#9 - What Do I Do When It’s Hard?

How to tell a story in the context of 2020

Storytelling isn’t easy. In fact, a lot of the time it requires you to invest your heart, energy, and time with uncertain outcomes. And that’s not including the context of the world around you and circumstances of your life.

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a year that has revealed a lot to us as individuals and as a society. It’s been fucking hard. And some days are harder than others; you get bad news or come up against an obstacle that feels insurmountable, and then you have to turn and tell a story. Whether it’s your job or your purpose, it demands that you turn to it. So, what do we do? As storytellers how do we continue to provide a lens and perspective about the world when it just feels hard? Journalists, writers, marketers we all as storytellers need to find ways to look at the world and our lives in the context of it and, even on the hard days, start.

Storytelling is exploration by another word. It’s about looking around, seeing something interesting, and digging deeper. That includes digging into the hard stuff. As someone working on a novel about mental illness, I started by experiencing a lot of really awful things within the Canadian mental health system. I wrote a story about it for the The Star when I worked there that was part of a larger series. But I had more to explore on the other side of that series. So I dug in to my own experiences and read books and dove deep into the heart of darkness. In it I eventually found some light to infuse into my story, a sense of hope. That’s when it really came to life through my main character, Melanie, and her own experience of the hard stuff.

As storytellers we are hope bringers, even when the stories are sad or hard and the world seems mean or cruel at first glance. I am not anybody’s Holly Golightly. I am mostly a pessimist, but the storyteller in me is always looking for the turning point. When the hero faces their dark night of the soul, what is the thing that pulls them out and forward? Is it your product as a marketer? Is it a new idea? Or does it end in the darkness with a question for the audience? Our job as storytellers is to figure that out and then tell the story that needs to be told.

But first you have to start. And keep trying. Even when it’s hard. If you lose a job or get a rejection or just can’t see the sun for all the clouds, take a moment, grieve, and then do a bit of excavation. There’s a story in there that’ll help us all as a society be better. I would almost call it a moral obligation. But also, in these hard hard times, start by taking care of yourself so that you feel able and ready to take on the hard stuff and share the stories that come out of them. The world in all its current madness desperately needs our stories.

This story on journalistic objectivity published in The Walrus speaks to the complexity of storytelling as a journalist of colour. It also digs in to some of the darkness at play in the world right now (and for far too long). Certainly worth an examination from any story teller.

If you found this note helpful as you work to tell stories in the context of 2020, please share it with friends and colleagues who think may also enjoy. And if you have thoughts or advice for those reading, please add it in the comments. This is one worth having a conversation about.