This is a guest contribution from Al Tait.
Confession: I wrote this post twice.
I believe in the power of storytelling and I think it’s at the heart of what makes great bloggers successful. So I wanted to write about that.
The first time, I concentrated on the structure of storytelling, looking at what makes a powerful story and how you could use this to create a great blog post. I used words like ‘hook’ and ‘narrative’ and ‘readership’ and … ‘toilet humour’. I did.
And then I realised, about halfway through a witty anecdote about unblocking a toilet (I know, it was late, what can I say?), that I was boring myself silly. Even with the toilet humour.
Part of the problem was that the post didn’t sound like me. It sounded like a Problogger Version Of Me (PVOM), or maybe what I thought I needed to sound like for a Problogger post: someone with authority and credibility and all of the other important ‘ty’ things. I have all of those things, in spades, when it comes to writing, but frankly, if I was bored writing the post then there was no way anyone would bother reading it.
Which got me thinking.
As a children’s author, I visit schools regularly, talking to hundreds of kids about writing. One of the presentations I give is called ‘Find Your Writing Superpower’, and it’s a lot of fun. But it’s contains three storytelling truths that I think all bloggers can learn from.
These are the three writing superpowers that all bloggers need – and how you can develop them.
1. Supersonic hearing:
Writers are incredible snoops. Ask any published author whether or not they eavesdrop and they will unabashedly admit that they do. On trains, on planes, on buses, in cafes, they’re busy using their supersonic hearing to hone in on people’s conversations. Why do they do this?
It’s simple. Ideas and inspiration for stories and blog posts, are everywhere. Writers are simply people who’ve trained themselves to tune in to those ideas when they hear them.
How will this work for you? What are people around you talking about? What problems are they having? Listen hard and you’ll hear the kernel of an idea in every chat you have.
Tools to help: I use Evernote across all my devices to keep track of my ideas, opening a new file for each one and adding to it as inspiration strikes. You could also try Microsoft’s OneNote, or simple dictation (the iPhone recorder is great for this).
2. Batman voice
Everybody’s got a Batman voice. Even now, you could probably pull it out if I asked you to do so (go on, you know you want to…). I tend to ‘do’ Michael Keaton when I’m called upon (though I suspect Michael Keaton wouldn’t recognise himself…), but your Batman might channel Adam West or Christian Bale or even Will Arnett (“I only work in black. And sometimes very, very dark grey…”). The point is that we’re all trying to do the same thing – and they’re still all going to be different.
Voice is the one thing you have that’s yours. There are a million blog posts out there on every subject under the sun – but only YOU can write your posts your way. When I write, I write the way I speak – only better. I’m not trying to be ‘writerly’. I’m not trying to be ‘just like’ anyone else.
How will this work for you? The best way to develop your writing voice is to write. You need to get close, get intimate and, perhaps to begin with, to get off the internet with it. I recommend a daily journal or diary in which to simply write your thoughts down. You don’t need to write down every single thing that happened to you that day – just choose one thing and focus on that. Practice this. It’s a serious superpower.
Tools to help: Personally, I’m a big fan of your basic Moleskine notebook for this task, but I also appreciate the beauty of being able to type your thoughts (my handwriting is terrible…). So, lovely stationery aside, try an app such as Day One or Journey or, if you want to get really creative, try a writing prompt app such as The Brainstormer.
“Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.” – J.K Rowling
The one superpower that every successful author and blogger has is bravery. It takes guts to put yourself on a page or in a post and serve yourself up to others – but that’s what it takes to write really well.
If you want to write a better blog, you need to put yourself out there. And here’s the thing – not everyone will love it. Not everyone will agree with you. Sometimes people will downright reject you. It hurts (oh, trust me, I know how much rejection hurts), but you learn a little bit more every single time it happens.
How will this work for you? The only way to make this work for you is to keep going. If you take every barb and criticism to heart and throw in the towel, you will never be successful. Persistence pays off.
Tools to help: The best way to gain confidence is to gather a community of writers around you for ideas and information. Check out Twitter hashtags such as #amwriting #writetips and #writerslife to find people to follow for tips and advice (I’m at @altait if you’d like to say hi #justsaying).
Immerse yourself in the stories and advice of great writers as well. Five books I’d highly recommend are:
On Writing by Stephen King,
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott,
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The Writing Book by Kate Grenville
On Writing Well by William Zinsser (specifically aimed an non-fiction writers)
Each of these books is not only educational, but highly entertaining reading, perfectly illustrating the role of storytelling in great writing.
What’s your writing/blogging superpower?
Allison Tait is a freelance writer, children’s author and blogger. She has been a professional writer of stories in one form or another for 20+ years, and The Mapmaker Chronicles, her adventure series for children aged 9+ is out now.
Great post Alison, I’ll be the second one was way easier to write than the third. It made me think “shitty first draft” and then you recommended the Anne LaMott book, Bird by Bird.
I agree with the hearing (or paying attention). For business bloggers the parallel would be forum questions, what questions do people consistently ask, and what gets a lot of traction with comments.
So true Cate – there is so much to learn in listening to the questions that other people ask!
I agree with your points of hearing, voice and bravery, this are the essential elements a blogger should posses.
However I think that dedication should be above all.
Great to know about this,
It is true that dedication is essential – as is discipline.
Hello. Am Kicking off my Podcast on my blog which is more about flowers This week. The article has great guidelines on what has been troubling me for some time now. Specifically, What Voice to Use. Am sorted now. Thanks man.
