The Moment I Realized How Powerful Storytelling Actually Is

Maybe this isn’t saying much. Maybe it is.

I wrote this post last night. I didn’t mean to.

I had the idea and planned on doing what I always do – open a new draft, write a title and leave it until the next morning.

I only meant to write a sentence or two. But the entire thing just poured out of me without warning.

I left it alone afterward, I figured maybe I would have a better idea tomorrow and let this live in my WordPress drafts for the rest of forever.

But it’s morning now, and after reading through it again, and again, I just know.

I can’t just leave it. It needs the chance to say what it wants to say.

So this is what was on my mind yesterday. Maybe it’s something you’ve heard a hundred times before. Maybe it’ll actually mean something to someone.

Who knows. I’m not you. I know very little about you. That’s the whole point of what I’m about to share.

There are many things I know. And many more I don’t.

This is, in essence, the first line of a book I started writing last November.

I didn’t know then how much it spoke to my actual life.

I am someone who has always found deep fascination in learning new things. It’s what got me through two science degrees, even though I’m bad at math.

It is, still, very difficult for me to admit when I am wrong, or when I do not know something – especially when I do not know something as well as someone else knows it.

I realize this makes me sound extremely unlikable. I wouldn’t be offended if you agreed.

As a writer, you’re expected to know a lot about a lot of things. I suppose I found a very easy, and lazy, way around this when I first decided to start blogging about writing – the thing I knew the most about, because it’s what I did every day.

Writing about yourself, and what you do every day as you twirl about in your own personal world, requires very little research. It allows you to remain extremely narrow-minded … which is the most dangerous thing a writer can be.

They’re not wrong, when they tell you to write what you know. But many of us take that to mean we should only write about what we are familiar with.

In some contexts, this is perfectly logical.

In many others, it is toxic.

Growing up, I wrote a lot of stories featuring characters I wished I could be. Super-smart, pretty, popular, successful. They were nice stories. But they were selfish. It took me ten years of writing novels to come to that realization.

Writing what you know – in its often misunderstood implications – is easy, and safe, and boring. I wanted to learn things. I wanted to understand things as they are, not portray them only as how I perceived them to be.

There are so many different kinds of people, with so many stories I have not heard – that the world has not heard. I want to tell stories we haven’t heard a thousand times. But I want to do it without preaching, without shoving anything in my readers’ faces, because, honestly – is that what they’re signing up for?

Is that what they want?

I’ll admit it: I’ve judged plenty of writers in the past, for “being inclusive” simply for the sake of being inclusive, or politically correct, or whatever. Is this really necessary? Why does every show now have to have a gay character? I mean, I have nothing against …

Stop. Just stop.

As you grow as a writer, and as a person, your viewpoints change, as have mine.

For the record, I don’t really have that much of a right to talk about diversity at all – read: I have a lot of privilege, and that’s not a fact I can change.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t use storytelling not only in an attempt to understand multiple sides of an issue that does not apply to me, but maybe, give someone out there a character to relate to, to understand them … to help give them the confidence to stand up for themselves and people like them.

I understand now that maybe that’s what these writers I used to so wrongfully judge have been doing all along. Trying to understand complex things in the best way they know how: by writing about them from someone else’s point of view.

Because when you’re writing what you know, but don’t know a darn thing about the elements of a story you want to tell, you know what you have to do. Research. Study. Learn. Talk to people who get it. Who live it. So that you can look through the correct lens as you craft a story that has more truth in it than fiction.

That is hard. Because it teaches you that, as smart and “aware” as you think you are about how the world is, in the grand scheme of things, you’re completely clueless. You don’t get it. It’s humbling … and embarrassing to admit.

Maybe all we’re trying to do – we, writers, storytellers – is get it. So other people can get it. Even if they never live through it themselves.

I first experimented with this theory last year (perhaps the word “experimented” is about to be more ironic than I originally intended) when I was trying to write a series of novellas. My 20,000-word story, about stress, or sleep, or something of that nature, featured two couples: a (traditional?) guy-girl couple, and two women.

This is not a big deal – I didn’t do it to make a statement. You know full well that you don’t choose characters willingly: they come to you of their own will. That’s how it happened. Two female characters walked casually into my brain’s creative space and said, “Here’s the story, and by the way, we’re together.”

But it will forever stick in my memory as a turning point in my fiction writing – not because I took any risks as far as the publishing industry is concerned (far from it at this point), but because I did something I had never really done before: I wrote about something I had never experienced, something I knew virtually nothing about.

Why it took me so long to do, I don’t know.

I realize that what I wrote was nothing special, to anyone who might pick it up. But it mattered to me.

It mattered to me because it helped me come to terms with a reality I had never bothered to consider before. In a world where words are so commonly used to abuse people and assumptions are so quickly made about populations as a whole, writers have an advantage, an opportunity, others don’t.

