4 min read
I am not a storyteller.
This was the thought I had the other day, after reading Neil Gaiman's tribute to Lou Reed. Those guys are storytellers.
I love listening to stories. Reading stories. I love the way they take me on a journey. I'm able to just sit back, take everything in, have the plot laid out for me, the characters developed, and the whole thing resolved, all for my enjoyment and entertainment.
A good storyteller is a magical thing.
I bring this up because storytelling is an incredibly effective way of communicating. Because I am not a storyteller, communicating is often very difficult for me.
I recently published a blog post that took me over six weeks to write. Now, I wasn't working on it continuously for six weeks of course -- but I did have all of the important information I wanted to communicate identified six weeks ago. Structuring it so that it made sense is what took so darn long. And, by the time I published it yesterday, most people had moved on from thinking about that topic, and so it went over like a dud.
That's okay, I tell myself. I'm only writing for me: to practice writing, to capture my own thoughts. And then I call bullshit on myself, because I'm reloading the stats window and watching to see who retweets the link.
Once upon a time, writing wasn't hard for me. I just sat down and wrote and wrote and wrote. Creative writing, they called it -- and through 6th grade, it was among my top favorite things in school (probably after math and computer time and reading). Come junior high, I had to discipline myself and structure my thoughts to write five paragraph essays.
Ugh, five paragraph essays: an introduction, three supporting points each in their own paragraph, and a conclusion. I really sucked at those, and I have the bad grades to prove it.
Mr. Weaver, my history teacher, and my grandmother both spent a lot of time with me to help improve my structured writing approach. No longer could I just sit down and write, because the editing process made such a mess of my work that I couldn't look at it any longer. And so I began writing out individual sentences or thoughts on index cards, and sorting those into groups and then writing connector or transition statements on new cards and adding them to the mix. And, in the end, all I had to do was copy my index cards to paper and submit. Done. A+. I still have the first paper I ever wrote this way (on Henry Clay) -- and the supporting index cards! -- to show me that this approach works.
And this approach works for a lot of things. It's great for making slide decks, which I do a lot of in my work -- and with all of the practice I have, I do it rather quickly. I also wonder if this approach to writing didn't influence the way in which I code, since I really love the modular approach.
But when it comes to writing -- well, it's hardly writing, is it? I mean, it is, but it seems rote. Perfunctory. Emotionless. And so this is why I struggle to write now -- because I write from an emotional place. But my emotional place doesn't do well with logic and often communicates its point by feeding information between the lines, and so only the most careful of readers will get the point.
Storytelling is all about emotion -- great storytelling makes you feel something. Most of my writing falls flat from lack of emotion. But at least it gets the point across...?
So, what to do? Write and ramble and never quite get my point across? Or structure my thoughts, compose the thesis, defend it, all stocky and blocky and templatized and boring? How does one combine the two approaches?
PS: I wrote this in one sitting, and mostly in one shot straight through. The end is where I got hung up the most -- when I was trying to figure out what my point was. The opening and a few of the statements I wrote in my head, in the shower yesterday.