Writers, like dieters, know that you never, ever talk about what you’re “working on.”
It’s the surest guarantee that your article, essay, or story will soon be neglected. Your word count will freeze. Your muscles will remain flabby and your pant size stubborn. Like New Year’s resolutions, writing-in-progress seems to dissolve when discussed.
And yet, in the world of business—where many of us now have to be bloggers and brand storytellers on top of our regular jobs—we are routinely expected to commit to a topic before we have written one word. Oh, and while you’re at it, Kathy in PR needs your title, abstract, outline, and a promised delivery date.
If you are required to write for your job and you want your writing to go from good to great, you will need to get better at either avoiding writing commitments or breaking them. I’ll explain.
Failure leads to success…even in storytelling.
As the wise writer Thaisa Frank says, “the failure of the intended story guarantees the success of the final story.”
Many writers have an almost suspicious belief that talking about your stories will “jinx” them. They feel that if you verbalize your story in its infancy, you will no longer need to tell it anymore. It will be out of your system.
But I don’t see it that way. In my experience, every story or essay fails on its first telling—regardless of whether that telling occurs in a private writing session or in a casual chat with a colleague. You think you know what you want to say, but when you start to say it, it dissolves before your eyes like a sandcastle at high tide.
But this dissolution should in fact be sought after, not avoided. The literal, physical act of writing—of tapping away at your keyboard—should eventually make you want to go off-topic. And as your ego, or your promise to Kathy, harangues you to stay on course, you have to do the opposite. Go rogue. It’s the first step to finding a deeper, more interesting narrative. It will make your writing better in the end. The only problem with talking about what you’re working on is that you might then force yourself to keep working on it.
Meander down the wrong path, and take us with you.
Try this for your next blog post. Start out with your intended topic, then see what happens when you allow your words to wander, when you allow yourself to leave your original idea behind. After a few paragraphs, stop and review what you’ve just written. Now you must do the very hard, very introspective work of figuring out how and why your subconscious mind decided to bring this new information to the page at this time.
The connection between what you started writing and what you ended up writing may surprise you. If it does, you’re onto something. It might be a counter-intuitive point-of-view. A personal story that adds depth to an abstract work concept. Or a risky argument that might get you some negative comments. Good, good, good!
With all the noise being produced by the current content marketing wave, your readers—aka your customers—need to hear your unique voice. Note to all writers: we need you to take us on a unique journey. That won’t happen if you don’t take that journey first.
My resolution for 2014, and my wish for my colleagues, is to make many writing resolutions, but keep none of them.
I’m off to a great start with this article, which ended up being nothing like the original article I had originally resolved to write. If you’re in this with me, don’t tell me. I’ll know it when I see your amazing blog post.
Amy Moore, a content marketer at SAP, writes about how marketing, sales, and customer service professionals can use storytelling techniques to better engage their customers. She never told her manager—or anyone named Kathy—about this article. Like to talk about writing and brand storytelling? Say hi to Amy on Twitter.