I’ve been reading Carmine Gallo’s book, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds. Since I teach, learning how to be a better presenter of material is always a good idea (even if I’m not giving a TED-caliber talk every week). Many of the ideas are applicable across creative disciplines as well. The “secrets” Gallo mentions, and how they apply to writers, are:
Unleash the Master Within – Or, be passionate about what you write. With mastery of your material comes confidence that allows your passion to shine through. Nothing takes the place of having a real passion for the story you’re telling. And if you don’t have a passion for writing itself, for communicating your ideas through the written word, you will give up easily.
Master the Art of Storytelling – Stories are compelling to the human brain. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, using stories to make your point allows audiences to respond to what you’re telling them. Stories are how we communicate our experiences as human beings, to other humans.
Have a Conversation – Be natural. In writing, this is called “voice.” What is your voice? Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but don’t try to write in another writer’s voice. Readers pick up on such inauthenticity and reject it.
Teach Me Something New – We love to learn something we didn’t know before. In writing, it might be some new information on a historical period, or how something works, or about the human capacity for love, or redemption… the possibilities are endless, and in reading we often unconsciously look for new knowledge or insight. We’re gripped by wanting to find out more.
Deliver Jaw-Dropping Moments – The surprise, the unexpected twist, the ramping up of stakes… these are what keep readers turning the pages. Readers love to find out what what happened next, or how the “heroes” can possibly get out of this big mess. Deliver moments that grab (and keep) their attention.
Lighten Up – Use humor, or at least find ways to moderate the tension. Even thrillers, where the idea is to ramp up the tension throughout, work in “breather” moments, which allow the next tense moments to have a bigger impact.
Stick to the 18-Minute Rule – Or, the paradox of constraint. Sometimes this is the constraint of form (such as a particular poetic form: a sestina, villanelle, sonnet,,,). Sometimes this is in length. We’ve all read books that we later think could have used major pruning by an editor, where the author wandered over a hundred pages with nothing of major import happening. Sometimes, this means that we can get more done in, say, a focused 18-minute writing session than in 6 hours of noodling around, spending most of that time on Facebook. Embrace the constraints and work within them, to produce better, more creative work. (I believe procrastination gets a bad rap: sometimes procrastination is our brain’s way of creating a constraint, thus pushing us to come up with things we might never have thought of without the time pressure.)
Paint a Mental Picture with Multisensory Experiences – This is a no-brainer for writers. Use all your senses to create your story. We tend to hone in on the visual, but we can create richer experiences on the page through judicious use of the other senses as well. This also goes for variety in general: vary your sentence length, your vocabulary, your syntax to keep the reader engaged.
Stay in Your Lane – A.k.a. Write What you know. Or at least, what you’ve learned well enough to convince us of your authenticity. What do you need to know to create a vivid, believable world on the page? Or a character that resonates with us? To me, this goes hand in hand with passion. You don’t need to be all things to all people, and you shouldn’t try to write to trends that don’t evoke any meaning for you. Be you, and write what you care about, from your own unique perspective.
If you’re a visual artist, photographer, or work in another creative form, how might these insights apply to you?