Great post – definitely agree with all three points, and I’d probably add in consistency as a fourth because you have to consistently show up if you want to build a community around your blog.
Thanks for sharing :-)
This post is brilliant. Why? I agree with it ;)
In all seriousness I vibe fully with every single freaking thing that you say because I am huge on story telling. My blogging life went from 0 to 60 when I chose to tell stories versus sharing bland, boring, practical tips from a 3rd person viewpoint. I was formerly terrified to share my take; now I’m heavily focused on telling stories with each and every post to draw folks in, and to make an impact.
I love it when folks read my eBooks and say: “I have never read a blogging tips book like that.” I do my best to add stories, to add flair, and to add my flavor to my reads because few bloggers from my niche delve deep down into story telling, to get points across. I have written 6,000 words daily – or more – for months to establish my blogging voice, my story telling power, that is. I figure that if you will write, and if you will be brave, you can do astounding things in this world because you will develop a super power which few folks and bloggers ever uncover.
I know why I feared story telling for many years: I felt terrified to be criticized. Sure enough, folks who didn’t have the cajones to tell their own stories stood in the background, taking pot shots at me and my….um…..less than formal, unfinished style. No worries. A handful of unclear, unhappy, non matches don’t have power over me any longer. Folks who are afraid to tell their own stories admire you but since they are unclear on their perspective, they simply criticize you for telling your own story. No big deal at all. The trick lies in letting go critics quickly OR in facing up to your fear of criticism, fast, so you can start story telling and so you can leave the 3rd person perspective posts behind.
As for the observation trick/tip I am HUGE on watching. I have countless travel stories to tell from my 53 month trip around the world but I also have tons of neat stories from my security guard days. I probably have as many tales about breaking up fights between Egyptian pier guards at Da Docks in New Jersey than I do about facing down lethal, apex predators in tropical locales around the world. Yes…..done it all ;) Why? I am pretty good at watching, at observing, at seeing what’s going on, because I have practiced watching. I am also pretty good at linking my stories to blogging tips. Although I have written a bunch of my 122 eBooks on travel stories I have written most of my eBooks to share blogging tips. Because I am a blogging tips blogger. I have linked some of these tips to my stories, to create memorable lessons which resonate with my readers, who like my off the wall, sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, blog and brand.
I have an active mind so dropping everything to observe was terribly difficult for me to do at first. I was so hellbent on doing stuff that i figured I did not have time to watch. Then I thought about someone like Seinfeld; the guy became a legend through the power of observation. He just watched, wrote regularly to polish his story telling skills, then he changed the world of comedy as we knew it. Brilliant dude who built a stunning empire on the power of watching, and then, telling stories about his observations.
As I am writing these words from Granada, Nicaragua, I’ve already spotted 10 potential stories from the folks who are passing by my home….in the past 2 minutes a marching band strolled by – we get that here quite a bit – and I saw a few dogs, and horses, and also, a few local hawkers shouting their wares. Bread, butter, avocados, the whole 9 yards. I can link this endless stream of Nicas into how to drive traffic to your blog or I could link the marching band into how to amplify your blogging message. In any case, the more closely and carefully I watch from a relaxed, detached space, the more details I can add to my story, and hell, the details make the story.
I’d add that reading brilliant story tellers is an easy way to become a fab story teller yourself. I’m devouring A Song of Fire and Ice. I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin’s books for months. He is really, really, really good at telling stories in vivid detail, so you can easily picture what he’s explaining, to bring you into that world. We think in pictures. Any author who tells such vivid stories that he or she inspires you to easily picture their stories will become near and dear to your heart. GRRM is one such dude, at least for me.
By reading his stuff I have become a much better story teller because I literally take a little piece of him with me each time I publish a blog post. I have a markedly different style yet I paint a more vivid story from my paradise of choice because I learned from the masters like him. Read those best sellers. Soak up their stories. Learn how to paint a picture with words. The best story tellers on earth can teach you a thing or….1000….on how to appeal to your reader’s imagination through story telling, or, through adding details to your story.
Allison, fabulous post here. You just inspired me to up my story telling game.
Thanks for sharing your post with us.
Wow! Thanks Ryan!
Excellent publish Alison, I’ll function as the 2nd 1 had been method simpler to create compared to 3rd. This created me personally believe “shitty very first draft” after which a person suggested the actual Anne LaMott guide, Chicken through Chicken.
We trust the actual listening to (or even focusing). With regard to company writers the actual parallel will be discussion board queries, exactly what queries perform individuals regularly request, as well as exactly what will get lots of traction force along with remarks.
I like the way you write! You were able to grab my attention easily. Of course, I know all the things you mentioned but you made it sound so new and interesting. What you mentioned about bravery is true. Most people, including myself, is afraid of rejection. So, I understand when they say that your greatest challenge in writing is overcoming rejection. Yes, it hurts but we have to move on and do our best next time. I am sure, even the successful writers today have their fair share of rejections as well.
Thank you for this article, I love it.
Nicely written. I love the writers as superheros concept. There are a lot of articles noting that you need to have good copy so it’s nice to see one that talks about how to create it.
I just found this blog! Thanks. Grea idea with “supersonic” hearings. :)
Thanks for the tips, Allison. For me, the point on Bravery spoke to me (I have excellent Supersonic Hearing, if I do say so myself!). It’s so hard to let self-doubt get in the way. Quite often, I just need to stop making excuses and procrastinating and just do it.
Thanks for sharing the Three powers.