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.
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?
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