We Want to Change How You Think About Writing

NOTE: This post first appeared on The Self-Publishing Podcast two months before Fiction Unboxed. It, and the rest of this week’s first-thing-in-the-morning-posts to follow are a great refresher. Enjoy! 

shutterstock_113260756I remember my reaction, one time as a teenager, when my friends were astonished by something amazing we’d seen happen in front of us.

I don’t even remember the event, except that it was awesome. All I recall for sure was what I said when it happened:

Can you imagine what it would be like to write about this?

I’m not kidding. I actually said that. Out loud. I remember the way my buddy Ken turned to look at me — like I had a second head sprouting from my shoulders. For Ken — and for any logical person — the experience was in the event. For me, it was about capturing. I didn’t just want to live it; I wanted to relive it. Some people say that experiences are only truly real once shared with someone they love. For me, stories are most real after I share them with everyone.

The problem, early on, was that I hadn’t truly figured out the difference between situations and stories. In my young mind, I was building an archive of fantastic scenes, and wanted a reason to bring them out into the open and live those scenes again in new contexts.

But what good was an exciting event without a proper lead-up?

What good was a dramatic reveal when nothing had built to it, and when nobody really cared about the truth that it told?

I tried to write stories that captured the amazing scenes in my head, but couldn’t connect the dots, and found myself in the situation Ira Glass discusses in this 2-minute video:

Ira was right. I had to learn my chops. But there was more to it — an insidious species of creative deception that cuts so many blooming writers off at the knees.

I’d been told that telling stories was hard. 

I’d been lied to, led to believe that great ideas were like lightning from the sky, striking you only if you were lucky enough to receive them … and knew what to do with those ideas once in hand.

When I first started writing for real, things only got worse. In a way, it was easier when I was merely bad at writing. As a kid, I wasn’t self-aware enough to censor myself, so I wrote through the bad on my way to the good and didn’t get offended when my grandmother laughed at stories that weren’t supposed to be funny. I got older, and became aware not only of Ira’s taste/ability gap, but also of things like standards. The way things were supposed to be.

I added baggage atop what I already had:

I came to believe there was a “correct” way to write, and that the “right way” didn’t stop at grammar, but extended to voice and style.

I came to believe that there were things you should write about and things you shouldn’t.

I was duped into believing that art only came from suffering, and that if I wasn’t suffering, I couldn’t make art.

You’ve heard some of those, haven’t you? Have you ever had a literature teacher beat you over the head with Steinbeck’s and Dickens’s themes, only to leave you feeling like you could never be worthy of their art?

Have you ever been in the middle of a thrilling story, and had an authority figure sneer at you for reading trash?

Have you ever written something quickly, then decided that it couldn’t possibly be worthy because it hadn’t taken enough time?

Have you ever waited for your muse, staring at a blank page and waiting in white-knuckled frustration as that muse remained absent, wondering how the hell you ever thought that you — yes, lowly little you — had a hope of ever penning your tale?

I’ve been there. Sean has been there. Dave has been there. We’ve all been there. Everyone who’s ever failed to complete a story has been there.

And so has everyone who has finished a tale. You type “THE END,” you look down, and you feel like you pulled off a magic trick. If you’re honest, you’ve wondered at least a few times if you could ever do it again.

But do you know what? We think the way storytelling’s natural phenomena is put on an unreachable, exalted pedestal is bullshit.


StorybookIf you’re a human, you’re a creator. You may have talent with a pen or a word processor and you may not, but the idea that you can’t tell stories — just plain old stories — is beyond absurd.

Everyone can tell stories. We do it when we’re barely able to talk, and we’re only trained away later on. In the early naive days, before we learn about recapitulating the tired classic hero’s journey or infringing copyright, we’re telling epic tales with our dolls or action figures.

This happened. Then this. Then this.

It’s just not that complicated.

Yes, learning to express yourself well in print takes practice — often a ton. Yes, developing your ability to articulate a story well takes time. Yes, it can take many, many pages and much, much listening to tune your ear to solid dialogue. It takes observation of humanity to learn how people tick, and it takes long-earned trust to let your characters go and believe that they will stand up and walk on their own. But if you have the spark and the desire, those things are all just matters of degree, and of putting in the hours to improve.

We won’t lie to you. You might never be a great storyteller… but the idea that you can’t be a storyteller at all is absurd.

Storytelling, dear writer, isn’t that hard.

Frankly, most people aren’t ready to accept the idea that stories can be plucked from the air and spun into gold. Most people are conditioned by the straightjacket of lies that bound us in youth, and against which most of us struggled until — if lucky — we broke free and wrote on our own terms.

We spent June immersed in our month long paradigm-shattering, writer-emancipating, history-making, Fiction Unboxed. The project revealed every step of our process. Of course, there is no one true formula, just what works for you, but by seeing what works for us, both rhythmically and with the basic toolset we use to create quality stories in a minimum time, then pushing your new knowledge forward with diligence, our hope is that you could change your storytelling game forever.

  • Have you begun a novel, stalled, then tried again and again while going nowhere?
  • Have you written a book and felt you’d never be able to write another?
  • Have you ever stared at a blank page, feeling the crushing weight of writer’s block?
  • Have you ever gotten lost in the middle of writing a book, wondering how you’re supposed to keep the faith and soldier forward?
  • Have you ever wanted to know how to write more, faster, and better?

When you want to understand something, I’m a big believer in finding those who are doing what you’d like to do, then modeling them. Your own best methods may differ from ours, and probably will, but by watching us — guys who published the equivalent of 1.5 times the entire Harry Potter series in 2013, built full-time fiction-writing careers, and maintain an overall 4.7-star review average — we’re betting you’ll learn a few things that will help you.

If you’ve already unboxed, then you’ve seen this all already, but you might enjoy this week’s writing posts as either a refresher, or a kick in the ass. If you’ve not unboxed, you can see what all the fuss is by seeing all the content in the order it was published (as the book was written live in 30 days) here.

EavesdropperWe’ll start tomorrow by explaining why basic writing prompts are important, then showing you how you can take classic story ideas and make them your own.

We’ll talk about writing fast, and how to find your best flow. We’ll lift the lid on our writing, and let you peek inside.

We want to help you tell better stores in less time. We’ll start tomorrow with, “11 Stories You Can Start Telling By Dinnertime.”

About Sean Platt

Sean Platt is an author entrepreneur, founder of Sterling & Stone, and co-founder of the Collective Inkwell and Realm & Sands imprints. Follow him on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.


  1. This will be a great week, if this post is any indication 🙂
    That little video holds so much truth, by the way, for all kinds of art forms.

Speak Your Mind