I presented last weekend at The Wild Goose Festival, and it went really well. Afterwards, I spoke to a guy who told me about this passion he had, but he was having a hard time getting any traction because, “I’m just not a good storyteller like you are, Hugh.”
Please. Give me a break.
I am a good storyteller. I admit it, and I am proud of it. And I work really, really hard at it.
In the last ten years, I have read more than 100 books on storytelling, salesmanship and presentations. I have taken classes on presenting, I have invested thousands of dollars to learn how to tell stories better. I have a shelf of books in my library 5 feet long, packed with those books, which are all dog-eared and marked up. I write thousands of words a week of stories, and publish less than 10% of them.
I am a good storyteller because I decided to be good at it.
It’s not as if storytelling and speaking well in public was something innate, like red hair, parceled out at birth by a benevolent deity. It isn’t. It isn’t art. It’s craft.
And craft can be learned.
I failed writing classes – whole classes – in college. I once had an English teacher suggest I would be better suited for a vocational career, such as the building trades. And yet most of my income can be directly attributed to my words. It’s a skill. And thus can be learned.
Once you realize that most of life is composed of crafts – skills that can be learned and even mastered by nearly anyone willing to learn and practice – life seems a lot less scary, and much more manageable.
It also means you have a lot more control over your life than you thought you did. And have fewer excuses.
Because the guy who got the promotion instead of you because he is better at presentations wasn’t born with the presentation gene. He learned how to do that. The person who got the big book deal because they submitted a great book proposal wasn’t born with spontaneous book proposal knowledge. They learned how to do that.
And thus, so can you.
I think this is both self-evident,and alarmingly rare.
Go on any web forum for writers, and on the first page is someone asking how to get published. It isn’t a secret. There is a wall – a literal wall – of books at any chain bookstore on the subject.
It isn’t hidden in the ancient scrolls, guarded by the wise old man at the top of the mountain. How to find a market, do your research, write a proposal, submit it in keeping with the publisher’s guidelines – all of that is easily findable. And that is how you get published.
But that isn’t what we imagine happens. We aren’t really sure what does happen, exactly, but it must have to do with art and secrets.
There are no secrets. There is only work, and craft, and skill.