10 Feb 52. Story Mistakes You Should Never Make
If you’re teaching readers how to do something–anything at all–this episode is for you.
How-to books seem simple to write, and they can be. But only if you know the secrets of bestselling how-to books.
The best personal development, professional development, and self-help books all share these 5 elements in common.
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Hey there, and welcome to Nothing but the Words. I’m your author coach, Candice L Davis.
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Are you committed to getting it done?
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Today, I want to share with you three storytelling mistakes I see way too often, especially when authors are telling their own story.
It could be in a memoir.
Or it could simply be in telling the authors own story in any kind of nonfiction book.
These are the kinds of mistakes I don’t generally see in traditionally published books because editors won’t publish this kind of writing.
But here’s the thing.
Self-published shouldn’t mean less than.
I coach my authors to hold themselves to the same standards traditionally published authors have to meet.
Maybe you’re not a professional writer.
But with coaching and editing, you can write at the same level as professional, traditionally published writers.
Maybe you’re not on track to win a Nobel prize in literature.
But with the right support, you can write a world-class book.
You can write and publish a book that can stand next to the vast majority of books in the bookstore and measure up.
I promise you can.
And that includes your story telling skills.
Once you’re aware of these storytelling mistakes, you’ll be able to recognize these mistakes and avoid making them.
Some of the authors I work with are incredibly experienced.
They’ve studied literature and writing for decades.
They’ve been published in prestigious magazines and journals.
And they know how to tell great stories.
But I also coach authors who are new to this craft.
They haven’t spent a lifetime studying writing.
Some of them don’t even consider themselves writers.
Among those newbie writers, I see some common mistakes in the storytelling.
If you’re writing a memoir, you’re writing your story.
But if you’re writing any kind of book that positions you as an expert, you should also be telling your story, or many of your stories in that book.
You can tell other people’s stories too, of course, but I find most authors get tripped up when they tell their own story.
So lets dive into 3 story mistakes you should never make and how to avoid them or fix them in your book.
Mistake #1: Focusing only on the negative.
When you tell your story—the story of your life or the story of why you do what you do—what do you focus on?
Is your story a litany of all the bad things that have happened to you?
Readers and audiences do like a story of overcoming, but that shouldn’t be your whole story.
It shouldn’t be the only story you tell.
Nobody’s life is nonstop obstacles.
When you tell your story, don’t focusing exclusively on the dark times.
Share some of the lighter, humorous, and even fun moments.
Tell your readers about the highs along with the lows.
Share your greatest moments and the insights you gleaned from them.
Weave in those small, positive moments that left a lasting impression or taught you something you’ve never forgotten.
When my older daughter was three years old and my only child, our days were busy and I was often focused on checking the next task off my to-do list.
I was finishing college and working full time.
One summer evening, after a long day of preschool for her and work and classes for me, we came home to our student apartment and found the sprinklers going in our small yard.
Almost without thinking, I dropped my briefcase on the sidewalk, and still wearing my suit, I ran through the sprinklers.
My daughter stood back and watched for a minute, not quite sure of what was going on.
And then she ran into the sprinklers with me.
Within minutes we were soaked to the bone, laughing.
She was delighted, and I was re-energized.
I was only twenty-two, but since then, I’ve made it a point to never be too busy to have fun.
Mistake #2: Making suffering a competition.
The second common mistake I see newbie authors make is comparing their pain with other people’s pain.
Pain, and suffering, and oppression, and adversity don’t need to be measured by comparison.
For one thing, you can’t possibly know what someone else’s hardship was like.
You haven’t lived their experience, so you can’t speak to it.
Yes, you found your situation particularly difficult to get through or a decision tough to make.
And you might imagine it would’ve been easier if it had gone another way.
But you add nothing to your story when you say people who suffered a different difficulty had it easier than you.
In fact, you make your readers question you.
Some readers will think you have a tendency to exaggerate.
As the author, your job is to describe the situation well enough that your readers can out themselves in your place.
Trust your readers to draw their own conclusions about how painful, challenging, or difficult it was.
Just like you can trust your readers to feel your joy when you share your mountaintop moments.
Mistake #3: Writing only about “I” and “me.”
Lastly, I see a lot of newbie authors starting nearly every sentence with I or ending them with me.
Of course, you’re telling your story from your perspective, so you can expect some I and me.
But what else is going on around you?
Who else is involved, acting or reacting, suffering or enjoying the consequences of your choices?
What’s going on in the world around you?
Don’t just say you lost your house.
Tell us it was the Great Recession, and you were one of 10 million home owners who lost their homes.
Tell us how your packed his room with his back straight or his head hung low.
Put us in the moment by stepping away from “I” and “me” for a moment.
Describe what was going on in the world around you as a means of setting the stage, showing cause and effect, or creating contrast between the state of your life and the state of the nation or of your community.
Look beyond “I” and “me” and give us a sense of the world in which you were operating.
If you’ve made some of these mistakes in your writing, welcome to the world.
Writing badly is just part of the process of writing well.
Tell your readers about some of your highs as well as your lows.
Share your troubles and difficulties and trust your readers to draw their own conclusions about what where it all falls on the scale of pain.
And remember to take the focus off “I” and “me” every once in a while.
Your readers will thank you for it.
That’s all for this episode. If you’re ready to dive into writing your book, grab my free guide to jump-start your book at CandiceLDavis.com/jumpstart.
Thanks for listening to “Nothing but the Words.” I’m your Author Coach Candice L Davis, and I’ll see you next time.