Two years ago in Harlem, I was sitting at a coffee shop staring at a blank document on my laptop. I was trying to write my first book and nothing was coming to me. Literally, I had nothing. I desparately needed to cure this writers block so I could actually write my book.
I started to search the web for ways, tactics and methods, and found little. So what I did was begin to curate my own set of inspiration. I started to collect videos, presentations, speeches, music videos and all kinds of art that have great storytelling. After all, I was trying to write a book. And what is a book without stories.
On October 13th, 2015, I published my first book Get Your Life! The Transforming Power of Turning Fate Into Fortune. While working on the book, I badly needed to find ways to nurture my storytelling ability. Now that the book is out, I want to share with you what I did and still do to become a better writer.
Daily, I follow these tactics even as I write for my weekly newsletter.
1) Start with a story. Stories make it easy to explain complex happenings. Whether you are working on a live presentation in front of an audience or you are writing to a reader, start with a story. You want to engage your audience as soon as possible. Every few weeks, I return to this beautiful Ted Talk by Andrew Stanton on telling a great story. He captures his audience by opening and closing with a story, weaving several stories in between. And it’s not overkill. It’s just right.
2) Listen to yourself. During the writing of my book, I moved to Inglewood, California, where I did a lot of work at my kitchen table. When I hit writers block again, I opened up my iPhone and recorded what I wanted to write. As Seth Godin says, no one ever has talkers block! I transcribed my conversations with myself. Most of the recordings didn’t make it into the book, but when you talk to yourself for an hour, you’ve got a lot of material to work with.
3) Watch interviews. I used to work at a restaurant in New York called The Cleveland, and we used espresso from Cafe Integral. I randomly Googled the cafe and found this video. It’s Cesar Vega, the founder, teaching viewers how to make the perfect cup of coffee in an Aeropress. The interesting thing to me was the story behind the coffee. The idea that coffee made in this delicate way somehow makes it taste better. It may not necessarily taste better than my cheap coffee maker at home, but the story of handmade is damned good. A story is a story.
4) Study celebrity bios. As a writer and content producer, I’ve developed relationships with record labels and management companies. When a new album comes out or they’d like for me to learn about their new artist, they send over press material. I devour this kind of stuff, as their PR team has usually put together the best story to sell their clients. Money is on the line so you know they spend time writing these biographies and introductions. I’d go to Warner Bros or even J. Cole’s website, who happens to be my favorite artist. I love the story in his About section.
5) Listen to your favorite album. One of the albums that inspired Get Your Life! is Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Why do I love this album so much? From the beginning, she opens up with an interesting intro and then weaves engaging content all throughout. This became critical during my writing process as we sometimes forget to continue slapping readers upside the head with a good story. While the music on her album was great, its the short interludes that connect the dots for listeners. It’s a reminder that storytelling whether on an album or in a book influences people.
Here are my other favorites: great videos, presentations and creative sparks to watch:
NPR’s Scott Simon: How to Tell a Story
Rising Icons (S3): Miguel Artist Portrait
How Do You Tell A Great Story? by John Truby
Why We Do What We Do | Tony Robbins | TED Talks
Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action
Art and Copy: Tommy Hilfiger Brand Launch
HPU: Seth Godin and Nido Qubein
Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address
Steve Jobs: Think Different Campaign Launch