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Start at the Top. Again. (Copywriting Tip #10)

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Tell Yourself the Story

Imagine holding a long piece of tangled fabric. You hold it high above your head because you want gravity to gradually unravel the twists and tangles. Maybe you shake it. Probably you smooth it out: starting at the top again and again and work your way down the length to get the fabric straight or flat.

Many threads to unravel.

Many threads to unravel.

What works for fabric also works for a complicated idea. Sometimes the only way to unravel a complicated topic is go back again and again to the beginning, flattening and shaking out the twists and turns as you retell the story.

I’ve recently finished up a complicated article about our changing health care system. The article had lots of moving parts. It was not a long article, just dense and in need of translation: from jargon-filled, industry-speak to human.

Time and again I found myself stuck in the middle and staring at the screen: so many bits and pieces to fit. Absolutely stuck and wondering how to line these parts up so they make sense (and so they are sorta interesting for the target audience). Because in the end we read one word after another. We read in a linear way, even though the story may compose itself in our brainpan in non-linear chunks.

The only way I could get myself unstuck was to start at the beginning again. Back to that very first paragraph, and work my way through. Sometimes I would modify that paragraph to fit what was next. Sometimes I would modify what was next to fit the lede. But the only way forward was through the beginning.

During National Novel Writing Month I found myself doing this, mostly as a way to find out where the story was going and how it could possibly move forward. It was a way of telling myself the story hidden in the words already written. There are one thousand ways to write the story and some will present as we retell it to ourselves. And so we pick one.

Sometimes retelling the story again and again is the only way forward, because it leads to understanding:

By the way, a wonderful book about locating the story of your own life is Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak. Check it out.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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Written by kirkistan

January 13, 2015 at 9:27 am

One Response

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  1. […] solution. We’ll learn how to bend time and write fast while you still know nothing, and how to lift and separate and how to map your way around a problem and how to start at the top again and again. And how to […]


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