Anyone Can Tell One Story. If You Can Tell Two, Then You’re A Storyteller.
Since I started an experiment in daily writing, I’ve written 75 full length posts and more than 100 responses.
The first fifty posts were easy. The next 25 were hard. And I’m scared to death I won’t be able to write any more.
This reminded me of something my friend Jim O’Grady told me. He’s now a reporter on WNYC and contributor to This American Life. However, his path to radio started on the Moth amateur storytelling circuit.
These events are held in bars. Potential storytellers put their names in a hat. And then a random selection is invited on stage to tell a five minute story. Jim worked from random selectee to evening champion to eventual grand champion.
That last honor comes from winning a grand slam competition against other Moth storytelling champions. So, in short, Jim knows a thing or two about storytelling.
And the following is something he told me that’s generally considered accepted wisdom on the Moth storytelling circuit.
“Anyone can tell one story. If you can tell two, then you’re a storyteller.”
The Moth story telling events work because every amateur they invite on stage is telling their absolute best story.
This is the story the amateur has practiced on friends for years, maybe even decades.
But to tell a second story, a person needs to have the skill, desire, inclination and energy to create that story from scratch. That’s the difference between an amateur and a pro.
I’m thinking about that quote today as I write this, my 76th full length post in an experiment to write every day.
During that time, I’ve written about 93,000 words. The average non-fiction book runs 50,000 to 75,000 words.
So basically, on a dare to myself, I wrote a book and a half.
But I’ve just recently hit the transition where to continue I need to develop professional skills.
The first fifty posts was my fully amateur writing. It’s not that they were bad posts— although they may have been. It’s that they required very little work. Every single one of those posts were based on concepts or ideas I’d been testing on people for years. I was basically writing off the top of my head.
The last 25 posts have been a huge challenge. They’re more time consuming. Finding the topics is harder. And I’m really having to question what it is that I want to accomplish.
Probably my favorite recent post is this: “Complete Guide to Reframing for Coaches and People Who Care About Smarter Decisions.”
It was one of the first posts where I had to act as a reporter, researching a topic that I only knew superficially. Research is a key skill for professional writers.
One of the reasons I started this project was to document the transition from amateur to master.
What I want to highlight for you now is that moment where something that was easy gets hard. That’s a key moment that should be exciting — that’s a moment with real growth.
In 2003, I stumbled into a book project to cover a niche programming topic called Regular Expressions. I was supposed to be a co-author and somehow ended up being the primary author. The writing process was a pain and I was bad at every step of it.
But at the end of writing, I was a world authority on Regular Expressions.
I carry the lesson from that book with me every day. Niche mastery is available to anyone with time.
All you do is research and summarize a topic. That’s how you become a master.
Hopefully you find that motivating and can consider what your version of the “second story that makes you a true storyteller.”