Write With Me Wednesdays: Tell Your Readers a Story

“Write With Me Wednesdays” is a series of blog posts, YouTube videos, and iTunes podcasts that is designed to help get you writing and also thinking about the craft of writing.  Thanks to the Jeremy Vogt Band for providing this weeks music for the video and iTunes published podcast.  I’m filling this post with relevant links despite my own personal goal of trying to stay focused on what I am reading online without just mindlessly clicking around.   If you’re just getting started with us, you might consider the writing territories activity as a way to look at all the possibilities for your writing.

In this weeks’ installment we’re going to look at the ways in which writers can tell a story to open a piece of writing.  I remember when I heard young adult novelist Walter Dean Myers speak at a New Jersey Council for Teachers of English Conference. I had been feeling uneasy about the way I’d been doing readings of Love on the Big Screen at conferences, book stores, and in libraries, and not liked how I’d kept my nose in a book for much of my talks.  It used to be that I’d followed a guideline I’d heard Rick Pitino share at one of his coaching clinics:  when you give a talk, don’t check your notes.  Pitino said that he’d rather look his audience in the eye and interact with them than to remember every little thing that he’d intended to say. I’d always subscribed to that philosophy, but the publication of my book led me away from eye contact and back to the pages of my notes.

When I heard Walter Dean Myers, he told us the stories of his books:  where the ideas came from, how he researched them by visiting prisons, and homes for children, and when he was finished–after not reading a page from any of his books–people were moved by the stories and went running over to the book table to purchase one of his novels.  I think he had something like three books coming out that year.

So your instruction for this week is to open a post by telling a story.  In many cases, the story might be the entire post.  The story is relevant because it is somehow connected to what you write about on your blog.  Here are some first-line examples from writers who opened their texts by beginning a story:

I think it was the penny loafers that started it all.

–appeared in article entitled “From Candy Girls to Cyber-Sista Cipher: Narrating Black Females Color,” written by Dr. Carmen Kynard and published in the Harvard Educational Review.

When I think about my writing within the context of other writers’ work, I often ask myself questions.  “When did it all get started for me?” I might ask.  And this could be connected to anything. When did I first think I might write a novel?  When did I think I wasn’t going to be a fireman (as I’d wanted to be as a kid) and when did I start thinking about being a college professor?  I also love Carmen’s text for the ways that it challenges definitions about what it means to do academic writing.  This is a text that, after all, that alludes to the 80s band New Edition.  I can hear some who’d say New Edition doesn’t belong in academic writing, but I’d say it depends on the purpose of the writing and what it is about.  Evidently, the Harvard Educational Review thought New Edition belonged in this case.

I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen. But not really saved. It happened like this.

by Langston Hughes in “Salvation”

Notice Langston’s  fragment. Notice also the interest he creates with this idea that he was saved but not really.  What does he mean?  We have to keep reading to find out.  He’s also got that great phrase, “It happened like this.”  And as a reader we know we’re going to hear a story from when Langston was a boy.

Last week a blogging friend and I were talking about comments and community.

Deb Ng’s blog, Kommein

What Deb Ng’s sentence has me thinking about is the way in which we can give our subconscious an assignment:  find blog posts!  Or our subconscious gets used to the fact that we write blog posts, and then we’re standing on the street talking to a friend, and we realize we are in the midst of what will become a future post or text that we want to write.  Not sure that’s how it worked for Deb in this case, (maybe she’ll tell us?) but it’s often how it works for me.

A Good One: Hornby's Juliet, Naked

This way of the subconscious (or the product of habit) reminds me of a writer I like named Nick Hornby.  I recommend his High Fidelity or Juliet, Naked to you.  Not so long ago he collaborated with another favorite artist of mine:  the musician Ben Folds.  Nick wrote the lyrics and Ben did the rest.  I’ve heard Hornby talk about the subconscious (he didn’t use that word) by saying at first he had little stories he’d give to Ben, but what ended up happening was that he’d start to “see” or “find” songs.  He’d be walking down the street and think, “there’s a song for Ben.”  So once you start writing, your mind will get to working all the time on what is coming up.  Where will you put these ideas as they come?  A voice memo on your phone, a notebook, or perhaps as some sort of digital text?  As I’ve moved from being a writer’s notebook kind of guy to an iPhone user, I find myself missing a lot of ideas as they go whizzing by.  If you’ve got suggestions, I’d love you send them to me via a comment on this post.

Deb Ng knows her subject matter.  Her everyday life is full of topics for writing just like yours.   You just have to develop the habit of looking for them.  A conversation becomes a post.

If any of this prompts some thinking on your part, I’d love to hear from you via a comment.  Maybe consider leaving me and any potential readers a link to where you’ve tried to open a piece of writing by telling a story.  Thanks again to The Jeremy Vogt Band for providing the music for this weeks’ YouTube video and iTunes podcast. You can find the podcast by typing in “Digital Book Club” on iTunes.  You can listen to podcast online here.  There’s a video version also included below:

Colonoscopy: Part I

Before I tell you about a recent colonoscopy procedure I had done, I want to tell you about an idea I have for a story that I’d call “Modern Medicine.”  There’s this guy (hmmm, this is starting to feel very autobiographical) who had blood in his stool a couple times.  He’s pretty sure that he can control this little unpleasant feature of his bathroom  life by altering his diet, but to be safe he visits his physician.  After a gushy lubricated rectal exam, the physician says that the character’s self diagnosis is likely accurate, but that he—let’s call this guy “Larry”—should have some blood work done and also visit a gastrointestinal (G.I.) physician.

For some reason (and here’s where the fiction begins) Larry thinks his insurance will cover the procedure but it doesn’t.  Or he’s between insurances (not a great explanation because if I were in this position I would not be going to the doctor for a “maybe”) and ultimately he receives a $400 dollar bill for the blood work, let’s say another $100 for the initial exam, another $200 for the specialist, and then conservatively, $2,000 for the colonoscopy.  Possibly the story ends with Larry happy to receive a clean bill of health but somewhat put out that he is a couple thousand dollars poorer.  There are of course alternative outcomes:  perhaps Larry is one of the approximately 3% of patients who suffers heavy bleeding or within the smaller percentage of people who suffer a perforation and require immediate major surgery.  This would illustrate my thinking that sometimes going to the doctor can send a perfectly healthy person spiraling down a steep hill where their snowball of wellness boulders into a mass of trouble.  Although according to various internet sources there seem to be 1 in 3,000 or 1 in 30,000 people who die from a colonoscopy, this wouldn’t have probably served my story very well.  An ending of death—plausible if not probable—would be seen by most as overly dramatic.  Up next—possibly as a warning to keep you away from this blog—will be the story of my actual procedure.