When Everything Matters So Much

The Problem: It's hard to know which story you should tell right now.


It's not always writer's block that makes it difficult to start a story. Sometimes, it's picking which story to tell right now that keeps us from getting started.  Our priority—what story matters most at the moment—isn't always clear.  We don't know whether to follow our impulses, chase after writing prompts, or don the hat of interpreter. Then, there's the question about audience.

For example, when it comes to:

  • Following Impulses: Often, it seems like the story that begs to be told is the one that needs to be let go, the one that I can't stop thinking about until it's told. But, that's not my only impulse. Sometimes, I want tell the the easier story first to get it out of the way. Other times, it's enough to scribble out a few lines, summarizing with a promise to return—all to allow another narrative to take shape and become my next focus. And let's not forget the inspired stories; those stories that inspire additional stories, linking us to each other. Story is powerfully connecting, especially when a round of stories gets started between friends. And finally, there is the impulse to just clear my head. It can be hard to know which impulse to follow.
  • Chasing Sparks, like when a word or phrase inspires a story is great for remembering stories. For example, think of the word red. Then, think of all of other words (synonyms) for red, like rose, cardinal, crimson, etc. Do any of the words bring to mind a story sparked by the color? My friend Ali's Story Kits center around word sparks and are a wonderful way to approach storytelling. But, chasing sparks can be a bit overwhelming when you have a bunch of red-related stories you could tell. You still have that problem: Which story should you tell now?
  • Interpreting Observations is a great practice, but presents the same trouble. Here's the deal: As observers—of connected moments, thoughts, and feelings—interpreting our observations is a great pathway into story. But, if you're an avid observer with tons of photos and words to interpret, which story will you choose from the pile of options?
  • Considering Audience: Audience can have a lot to do with choosing the next story to tell, too. And while it doesn't have the issue of overwhelming story load, it does complicate our decisions about story because we need to decide whether:
    • We're storytelling for ourselves, others, or all of us?
    • What our goal is in telling a story to our audience (even if it's just me)?
    • What is the gap between what we need or want to communicate right now (about life, our experiences, and our interactions with everything and everyone) and what our audience knows?

Truly, there's a lot competing for our attention when it comes to choosing which story to tell right now.

A Solution: Focus on and develop one story.

Seriously, getting past the problem of too many options is a lot easier when we let go of everything to focus on and develop one thing (even if that thing is a story that feels clunky or imperfect). And, if possible, dialing in even more to let go of the outcome and focus on the process—specifically, the step or task immediately in front of us—is even better.

For example, focus on one of the following steps/tasks at a time:

  1. Decide to tell one story right now
  2. Choose who to tell
  3. Determine the goal for telling the story. Is it to teach, learn, compel, etc?
  4. Fix on the message
  5. Tell the story, bridging the gap between what the audience knows and doesn't know

Breaking our intentions down to one step can still the turmoil of overwhelm brewing within us. Focusing on one thing allows everything else to recede. It allows our attention to withdraw from all other things at once. Further, taking on one thing is something we can do while taking it all on is impossible. Finally, giving ourselves one thing we can do inspires hope—something I'll happily chase at every opportunity.

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