My new book, Hack into Your Creativity, is a collection of all kinds of story prompts for writers. From drama and comedy based starters to integration and visually inspired prompts, the book is full of creative mental and literary exercises that will even stimulate writers familiar experienced with a variety of prompts. The book also contains something else incredibly important: prompts that strongly encourage writers to look at themselves honestly. In fact, this is the secret to all great writing whether you write fiction, non-fiction, short-form, long -form, plays, scripts, and everything in between. Honesty is what counts. And it’s what readers remember.
So many of us, either consciously or unconsciously, want to show our readers how put together we are. We’re not trying to show off, but at the same time, we’re saying to another person, “I’ve got a set of ideas here that I think you’ll find new and interesting. Come take a look.” In doing this, we project ourselves as strong, confident, and aware of the context happening around us. We want to look all-knowing and, when we write fiction, we dream of creating characters that know where they’ve been and know where they’re going. Maybe we do this because that’s how we want to see ourselves. In essence, we think that our ability to impress the reader comes from exuding confidence and self-assurance.
But the secret to unforgettable storytelling is just the opposite. Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, the parts of a story that affect audiences the most, and the moments that they remember not just hours, but years after reading your story, are the moments where you or your characters look inside and discover when they fell short, where they felt humiliated, how things failed to work out despite their best efforts. In other words, vulnerability is the superpower that fuels all great stories. And for new writers it goes against the image of the confident, strong, and determined storyteller we think we’re supposed to be. Confidence is important. But it’s important in the sense that a writer must be confident enough to be honest about the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.
It’s important that all writers realize that even vulnerability can be overdone. When failure leads to failure only to lead to more failure, a story can run aground in “woe is me” mode, which is when instead of being curious about how the character or storyteller will escape this situation, we read their words as a plea for attention or help. A plea for attention can sometimes be part of a great story, but that can’t be the end of it. In other words, honesty leads to vulnerability, and then vulnerability leads to recognition of just what must be done in order to regather, recompose, and confront our biggest fears or greatest enemies (outside or inside). Vulnerability is a trigger to bigger things, not an endpoint in and of itself.
Hack into Your Creativity is a device that explores this territory. For example, one of the prompts asks you to describe the moment that you felt most embarrassed in your life. This is clearly part writing exercise and part therapy! Once you’ve written something down, the ability to possibly turn it into an actual story rather than just a diary entry hinges on your ability to find light at the end of the tunnel or to find strength, awareness, or insight in adversity. To turn this essay’s thesis on its head, great storytelling is about projecting confidence, but that confidence is the end of the journey, not the beginning. The kind of stories that readers never forget first take side trips into the dark waters of honesty and vulnerability where our deepest inadequacies are laid bare. Believe it or not, it’s from there that your true creativity springs.