Takeaways from Ira Glass
Ira Glass, host and producer of This American Life on NPR, was in Boise this month. I was pumped about seeing him, my husband not so much. There were several important games on that night… but he accompanied me anyway. For that he gets something special in his stocking.
Ira Glass, skinny, hyper, wearing his trademark horn-rimmed glasses, was delightful. He strode up and down the stage of the Ann Morrison Center, hands waving, talking a mile a minute and virtually non-stop, except when he was manipulating his iPad to inject music or revealing snippets from previous shows. He has a lot of fans, and got laughs in all the right places. The theme of his presentation was Story. These are some of the things I took away from his fascinating and entertaining one-man show:
How a story works: It starts with an anecdote. Doesn’t have to be something amazing or violent… just a person doing something. Something happens, it leads to the next thing, which leads to the next thing, and the next thing… then there’s a pause for reflection… then something happens, it leads to the next thing and the next thing… pause for thought, repeat. As Scheherazade did in 1001 Nights. This story structure (keep ‘em wanting to find out what happens next, then a little payoff, which leads to a bigger payoff, etc.) has worked for literally thousands of years. It worked to save Scheherazade’s life by its power to fascinate.
How to become successful: A journalism student in the audience asked for his advice. He told her what she needed to hear: Write something at least every week. Finish it. Write more, and finish it! Look for stories everywhere. Read, listen, observe. Develop empathy, for that is what fiction and all good stories are about: getting into someone else’s head and thereby learning and growing from their experience.
Know that you are going to be bad: A lot of what you do will be awful. Or just trite and boring. It will miss the mark, and won’t live up to the lofty ideals you have in your head. As Mr. Glass pointed out, we create because we have good taste—but often there’s a gap between what we envision and what we actually produce. Don’t worry about it. If you can get past that moment of self-doubt and despair (I suck! I can’t ever be as good as “fill in name here”!) and keep on writing, you will succeed. You can close that gap.
Don’t be afraid: Go ahead and get excited about stuff. Be enthusiastic, ask questions, look dumb—even display your ignorance. Be curious. Connect. Our world is huge and varied, full of millions people with their own stories. The more we tell stories, listen to them, repeat them and share them, the more human we will be.
You can hear more by Googling Ira Glass on Storytelling.