The power of the personal story

Word count: 518 words

Reading time: About 2 minutes

Even when I don’t go looking for stories, I seem to fall over them. If you’re a writer, be sure to keep an eye out for them, too….

I took myself out for lunch following my blog launch. I wanted a bit of a walk, so I chose a restaurant about 20 minutes away by foot. And — after an extraordinarily hectic week, even by my own lunatic standards  — I deeply craved quiet, so I went to a place that is almost zen-like in its tranquility.

I took my Alpha-neosmart with me and wrote for 10 minutes while waiting for my food. Then lunch arrived and I relaxed. I briefly wondered if I enjoy eating out on my own so much because I’m the mother of 17-year-old triplets?

After I’d started on my salad, the waiter suddenly ambled towards me. “Do you mind if I ask you something?” he inquired. I smiled and said, “Please, go ahead,” ignoring the “oh no” reverberating in the back of my mind. He then asked me a question about writing. I answered him politely and he went away. If I were given a cup of water for every stranger who had a writing question, I’d be swimming in an Olympic-sized pool by now….

A few minutes later he was back, making me think of a puppy who’d found someone to feed him treats under the table. The “oh no” in my brain was now blaring like a foghorn.

But then he told me a story. It wasn’t an easy account, but it was compelling. My waiter was a lymphoma survivor and he’s now been 100% free of cancer for five years. He credits his dramatic lifestyle change (from a pack-a-day smoker for 30 years to a vegan who practices yoga and meditation) with his survival. We chatted amiably for about 10 minutes and I felt all the richer for getting to know a stranger in my own neighbourhood. Suddenly, the city of Vancouver felt like a small town.

What made this dramatic change possible? The power of the personal story.

Stories carry so much weight! Why don’t more bloggers tell more stories? In my trusty little RSS reader I follow 83 blogs. (As I counted them up just now I could scarcely believe that total myself! Thank goodness few of them post every day or I’d be doing nothing but reading blogs.) Despite that number, I could count on one hand the bloggers who bother to tell stories.

Perhaps the bloggers believe stories take too many words (they don’t.) Maybe they can’t think of any good stories (they’re not thinking hard enough.) Maybe they believe facts are more important (they’re wrong.)

To change readers’ minds, you need to speak to their hearts. Telling stories is not just the best way to accomplish that — it’s the only way. Poet Maya Angelou put it succinctly when she said: There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.”

Whether you’re writing a blog or a press release, tell more stories, just as I did at the beginning of this column. Your readers will not only thank you, they’ll also be more engaged and more likely to believe whatever it is you need to tell them.

Photo courtesy umjanedoan, Flickr Creative Commons