They can explain, through the vessel of a story, how things should be. How people of one lifestyle or religion or ethnicity or race should treat those of another. How differences among individuals should shape our world. And what could happen if more people embraced the way the world constantly changes.

Storytelling has many purposes. Possibly one of the most important, now more than ever, is its ability to help everyone envision a better way of handling situations and people they do not understand.

It’s not your fault for not being able to look at the world through a less-narrow lens, given to you by the circumstances in which you were raised. It’s your fault for not doing whatever it might take to switch out that lens for something better.

Not everyone grew up in a church-going white Christian middle-class suburban family in the United States like I did. I’m fully aware of that. I have written dozens of stories told from the perspectives of people just like me. Which is OK. But I think I could do better.

I’m not saying it’s every writer’s responsibility to make diversity of any kind a priority in their work. I’m not saying I look down on anyone who doesn’t.

But if you do have a unique perspective on any issue – by all means, tell your stories. Help people understand. Give voice to others who have experienced the same things you have, but don’t have the same outlets you do for honestly and accurately portraying how things are.

And if you’re like me, and your privilege is real and it is something you can never remove from your life, then do what I did, what I will continue doing: change your lens. Tell a story from the perspective of someone whose life, whose fears, whose disadvantages you will never fully understand.

And not just once, but as often as you can. Reaching as many people as you can.

This is not about writing your way out of your comfort zone. That happens by default – but it’s not about you.

This is about empathy, and learning not to judge anyone – ever. Not even writers you have never met, who aren’t just trying to sell titles with inclusive subjects and characters, but maybe, just maybe, are trying to understand the world better … by using their words to do some good in this world.

There are many things you know. And many more you don’t.

What are you going to do about it?

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

What Kinds of Stories Do You Want to Tell?

These are the kinds of questions you have to ask yourself.

Viola Davis won her first Oscar last night for her supporting role in Fences. Of course, she had to follow up a much-deserved win with a speech the internet isn’t going to forget (for another 24 hours or so, at least).

Every Academy Award winner’s speech is different – understandably so – but as a writer and long-time story lover, I can’t help but adore the ones that highlight not only an artist’s dependence upon, but their appreciation for where all books, shows and movies begin – the stories.

Before thanking her many support systems, Davis finished up her tribute to storytelling with the quote still circulating on social media platforms as I write this:

“We [artists] are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”

(You can watch her full speech here.)

This doesn’t just apply to actors – it applies to everyone involved in the production of a work of art. The directors. Set designers. Composers. And yes, the writers, too.

Never forget that in your hobby, in your career, in your life, you have choices. As a writer, you get to choose the kinds of stories you want to tell. You have the power to showcase the lives of both extraordinary and ordinary people – people who have achieved their dreams and people who haven’t. Characters who have happy endings, and characters who don’t.

Never forget that every story begins with some kind of life. Each character may be surrounded by a particular environment or event, but a good story isn’t about what you decide is going to happen to a character. A good story is about how you decide a character is going to react to everything that happens to them, what they are going to learn, how they are going to change. Sometimes, they’ll thrive. Sometimes, they’ll crumble. But that’s a reflection of real life – of living, whether there’s a happily ever after or not.

Though it may not always seem like it, you have complete control over the kinds of stories you want to tell. Who are you going to give a voice to? What do you want a reader to know, to feel, to remember, to believe? These are the kinds of questions you have to ask yourself. These are the motivations for every artist, however they tell stories – celebrating living, in all its ups and downs, in all its truths and lies. Every element of a story has a purpose. It’s up to you, the writer, to create it, to have faith in it, to make it heard.

Congrats, Viola – and thank you for helping to bring so many writers’ stories to life, in the past, present and future!

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Why We Continue to Doubt Ourselves, Even As We Improve

You are, and always will be, your harshest critic.

Have you ever just stared at a thing you just wrote and thought, “I’m not even good at this?”

Chances are, you’re probably pretty good at it. At least compared to your skill level when you first started writing.

We doubt ourselves way too often, and it inhibits our confidence – sometimes, even our success. But why? Why is it so easy to believe we’re bad at what we do, even if we’ve been doing it forever?

It’s hard to judge your own progress

Whether you realize it or not, you’re a better writer now than when you started. Even without formal training, writers learn how to write better – through reading, through watching and playing and doing – and yes, through the critiques and suggestions of others.

But it’s hard to notice you’re improving. You have a very limited perspective on your skill level. As your writing improves, it just seems like the same old writing to you – because better writing has gradually become your norm. Without anyone telling you how different your writing is now than it used to be, it’s easy to think, “Well, I haven’t made much progress, so what’s the point?”

