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The Radical Act of Honesty to Write Stories That Stick


I shared a story inspired by something my 5-year-old did that caught my attention the other day.

It didn’t go viral. 

But for the couple hundred people who saw it on Medium as well as a few thousand on Twitterand in my newsletter, it clearly resonated as I’ve received 50-plus comments and two dozen direct messages in the last 24 hours. 

It’s an odd story — a story about a boy and a giraffe.

Here’s a quick rendition  — 

“I found my 5-year-old boy quietly drawing at our kitchen table. I wanted to join him. But since he was biting his tongue clearly lost in concentration — and remembering how much I hate it when people bother me when I’m in the “biting-tongue” zone — I stayed silent.

Every few minutes though, curious as to what he was so obsessed with, I walked by to sneak a peak. ‘Is that a yellow cow?’ I thought to myself only seeing partial snippets. ‘Or maybe it’s an overweight cheetah?’

When the tongue-biting was finally done, I went over to him and asked, ‘That’s super cool, what is it?’

The next words that came out of his mouth leveled me. With the exception of the time he scored a goal on me and then proceeded to moon me, I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder to be his dad.

‘I’ve never seen a giraffe without a neck before,’ he said, ‘and I wanted to see one — so I drew one.’”

I know I’m biased.

But I couldn’t help thinking that regardless of him being mine — and mine being him — they were the most inspiring words I’d ever heard before.

Everywhere we turn, we’re reminded to please our audience. To write to just one person. To give them what they want. To turn them into raving fans.

I get it. 
I play it. 
I respect it.
The reason I write is to build infinite bridges.

But there’s also a lot of value in stealing a line from my boy and being selfish from time to time to experience the joy that comes from creating for an audience of none.

This little-big lesson brought out an array of comments. Comments on the importance of following our nose wherever it goes. Comments on the importance of making what we want to see in the world. Comments on how good it feels when we just be.

No fancy polish.
Zero packaging.
Choosing real.
Only raw.

I think the feeling that underpins all the comments people had was just how damn pure my kid’s intentions were — and it resonated because people want honesty more.

I teach storytelling at universities and help people with their books and from time to time I get asked for tactics on how to write stories that stick. 

I’ve got some tips and I’ve got some tricks but the tactic that creates the strongest bond is not having a tactic at all.

Storytelling today is defined in many different shapes and shades.

The business side tells you to aim your words at your audience to begin or cement those relationships. 

But there’s another side of storytelling it’s easy to lose track of in our never-ending pursuit for world domination.

The side of storytelling that’s rooted in art.

In self-expression.
In sharing your experience. 
In saying, “This is my story — take it or leave it.”

Sharing your story through the lens of art may not lead to constant virality.

But when your honest story filled with bumps and bruises and warts and wonder does connect with someone, worlds collide.

Worlds where people don’t just want to follow your flag. 
Worlds where instead, people take your hand and carry it with you.

If people want anything — it’s choice.

The choice to make their own decisions.
The choice to decide what’s best for them.
The choice to decide whose story they want to be a part of.

I thought after I published my kid’s lesson, I’d move on from his neckless giraffe but clearly, it’s stayed with me. 

It got me thinking much deeper about the power of authenticity. 

But not the type of authenticity where we shout “I’m being me!”

The type of authenticity that doesn’t feel the need to shout anything at all.

The type of authenticity where we just be.

Everything good that’s come into my life is a result of the handful of times I didn’t try, I just was.

Zero intentions. 
No audience consideration.
Fuck marketing.

Stories that were my truth from start to finish.
Stories where the tactic was not having a tactic.
Stories that I simply lived.

I need to do that more.

To be more honest.

To make the stuff I want to see in the world.

To draw a giraffe without a neck.

This is a variation of my most recent newsletter read by 7,000+ curious minds yesterday. If it resonates, feel free to join for scribblings and ramblings that don’t always take the shape of an article.

Thank you for reading.
It means a lot.
 — Michael