbone of the American economy. If I help them grow, I feel like I'm helping the "little guy" and in turn the whole community. Why else? I like being part of a team. Small businesses tend to incorporate their contractors into the team.
Do you see what I'm getting at?
Over the years I've learned how to put a compelling story together and create characters that hook the reader on an emotional level, but one thing I can't seem to get a grasp on is my own bio or personal profile. I'm fine when it comes to telling other people's stories, but struggle with my own. Can you say introvert? Impostor syndrome?
I will totally help you rewrite your bio, Bob! Send it over. 🙂
I definitely need to rewrite my bio. I think we try to write something engaging, but it's hard to make ourselves the "hook" when we've been taught to not be boastful. And writing the bio isn't a brag, but it's still giving insight into oneself, and we're our own harshest critic. Don't want to be thought of as a poser.
I've pretty good at writing blurbs for others, and for me. I can write a one pager.
Denise, I think the best trick for writing the bio is to include the following:
- Some past professional details
- A fun personal detail
- Book titles, or types of books you write
- Any awards
- Your geography, or online locations
- Who you're repped by
Make it flow nicely and BOOM. 🙂
Thank you! Wonderful advice.
Jenny, thanks for derailing my morning. I watched the TED talk...even better, I listened...better still, I'm chewing on its message like it's a just-out-of-the-oven chocolate-chip cookie. Tastes like paradise. Not quite ready to swallow. Know I want more. I've got to nail down my "why." Actually two "why's": the "me" why and my "author" why. I suspect they're similar, but not identical. I'll let you know!!!
LOL. The full talk is 18 minutes and it's very good. I think the why is what makes the bio interesting. I'm re-writing mine right now so I can practice what I preach. 🙂
Jenny, this is a great, thought-provoking post. I grew up hanging out in the El Segundo Public Library. Over the entrance (since remodeled but the words are still there) it said: "Books contain knowledge. Knowledge is power." And we make books.
Don't you just love a good library? I work near there several times a year...I'm going to have to make sure I visit that library, and stare at that quote. 🙂
It's definitely worth a visit. the words are not over the new entrance, rather over the old doors on the outside of the building after the remodeling. The library is great, in the park across from where I went to high school.
[…] If you’re having doubts about the importance of writing as a profession, Barbara Linn Probst explains why your book matters, and Jenny Hansen claims storytellers are the most powerful people in the world. […]