This is why rereading your previous work – as much as it might make you cringe – is, in my opinion, an essential part of growing as a writer. Look back at where you’ve been. You may not be as good of a writer as your favorite author seems to be, but you’ve definitely moved at least a few steps up from that weird blog post you wrote back in high school.

We come to expect negative criticism

Many people don’t know how to give constructive criticism. At least, I didn’t, back in college when I marked up my roommate’s English paper with red pen (sorry, Olivia). When they’re told to critique someone’s writing, many people assume that means they have a free pass to be overly critical – and not necessarily in a kind and/or helpful way.

So when people do come around that know how to critique properly, we unknowingly jump to the conclusion that they’re out to try and bring us down. About a year ago, I submitted something for publication. When the editor came back basically suggesting I rewrite the entire article, I’ll admit it, I was kind of mad. I didn’t understand why they were being so mean to my starving artist heart.

Criticism is an important component of growth. In the real world – most of the time – those who professionally give feedback on your work aren’t doing it in the form of a personal attack. So you can’t approach every writing assignment afraid you’re going to fail. You might, and probably will at some point, fail. But that’s part of this complicated game we’re all playing. We try. We fail. We learn, and we keep learning until we stop making the same mistakes. Then we make new ones. And so on.

We’re told it’s bad to be proud of our accomplishments

I used to be embarrassed every time a teacher made a good example out of my essays in school. I know I’m not the only one. For one thing, I never understood why they were singling ME out. I just wrote a thing because they told me to – what’s the big deal? And for another, especially in that two years of hell sometimes referred to as Middle School, being singled out for being good in school – at least, back in the day – was SO NOT COOL. Hello – my reputation is at stake here. Leave me alone.

I can’t say for sure when all this stopped being embarrassing, but eventually somewhere along the way someone taught me it’s not a crime to be good at something – and share that something with the world. I’m not embarrassed to share my articles on Facebook or wherever – if I were, honestly, I wouldn’t have learned to be brave enough to pitch my ideas to TOTAL STRANGERS. GASP.

Even if you’re not at all confident about what you’re publishing – act like you are. Promote it like it’s the best thing anyone has ever written. The more confident you pretend to be, the easier it gets to actually believe in your ability to do something well. Who really cares what anyone else thinks?

You are good – as good as you can be, right now. Just because you’re not 100 percent sold on what you’ve just written doesn’t mean someone else won’t be. You are, and always will be, your harshest critic. Don’t let that hold you back. Strive to improve – but be proud of how far you’ve come, and where you stand now.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

When Your Hard Work Goes Unnoticed (Again)

Everyone starts at the bottom.


Yesterday, scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw a health expert, who I’ve followed for a few years now, post an article she had written and shared with her audience.

This caught my eye because I had written an article on the exact same subject with almost an identical title not even a week before. Seeing how much praise and attention the expert’s post got, while mine didn’t get any – it brought back those feelings of insignificance and failure I – yes, even I – have worked so hard to destroy over the past two years.

I’m over it now, obviously. But I think we encounter situations like this more often than we care to admit. You work so hard to create something good, and it goes virtually unnoticed while someone with more money, more experience, more resources and a bigger audience does something similar and makes you feel invisible. They’re not doing it on purpose. They’re just doing, literally, what they do best.

But it still seems unfair.

It’s important to remember, first of all, that every ‘expert’ out there doing what you’re trying to do has been where you are before. They started with nothing – no followers, no credibility – nothing. Over time, they worked their way up to the place they hold now. You’re not always going to know every single person’s backstory – but always keep in mind there is one, and many times, it will sound a lot like yours. You’re broke, you hate your job, you’re struggling to turn your side project into something bigger (okay, not ALL of you, but you get the idea). You’re either going to make it or you’re not. But there is only one way to absolutely guarantee you never will – and that’s deciding not to try.

The best advice I have for you is to embrace these feelings of unimportance. Take this time to work on getting better, and figure out your niche, your style, the kind of audience you want. It doesn’t feel good to feel small. But it’s important that you have faith in yourself and in the future, regardless of the possible outcomes. Faith will never hurt you. Disappointment will string – but that’s what you sign up for when you decide you want to create original work for other people to consume. This is how it goes. There will be moments you feel like you don’t matter. But I like to believe there will be moments you feel like you do matter, too.

So you’re here, in the shadows. It’s a tired and lonely place to be. But it’s not your forever home. There are bigger and better things still to come. You can’t see them, but they’re coming. I promise.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

5 Things to Remember When Writing All the Time Starts Seeming Pointless

Establishing yourself as a writer is just about building your brand and getting your name out there. Everyone has to start out in that lonely place where they aren’t heard.



We all reach points where we just want to quit writing. Not because we don’t enjoy it or because we don’t want to do it anymore, but because, after doing the same thing over and over and trying to “make things happen,” it all starts to seem pointless.

