“I’m a writer” is a statement I avoided for a while. After all, it takes courage to admit you’re lacking the more validated “I’m an author” (read: published). It’s safer for our fragile egos to be closet writers, querying agents and editors in secret until we can make the grand social-media announcement that our book is coming out in actual print with actual binding and have everyone comment, “Oh! I had no idea you write!”

But at a certain point I said to hell with being a coward and laid it out there:

“Yes, I write. Because I have to. Whether or not any of it is ever published, I write novels because I love it. When I’m not writing daily, I feel grumpy and lost.”

However, there was a second distinction I bypassed longer: being a storyteller.

As an English major, grammarphile, and college comp professor, I had far more confidence in my ability to string words together than story elements. I stumbled through the process with two novels, faking my way through characters and setting and plot, wishing I were the kind of person whose imaginary tales flow out as naturally as spider’s silk into precisely woven, intricately beautiful structures.

Then last fall I taught “Intro to Novel Writing” for the first time. It’s true that you learn the most by teaching others, and all my on-the-job training from those closet writing years gelled as I guided aspiring novelists and mastered concepts alongside them.

In the months since then I keep coming back to two thoughts:

  1. am a storyteller! I tell stories all the time. I use stories to make a point even in casual conversation. And my latest novel works. I love it for both its writing and its story.
  2. I want to keep inspiring other fledgling writers and storytellers to discover that same confidence.

I am back at the beginning now. My finished novel is in the hands of beta readers, soon to be sent off to agents, so it’s time to piece together a new story. Something exciting! Something mysterious! Something I will love writing as much as I loved this last book—if not more! Even though at present I have not even an inkling of an idea what that will be!

What better time to start blogging again and share the process with you from start to finish?

So here is my first offering: a compilation of tips from Pixar story artist Emma Coats. We examined this in my novel class last semester, I’m showing it to my comp classes this week, and I’ve got it open on my computer today as I brainstorm. Some of these tips are useful from the get-go; others you’d stash in your mind for later on.

I’ve heard lots of “rules” over the years:

  • Write what you know.
  • Write what you love.
  • Write what you think you can’t.

All those are great, but these ones get at the heart of what makes a story work.


My favorite is #14. What’s yours?


2 thoughts on “Becoming a Storyteller

  1. The one that will help me the most was #9 but the one that I appreciated the most was #7 because I always have an ending before my middle and I write toward it.


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