“ Stories are people. I’m a story, you’re a story…your father is a story. Our stories go in every direction, but sometimes, if we’re lucky, our stories join into one, and for a while, we’re less alone.” ~ Alvin Bender, Beautiful Ruins
As you glug your third Sustaining Brew of the morning and fight the foggy befuddlement misting your brow with best-friend familiarity, you stare at the screen and decide.
They’re always on about story. Finding your voice.
vulnerability, authenticity, honesty.
These are the catechisms of modern marketing. So you decide to be brave. This newsletter. This blog post. That networking thing you’re dreading tomorrow: it’ll be different. They’ll notice. I’ll tell a story.
But somehow your inner voice is feeling a bit antsy this morning. And that other voice, the one playing like an endless Rick Astley loop nightmare, is at you again.
Who are you to talk about your story?
Why should they care?
You’ll embarrass yourself. You’re deluded. You’re not a pro.
You’ve absolutely no idea what you are doing. Go back to bed. Read the next chapter of that novel, written by a REAL STORYTELLER. Have a little smackerel of something. An epiphanic bout of filing. An urgent bit of plumbing. Another biscuit. A tantrum.
They just had another gulp of Sustaining Brew Number Four and got on with it. Despite their loudest inner protests, their most cunning plots to self-sabotage. Somehow they muddled through.
Why? Well, here’s why:
They got to the point where NOT to tell their stories would feel like breaking a promise.
what’s the promise?
They don’t know exactly. It’s to do with that strange vital-frail human need to connect, to empathise, to be on the same page as another human heart. It’s the best way they’ve found to paint a picture others can comprehend.
When you receive an insight through a story, it’s as if you’ve been battling a face-down jigsaw which has suddenly been flipped. Suddenly you see the whole picture. Suddenly you recognise something.
Usually, you recognise yourself.
it’s a myth.
It’s a myth that stories need to be Significant. It’s a myth that Great Sorrow and Heartbreak are the only players on the stage. What makes you smile? What lifts your spirits? What is it that you read in a magazine, on the Tube, on the back of a smoothie, on an email newsletter, that gently jolts you into a compassionate a-ha, as if you’d caught yourself in an unexpected mirror?
Stories can be small. Stories can be funny. Stories can be imaginary. Stories can be sad. When you offer up a story, no matter how tiny or trivial, you’re writing a letter to another human heart, and you know what? Who are you to second guess how your story will resonate with those who are out there, radar-ears swivelling, waiting for that story to touch them.
Who am I to tell you a story? Well, I’m just as well qualified as you. I used to make up new Mr Men stories when I was eight. Then when I was bigger and had done lots of science instead of story writing, I somehow fell into writing stories about wheelie bins and Coffee Of the Week for a small town newspaper. I thought it was hilarious that they never found out that I was not the real deal. Perhaps they didn’t care.
Perhaps, after all, it doesn’t matter. I’m imagining we’re sitting over corners of toast in our Clothes Which Might Be Pyjamas as we talk about this, you and I.
Write as if you are sitting down with just one person. When you’re at that dreaded networking thing in the morning, try listening with reckless abandon. Listen and talk to each person as if that person is the only one in the world. You’ll be surprised how stories bubble up all on their own, how the flickers of delight and recognition register profoundly. How your stories, even your tiniest ones, can be just what somebody is listening for.
Perhaps it’s not so much about finding your voice as simply using the one you already have.
ready to find your voice?
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Jo Bradshaw is an author, creative director and illustrator. She writes about marketing and how to get yourself out there (even when you’re as easily distracted as her) and is most comfortable in her pyjamas surrounded by books and crayons.
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