I want to be a better storyteller. It’s hard. Storytelling in general is hard, but ending a story, that seems almost impossible to do well. And it’s not only me; I do a good bit of reading and most people seem unable to end a story with any kind of conclusion or punch line. Most just stop, like the author ran-out of words or couldn’t be bothered to continue. I’m not sure if this is an editing problem or perhaps a psychological problem and ending a story is really that difficult and those who do it well are just better humans than the rest of us. I decided to read some books on the craft and see if I could learn a few tricks, a better way to think about storytelling in general.
The first book I picked up was Long Story Short by Margot Leitman. In the opening chapter Leitman is describing how she got into storytelling and how she was having a discussion with her agent: “What about David Sedaris? He sells books, and does live tours where he just reads his true stories, and he’s a household name. I’d like to be the next David Sedaris.”
David Sedaris isn’t a good storyteller. Wikipedia says he’s “an American humorist,” but he’s not funny. And he can’t end a story better than anyone else. I’ve read pieces of many of his books; pieces because I can’t get through them, they’re uninteresting. How is David Sedaris famous? This is not a rhetorical question. If you like him, please email me and explain yourself.
There's a longing, a craving to know more than we get to know. [Y]ou want a lot of interesting things to occur before you die; and it strikes you that rather than wait around for them to occur, you're going to have to arrange most of them.
The problem with ideas is that you can't decide to have them. Certain kinds of nonfiction can be made to happen. The writer who is diligent, observant, and inquisitive enough can always find a story: you read the paper, you watch the world, you ask enough questions, and sooner or later, there it is. You have to write it, of course, but it exists with or without you. There are decisions to be made—how best to unfurl the information, what to prioritize, whose perspective to privilege. But you do not have to invent the story, you just have to tell it. I'm not saying it's easy. I'm just saying it can be done.
—Ariel Levy, The Best American Essays 2015
How do you find interesting things on the web?
If you are old enough to remember the web before Google, you may remember how people used to run their own websites. They might publish interesting articles themselves, but they’d also include links to things they found and often would keep a blogroll. The good stuff would bubble to the top.
Three things have happened in the meanwhile:
Google weponized links.
Content farms have been busy filling the web with spam.
Big Social and everything that comes with that.
In light of this, I’d like to propose three things. First, create a blogroll and/or a canon on your personal site. Next, delete your social profiles. Don’t worry, you won’t become friendless and estranged from your family. Then, to fill the void, setup a feed reader with sites you actually like. If you are unfamiliar with feed readers, checkout youneedfeeds.com for more information.
The secret of theft, which is also called "creativity," is you have to steal a bit from a lot of different places. You can't go to the same 7/11 every time because they’ll catch you. So you go to the photo shop, and you go to the gas station, and you go to that little hot dog stand that nobody goes to and by the end you've stolen enough stuff from enough places that people think its yours.