Figuring It Out
original image taken by Nigerian born/based photographer Lakin Ogunbanwo
As a storyteller, you spend a lot of time trying to string several thoughts together to tell a story. You start off with the "why." Why are you telling this story? Why does it matter? See the only way to tell a good story is to understand why it is your telling it. You must take what you understand to be the "why" of the story and create elements that will support that idea. You begin to add those elements until you have constructed the "who." Who is this story for? Who will be on the receiving end of this message? The "who" informs the delivery of the story. If your "who" is totally self-centered then you must tell the story with you in mind but if the story is for some little girl in the middle of the suburbs struggling with self-confidence you must then meet her where she is. To meet your "who" where they are is to honor the value of the receiver as an integral part of your storytelling process.
You continue to add elements to make the story exciting—to make it pleasurable to consume regardless of the form it takes. From here you discover the "how." How will you go about approaching said story? How will you structure this story so that it will resonate with your "who?" Does that girl in the suburbs care to read a 2000 word think piece on the importance of radical self-love or would she much rather watch a Youtuber talk about their depression and how they were able to climb out of it instead? So you find a perfect blend of what she needs and what you can offer and it isn’t until you get right here that you are able to stare at the "what" right in the face. What is it that you’re creating?
Simon Sinek in his 2009 Ted Talk uses his Golden Circle Theory to illustrate this very idea and explain how great leaders, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr to Steve Jobs, inspire action. The Golden Circle Theory places the "why" at the center and the "what" living on the outermost part of the circle telling his audience that, "people don't buy what you do; people buy why you do it."
I spend an exuberant amount of time tearing ideas apart, flipping them on their heads, and pulling out all of their moving parts as an attempt to discover their "whys." Why does this particular thought matter and why is it important for me to tell this story? See, the word count and the format and the grammar are all cool and dandy and help to make the story soar off the page but without the story—without the why—all of that is purposeless. I’ve come to understand the importance of vision. To both see what it is I can’t quite touch with hopes of putting together these nuanced stories and ideas but also being able to see what is right in front of me. As much as vision is about seeing what’s beyond the moment, it’s also very much about examining what is right in front of you. To truly see requires one to value the truth over all else.
As a writer, it is very important for me to tell the truth in all that I write. Some stories take days to craft while others take just a few hours. I am not the best writer. I don’t have the best grammar and it takes me hours on end to turn an idea into a stellar opening paragraph. In fact, I can tell you that I absolutely detest writing. It’s emotionally draining and time-consuming and comes with very little payoff but I love telling stories. Honest stories. Stories that are created with a particular "who" in mind. Stories that transform because my "who" understands that the "why" is centered around the things that matter most to them. Stories that, even if the "what" isn’t an award winning article, still connect for at the center of that Golden Circle is the truth.
There are times where the "why" keeps me up late at night. I want that girl who loves taking selfies to understand that, yes, selfie-taking is a key element in radical self-love. Heck, Frida Kahlo would’ve totally taken several selfies a day if she could. Or times where the "why" and the "what" can’t seem to find common ground. The sentence structure is weak and the prose is dull. I write and re-write and walk away and come back the next day only to find that the "why" was self-indulgent. The "why" was about creating a great story that people would love and tell me how much they loved. Or the "why" was about getting that one writer to recognize my work and talent and therefore want to read some of my older work. I have come to know that the work I create has very little to do with me. All the hours of writing and re-writing are to serve the story. The story means everything. I’m just figuring that out.