The good news is, it’s not pointless. The bad news is, coming to terms with this also means we have to be a little more patient and a little more confident – not easy things to do. So here’s a list of things to keep in mind when this whole writing thing is starting to lose its appeal.

1. You have to start somewhere

You write because you enjoy it. Right? Not every writer starts off in a position where everything they have to say will reach the people who would be most interested in hearing it. But if you never write anything, because you’re sure it won’t reach anyone, you’ll NEVER reach anyone.

Establishing yourself as a writer is just about building your brand and getting your name out there. Everyone has to start out in that lonely place where they aren’t heard. You got this.

2. Your thoughts and opinions matter

Hey you, with the voice! Yes, you! You have important things on your mind and even more important things to say about them. Yes, you’re tired of not being heard, but that doesn’t mean your thoughts and opinions are any less valuable.

You should never feel like you’re not allowed to express how you feel through writing just because it doesn’t get some kind of viral response. Sometimes, we right more for ourselves and our own well-being than for other people, and there is absolutely no shame in that. Do what you feel you need to do. Say what you need to say. Seriously. It DOES matter.

3. Negative feedback is still feedback

One of a writer’s many fears is putting something out into the world only to have it torn apart and stepped on. And it does happen. There’s no way to please every single person in your intended audience, and unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there who will not hesitate to launch negative criticisms your way.

Getting negative feedback from people you know and people you don’t can hurt. A lot. But at least you’re getting some feedback, right? It’s a little better than getting no feedback at all, as long as you don’t take the negativity too personally. Do your best to use it to learn and grow from, and definitely don’t let fear of being criticized stand in your way of writing something amazing.

4. You might be helping someone and don’t even know it

Something you write today might really resonate with someone, somewhere, tomorrow. You never know. And you may never hear about it. But that doesn’t mean the things you are writing are not effective or do not make people think or feel things.

Always write with the mindset that there is someone out there who needs to hear this, and the pointlessness of it all will begin to fade away.

5. It will get better, eventually

It takes time to find where you truly excel as a writer. Everyone has their niche and their own unique methodology for sending powerful messages to people who will respond to and learn from them. You’ll find it. And you’ll fit right in.

Just keep doing what you’re doing, and never convince yourself you’re too experienced to learn new things. Successful writers, the ones who make a real difference in the world, never stop growing. They are okay with being good, but not necessarily the best. There is always room to improve.

KEEP GOING. Write that thing. GO! GO! GO!

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You May Never Win an Oscar, but Your Work Can Still Make “A World of Difference”

Pixar films are known for their excellent storytelling, and Inside Out’s Best Animated Feature Film Academy Award win on Sunday night came as no surprise to most of us.


Whether you’re feeling discouraged or you’re having the best time of your life, a little inspiration from someone who has been where you are, and worked their way up to success in your field, never hurts.

Pixar films are known for their excellent storytelling, and Inside Out‘s Best Animated Feature Film Academy Award win on Sunday night came as no surprise to most of us. We laughed. We cried. We thought about our imaginary friends for the first time in 15 years (or longer).

Even more heartwarming than knowing our favorite animated film of 2015 won the award it deserved was the heartfelt advice Pixar’s Pete Doctor gave young creators while accepting the Oscar.

“There are days you’re gonna feel sad,” he said. “You’re gonna feel angry, you’re gonna feel scared. That’s nothing you can choose. But you can make stuff. Make films. Draw. Write. It’ll make a world of difference.”

And he’s absolutely right. We can’t always choose how we feel, but we can channel those emotions into our art, whatever it may be, and choose to create anyway.

Young creators have it harder than you might think (never forget that you were one once). They have dreams and aren’t afraid to chase them, but they also have people telling them they need a backup plan first, or that they can’t make a living doing their art, or they have support but no one telling them where to go or how to make it big.

Anyone can take Doctor’s advice though. It doesn’t matter if you’re stuck in a crappy freelance job or you’ve been trying to get published with no success or you’ve had some success and are just feeling burned out.

Your work doesn’t matter any less just because you aren’t having the success you’ve been hoping for or you’re not enjoying what you do as much as you thought you would. Your words can still make a difference to someone, or might make a difference at some point in the future.

You may never win an Oscar or publish a bestseller or have your stories read by millions of people around the world. That doesn’t mean your art, whatever it is, isn’t still worth doing. Sometimes it takes awhile to break through the white noise. Maybe you never will.

But we don’t just create to be noticed. We create because it is part of who we are. It helps us through various stages of our lives and makes us more self-aware. Finding an audience that will pay attention is just a side effect. Not guaranteed, but possible.

Keep telling your stories in whatever way suits you. It’s what makes you you.

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