Saturday, August 9, 2014

Writer First--or Storyteller?

clipart courtesy of

"You can't visit readers where you think they are. You have to invite them home to where you are and try to lure them into your universe. That's the art of storytelling." --Jo Nesbo

We were on a walk together this morning, hubby and I, when we met a neighbor heading home from her walk. We greeted each other then stopped and chatted, spending a few minutes to catch up on life, mutual friends, and--as is often the proclivity of the grandparenting stage--updates on children and grandchildren. Oh, the stories we had to tell! Storytelling was in rare form out there under the August morning sun.  

I came home thinking about how we tell stories. We craft our tales in ways to get--and keep--someone's attention. We get animated. We are expressive. We are engaged. We have fun.

It should be that way with writing, too, shouldn't it? Hmmm. That got me thinking, too. Writing is fun or else we wouldn't stick with it. But can we admit that there are times when it isn't so much so? The times we get bogged down with form, structure, getting that beginning just right, stressing out over grammar, or any number of elements of crafting our stories. What happened to the initial glow of the idea? When did the light grow dim?

I contend that it's because we've lost sight of one of the fundamentals of being a writer: writers are storytellers. Later we we can stress out over...I mean...revise and apply all the craft techniques we've learned. But first immerse yourself in the fun of simply telling a story! Send that internal editor off on vacation for a while.

I stumbled across a great quote by Donald Maass, author of The Fire in Fiction and other great books on the craft of writing. It was actually in a comment thread over at Writer Unboxed where Liz Micalski wrote a post titled Writer, Author, or Storyteller? Mr. Maass commented, "There's nothing wrong with learning the business and working hard at it. However, what makes that possible in the first place is storytelling. First you write. Then you learn. then you relax. Then you tell stories."

Thanks much, Mr. Maass! 

Rachel, a guest blogger featured recently over at Story Addict, was asked the question,  "Writing vs. Storytelling--What's the Difference?" Her answer? "Writing is the technical aspect of conveying a story, whereas storytelling is the side of pure enjoyment and fun."

Others voice similar themes:

"I think storytelling is all about children. We human beings love to hear stories being told--and it first happens when you're a kid." --David Chase

"I've always been sort of drawn to storytelling, and I was always very playful growing up." --Megan Boone

"No, the thing is, we all love storytelling, and as a writer you get to tell stories all the time." --Joyce Carol Oates

"Storytelling is what lights my fire." --Hope Davis

Do we see a theme here? Are you having fun yet?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch at stated this: "We read Jane Austen and Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, even though their work is also stylistically dated, because all three told great stories. We're reading for the story, not for the sentences or the beautifully constructed metaphor." She concludes with an interesting challenge: "Stop calling yourself a writer. The label is a misnomer. Call yourself a storyteller. And then prove it--over and over again."

Food for thought: are you a writer first--or a storyteller? Do you see the distinction? How do you approach the art of storytelling?  


  1. Oh, I loved this post! Thanks so much for such a great emphasis. Awhile back I was stressing due to trying to write articles to please an agent (she hoped that would make my historical mystery more marketable), and during that time, I really was starting to dislike writing! We've parted ways recently, and amicably, but one of the first things I noticed was that I got all enthused about writing my book(s) again. And, yes, I'm having fun again. Thanks for the great reminder of what it's all about. And thanks for the links, too. I will hurry over and explore them.

  2. Elizabeth, so glad you enjoyed this and, more importantly, so glad you are enjoying writing again! Sometimes we do have to step back a little but then we get perspective and dive back in. Thanks so much for sharing :-)

  3. I plan my stories to the nib, because that is so, so, so much fun for me ... but by your definition, I think that makes me a writer, not a storyteller. But once I have a rock solid structure on which to pin the artistry, I have so, so , so much fun with that as well.

    Frankly, I've often wondered if I'm a writer at all, much less a storyteller, due to all of the analysis that goes into my stories prior to, and during, the writing.

    But that, apparently, doesn't show in the final product. I was quite pleased when a contest judge, an editor for the line I'm targeting, said about my piece, that, (among other things), "the author is a storyteller."

  4. Fantastic endorsement from the contest judge, Cathy! That should settle the question as to whether or not you are a writer :-) Keep writing, keep having fun, and rest assured you are a storyteller--and apparently a good one at that! Thanks for the update. Your experience passes encouragement along to the rest of us...

  5. Interesting quotes and great food for thought! I've always thought of myself as more of a non fiction writer first, but once I get writing fiction, I can get lost (in a good way). Thanks for sharing and encouraging! :)