Hitting the Keys

Everyone’s a Storyteller

“So, I have this idea for a book…”

“I have a great book for you to write…”

“I’m writing this book and I have a question about…”

“I always wanted to write a book…”

Whenever I meet someone and they find out that I’m an author, nine times out of ten, I will hear one of those statements. It seems that everyone is a storyteller or, at least, wants be.

Stories are an important part of society. As children, we hear stories about our grandparents and parents. In church, we hear stories about the Bible…from Adam and Eve to Noah to Moses and, for Christians, Jesus. At school, we hear stories about what people did over the weekend or who is dating who. At work, we hear stories about our colleagues or future products/services that the company will be offering. And in the evening, we might settle down with a coffee or glass of wine and listen to our significant other tell stories about his or her day.

Life is about stories.

Telling a story, however, is vastly different than writing a story. And writing a story that people want to read is the most difficult of all.

To me, writing is an art form and, as with any form of art, it takes years of practice to fine-tune our skills. And yet, because everyone is taught to write from the earliest age, many people do not realize how much hard work goes into the craft of writing.

Imagine the following three scenarios:

The year is 1512 in Italy. You walk into the chapel in the Apostolic Palace. Your eyes are drawn to the ceiling where you see the most magnificent of paintings. The Sistine Chapel truly takes your breath away. The colors, the figures, the amazing detail. All of them tell a magnificent story. You simply cannot stop staring, absorbing the beauty that hovers over your head. A man walks toward you, his wizened face covered with speckles of paint as he cleans a brush in an old, dirty rag.

“Do you like it?” he asks.

“It’s fabulous.”

“I painted it,” he says, a little more than a touch of pride in his eyes.

“Really?” You reply. “You know, I have this idea that you might want to paint. It’s a lake scene with a deer dipping its head into the water while a young woman watches as she sits on a nearby rock…”

Michaelango rolls his eyes and sighs, shifting his weight as he listens to you share your idea which, frankly, he’ll never paint.

The year is 1879 in New Jersey. You enter a room and are surprised to see that it is illuminated but there are no candles burning. You turn around, trying to find the source of the light. It’s a small, round object made of glass and the light burns much brighter than a candle. Amazed, you approach it and bend down, staring at the object in complete wonder.

A man in his thirties approaches you, his hands in his pant pockets and a smile on his face.

“Amazing, isn’t it?”

“What is it?” You ask.

“My latest invention. An electric light bulb.”

You raise your eyebrows. “You’re an inventor?”

He straightens and lifts his chin with a touch of pride. “I am.”

“I’m an inventor, too. I created this pulley system for my elderly mother to use so that she can open and shut the bathroom door from her wheelchair…”

You don’t notice Thomas Edison grimace as you continue explaining your invention.

The year is 1984 in Maryland. You’re attending a cocktail party at a friend’s house and overhear a man talking about a recent surgery he conducted. It turns out that he’s a famous neurosurgeon who specializes in neurological and congenital disorders. He’s even separated conjoined twins.

“That’s amazing,” you say. “You know, I always wanted to be a doctor.”

Ben Carson stares at you, a blank expression on his face.

Everyone has ideas and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, the idea for the painting is lovely—I’d hang that on my wall. And the idea for the door opening system is certainly helpful for people who are disabled. Clearly people have ideas for any profession that involves creativity.

The difference, however, between an idea and a tangible product is what you do with it.

I’ve always loved to paint. I’ve taken painting classes and, frankly, done quite well. However, as soon as I leave the class and return home, I couldn’t paint a simple fruit on a table without it looking infantile and ridiculous. In the class, my paintings were superior to my classmates. At home, I might have passed kindergarten art with a B.

What’s the difference?

Studying art under the guidance of a seasoned professional is easier than just jumping in with both feet. It’s not as easy as it looks. Nothing is. In fact, if it looks easy, the painter (or teacher) is doing a great job. But no one can master painting without practice. Lots of practice.

As for the inventor, for every successful invention, I guarantee you that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of failed attempts. Additionally, just because you can invent something doesn’t mean other people will buy it.

Finally, in the scenario with Dr. Ben Carson, the idea of being a famous neurological surgeon seems glamorous. I mean, who wouldn’t want to save people’s lives or improve on medical advancements? However, the years of study of medicine, the human body, and logic cannot be replicated without devoting your entire life to the profession. Just because you want to do something doesn’t mean that you can.

If you want to write, and earn a living at writing, those three concepts are extremely important to understand. It takes years of both study and practice as well as understanding your own capabilities and the needs/wants of the marketplace.

Writing for pleasure is one thing. Writing for a profession is quite another.

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3 thoughts on “Everyone’s a Storyteller

  1. I’m so excited you’ve decided to share your specialized knowledge about writing professionally with us! Lots of people would love to write a book (including me!) but never get out of the starting blocks because they don’t know the next step after “I would love to write a book”. So what IS the next step?

    Thank you so much!

  2. Yes, so true. Wantabes before they learn to write, ask how to find an agent or publisher. And they don’t want to know about attending workshops, conferences or reading books on writing. Keep sharing Sarah, it takes awhile for people to comment.

  3. Happy New Year Sarah,
    Nice post and so true. I will never forget the time I flew to Cancun for a friend’s wedding. After a terrible eight-hour flight, a mix-up with the ride from the airport that cost me my temper and more money than I care to remember, the first thing that greeted me as I was unlocking my hotel room was a friend of my friend from across the hall. She burst out of her room as if she had been watching for me. “Pat, I have this terrific idea for a story that is sure to be a best-seller.”
    I was too tired to give my usual speech that encouraged the person to write their own story. I said, “I’m sorry I’m under contract for three books this year. I don’t have time for anything else.”
    She didn’t bat an eye. “I’ll split the money with you right down the middle.”
    I looked at her and said, “The difference between a an idea and a book is about 60,000 words. When you have 30,000 words written check back with me.”
    She never did. I later heard that I really hurt her feelings. For that I’m sorry.
    There are three secrets to writing a book and getting it published. Hard work, perseverance and talent. It takes all three.

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