This is the sixth post in a special 12-part monthly series — Powerful Nonprofit Stories: Finding, Framing, and Finishing. Read Jennifer’s previous posts in the series – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.
My 15-year-old is interested in writing. Not as a career (yet), but just because. Recently, he found himself backed into a familiar corner: writer’s block. I told him to take a storytelling time-out. Not as punishment — but just long enough to refill the cognitive coffers until he was ready to go back at it.
Like most of us, my son knows when words sound rhythmically congruent. “This is good writing!” he’ll muse aloud. He also knows what his story will be about. He sometimes just can’t bridge the gap with, you know, words.
It happens to everyone. The good news for nonprofit storytellers is that there exists a basic framework: Someone needed help. Someone found help. The nonprofit, and the people who support it, are to thank for that help.
But a formula alone can’t yield storytelling magic. If it did, we’d all be pulling rabbits out of hats.
Here are a few things I like to do to reignite the engine:
- Stop writing. Yes, just step away from the keyboard. Time and distance can be wondrous for massaging imagination. Come back in 24 hours. Try again.
- Take a walk. I’ve found it very hard for ideas or new ways of telling stories to come to me when I’m staring at a computer screen. The best ideas often happen when you’re not forcing them upon yourself.
- Listen to TED talks. There are so many interesting ones out there. Don’t limit it to any particular topic. Just watch and listen. They are always inspiring.
- Come up with your ending before your beginning. A new way of looking at how you tell a story can be the spark for making it sing.
- Write down the three mains sections of your story. Start there.
- Keep your audience in mind. Nonprofit storytelling isn’t about you as a writer. It’s about moving your audience. Picture yourself reading the story or sitting in an audience. What would you want to read or hear?
- Go back to your favorite authors. You know, the ones who make it look effortless. What surprised you or resonated? Study that. Read. Repeat.
When you think about it, storytelling is like a cognitive playground. It’s an intersection of intelligence, patterns, beliefs, understanding, compassion, empathy, and a whole lot more. With so much fertile ground, it can be frustrating to watch helplessly as the harvest grows seemingly dry. But don’t fret, and don’t give up. Telling good stories is hard, hard work. Embrace that fact. Then come back to it and move your audience with the power of words.
Next month in part seven of this series: Can someone please answer my call for action?
Jennifer Miller has 21 years of experience in direct response. She’s worked for 10 years as a Creative Director at TrueSense Marketing (www.TrueSense.com, www.linkedin.com/company/truesense-marketing; @TrueSenseMktg), helping nonprofits raise more funds through donor-centered strategies. With a Master’s in journalism and hundreds of published articles, Jennifer is in her element when she’s getting a story firsthand. Her secret? She likes to talk to people, and her goal is to get them to talk back! (Note: This doesn’t always work when it comes to rescued pets at animal welfare organizations.)