But unfortunately, those sudden strikes of inspiration feel rarer these days than they have these last few years.
Hours spent creating things seem dreadfully lacking these last four months. Four months… Goodness me how the time shifts around us.
I feel as though, moving quickly down stream, I suddenly found myself stuck up against a large rock. Unmoving, yet being rushed past. I’m not sure if the water is time or the desire to do more, but either way it’s there and moving quickly. I just can’t seem to get myself unstuck from this boulder I’m caught on.
So some days I close my eyes and let the water run and forget all about the movement. I sit contentedly in the stillness. The rush creating a lovely blanket of noise around me. But most days, my eyes are wide open. And I am dreadfully aware of the water running past. I don’t know which is better. To keep my eyes open, or keep them closed? What different lives the two options hold.
Sometime soon, I am sure, a particularly shaped branch, or a beautiful fish will come along and knock me from my perch. And until then, I’ll try to enjoy the view I’ve got.
In her brilliant book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott describes a piece of her writing routine that has had a great impact on me. She outlines, for the reader, a day of languishing at her desk, thinking about anything and everything but the book she is trying to write. “I start to think about learning to use makeup and how maybe I could find some boyfriend who is not a total and complete fixer-upper and then my life would be totally great… Then I think about someone I’m really annoyed with, or some financial problem that is driving me crazy, and decide that I must resolve this before I get down to today’s work.” This rambling goes on for quite a while, but then she breathes, “slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.”
And so, a couple days ago, in a sudden strike of inspiration, I drew myself a one inch picture frame, and put it on my desk. Ironically in a much larger, much less ornate frame. As a reminder. That will hopefully work.
All I have to do today is describe what I can see in that one-inch picture frame. That’s not so bad, right?
At birth, everyone is given a giant block of marble. In our early years, our parents place in our hands a hammer and chisel, and show us how to hold them. In school, our teachers show us the blocks of marble those figures of the past carved for themselves. And give us instructions on how we can chisel away at our own blocks.
Soon, we start to lay hammer and chisel to stone, and piece by piece, we slowly chip away at the edges. As we grow older, the chips grow larger and shapes start to emerge from our giant blocks of marble.
For years we carve. Each of us making the best of what we have. Some are given more tools, some are given less. The instructions change, the chisels break, the system is not always fair. But the block of marble is always the same. And, if we’d like, we can shape it the best we can.
Eventually, we will strike the final hammer blow, drop our tools, and step back to see what we have wrought.
There’s a mantra coined by the famed YouTubers of the past, passed down over and over to us aspiring creators who were watching their channels: “Tell better stories” we were told. This, often accompanied by the equally problematic “Gear doesn’t matter.” But that gripe will surface another day.
I don’t think the term “Tell better stories” is a very helpful one. Casey Neistat, one of the Godfather’s of online video, did not always tell interesting stories. He often told rather mundane stories. Showing daily life, mowing his lawn. Or how to build an iPhone dock. Or a short vlog about his iconic sunglasses.
These stories are not interestingstories in and of themselves. If someone said to you, “Tell better stories,” you would probably not think to make a movie giving a tour of an expensive airplane seat or a comparison of smartphone cameras. It is how these stories are crafted that makes them interesting. It is the cinematography, the editing, the style. It is the personality and the craft.
Sure, you can find big, grand stories to tell, but those stories will be wasted if you don’t know how to tell them. The best joke in the world can be butchered by someone with no comedic timing. So, I think we should stop saying “Tell better stories,” and starting spreading the message to “Tell stories better.” It’s a slight change, but one that, to me, makes all the difference.
Focus on telling ANY story better, the more mundane the story, the harder it will be to make it entertaining, and the better practice it will be. Don’t tell better stories, tell stories better.