Be a Writer (written May, 2005)

You’ve got something to say. You know it. Your associates know it. But you don’t regard yourself as “a writer.”

How are you going to express your wisdom?

How will you communicate your thoughts?

Yes, you can follow the path of J. Paul Getty, Lee Iacoccoa, and Donald Trump and hire someone to write your words. That works. But there is an easier way. I call this the “two step”, because that’s all there is to it. Here’s the secret in a nutshell:

Step one is state your principle. Step two is illustrating it. Pretty simple dance routine, right? Yet you can use this method to write any type of non-fiction – whether it’s your life story, a school paper, an executive brief, or a full-length scholarly book. (Actually, the scholars sorely need this method. They’re too stuffy!)

I was reminded of this method while reading a book from the 1940’s. I noticed that throughout the book the author would make a statement and then illustrate it with a story. The more I thought it; I felt this was the easiest way to write anything. Here’s how it works:

  1. Make a list of the ideas you want to communicate. Pretend these are laws, rules, insights, commandments, theories, or whatever will work for you.

 What you’re looking for is a list of messages. For example, I was working with a body-mind therapist and I told him about this method. I said; “one of your messages is that people can have whatever they want, as long as they aren’t attached to how they get it.” he nodded.

 “Another message of yours is that the energy we put out is the result we get.” he nodded again. “Those are your key points,” I explained. “Write those down. That’s easy. All you do is pull out a sheet of paper or turn on your laptop, and just jot down the ideas you want to get across.”

  1. Now all you do is illustrate every point with three stories. This is what I liked about that book from the forties. The author made a statement then illustrated it with a story that made the statement come to life. “You have all kinds of stories to share,” I reminded my therapist friend. “For every point you make, support it with a story maybe tell how someone achieved a breakthrough following your main point. This reinforces your point and makes it easier to understand.” that’s it!

 Principle-Story, Principle-Story, Principle-Story.

You can take any subject and break it down this way. You’re making it easier on the readers, too. They don’t have to wade through a long involved tale. With this method, you can cut right to the point. You say, “Here’s what I believe,” and then you use a story to explain why you believe it.

The book from the forties that I’m referring to was “How To Develop Your Executive Ability” by Daniel Starch. I’m using it as an example of this two-step formula, and not necessarily urging you to run out and find a copy (it’s out of print, anyway).

I just pulled the book off the shelf and opened it at random. I’m looking at the chapter titled “Putting New Ideas To Work.” It Begins With A Statement.” Write them down at the time they come to you. It then spends four paragraphs giving lively quotes from Tolstoy, Darwin, and Robert Louis Stevenson about the importance of writing down your ideas when they come to you.

If you just write down your message or key point, it will sit on the page in a lifeless, very un-hypnotic way. If you want people to remember the message, if you want them to install the message in their skull, then tell a story that illustrates it.

Your stories don’t have to be classics of literature. A relevant quote can bring a statement to life. Stories from other people can bring your message to life. But most powerful and memorable of all the stories are from your own experience.

I just flipped open Starch’s book to chapter twenty-four, on “Turning Bad Breaks Into Opportunities.”  Right off the bat there’s a statement: “resolve not to be downed by failure” and then follows a page and half of stories about people who were in accidents and went on with their lives, including a quote from Cervantes and John Bunyan.

This supportive material awakens your message in the reader’s mind. You might notice that I just used this very technique to write this message. I told you there was a two-step formula for writing anything. Then I illustrated the two steps with stories from my clients, and with a story about the book that gave me the idea.

This “two-step” method works! The next time you have to write something, remember: principle-story, principle story, and principle story. It’s the easiest way to write anything. Be a Writer!

The author of this article is Larry Costello, President of All-American Print & Mail, 2200 Wilson Blvd #102-57, Arlington, VA 22201.