writing advice

Finding the Purpose

Upon reading a recent post where I discussed pens and an old friend from high school, my sister Lauren pointed out her wish for a broader why? in the writing.

“As it stands,” she said, “it’s warm and innocent and beautiful.” Stop it, I’m blushing.

“But if I had a wish,” she went went on, “I’d love to read this with a little more about the why’s, the lessons, or a parallel into some other life truth or something weaved in.”

Well. Yes, she’s right. In writing, I so often find myself stopping at my original thought. But this often leaves my writing feeling unfinished, without depth. When I finish my original thought, I need to stop and think how does this connect to broader life? Why does this matter?

This is something that Hank and John Green do beautifully in the weekly videos on their Vlogbrothers YouTube channel.

Hank even describes this phenomenon at 2:55 in this lovely video about arbitrary human design.

And just for fun, here is another Vlogbrothers video, made by John this time. It’s one of my favorites.

I think the thoughts bouncing around in my head at present can be summed up in the words purpose and meaning. That’s what I feel I’m often missing in my work.

What is the purpose of this story? Of this drawing? The meaning of this video? What am I hoping for friends and folks to get out of this thing I’m making? If it is simply beauty, then great. But there is often more room than I think for deeper purpose and beauty to live side by side.

That’s something I’m trying to learn right now. How to infuse purpose and meaning.

Those are very abstract words that do not lend themselves to a very tangible goal, but I will work on reducing the thought down in the stew pot of my mind to a more understandable objective.

Lessons from Malcolm Gladwell’s masterclass

1. The ultimate question is “what is interesting?”

– Imperfection is interesting
– Failure can be interesting

2. Interesting doesn’t mean it’s clean or that the protagonist gets what they want.

3. Incomplete stories, without that final piece that wraps it up nicely, can be the stories that stick in a readers mind the longest…

4. Give your audience meat to chew on and think about, but give them candy too – funny little moments that are easy to consume and share with others.

5. Surprise vs. Suspense

– Surprise: New, revelatory information out of the blue
– Suspense: Keeping information secret that the reader knows it is missing and needs

6. Library nonfiction shelves are arranged like a conversation – categories blend into each other and teach you how to think.

7. Stories must challenge, transport or transform.

8. Use comparison and contrast of characters in and of itself to help describe and flesh out individual characters. The contrast, and how characters respond to each other is often revealing.

Gladwell’s may be my favorite class I’ve taken so far in my learning challenge. He is incredibly engaging, and teaches through his storytelling. His course is on Masterclass. I highly recommend it along with all of his books.