Storytelling and vulnerability are two of the most powerful tools artists have at their disposal. When you use them well people deeply connect with what you’re putting out there creatively whether it’s art, words, or music.
Contrary to popular belief you don’t need to be a writer to pull together a cohesive story. All you have to do is a) be willing to risk being seen and b) think about how you share small, impactful moments when you’re having a conversation.
So how do you do that?
Let me tell you a story! 😜
Last summer I decided to do a deep clean in our family room. My youngest kiddo – almost a teenager – had been nesting in that room for most of the pandemic. His computer is in there, his Legos, Playmobil, heavens knows what else. And we have this doggo – part Newfie – who has this big floofy tail and when he walks through the room his tail kind of swooshes anything that’s not nailed down all over the place. So you can imagine this kind of mess, right? It was preeeeetty bad.
This is the doggo in question, btw:
So I took a day and cleaned everything. Sucked cookie crumbs out of the sofa cushions. Crawled around digging Legos and chip wrappers and socks and forks (wtf?!?!) from under the sectional, pulled the curtains down and washed them, scrubbed the baseboards, cleared the cobwebs (sorry spiders better luck next time!). I cleaned EVERYTHING.
The next day I couldn’t get out of bed. My shoulders and hips were screaming and every cell in my body was angry with me. I was like, um, yeah I can’t end up this way every time I clean. I need to function just a litttttle bit better than this!
That was the morning I decided to run a 5K.
Forget that I’d never run that far in my life and spent the entire pandemic living on hummus and wine.
I really didn’t believe I could do it, but figured if the least I did was try I’d still be ahead of the game. I set a goal date of May 1, 2022.
I started out walking ten minutes a day. That’s it, no more, no less. Ten minutes and stop. I started with this because I knew I had to rebuild trust with myself. For years I said I wanted to start exercising again but I’m a pro at finding reasons (er, making excuses) to start tomorrow.
So I had to teach myself I could show up before I could start focusing on progress. Showing up was the hardest part!
And then I saw my friend Cryptolander posting his runs on Twitter every day. His posts almost always showed up in my timeline right when I was about to skip my walk. So I started checking in with him when I finished my walk to encourage him to keep going and to thank him for motivating me. At the time I didn’t realize how impactful his tweets would be. I can say now that without them I probably wouldn’t be able to call myself a runner. I’m so grateful he shared his stories.
Fast forward to today, ten days before my 5K goal date. No one is more surprised than I am that I’m gonna actually be able to do the damn thing! Running was and still is the easy part. The hard part was proving to myself over and over, day after day, that I can show up for myself and do hard things.
When I reflected on the past six months I realized something: showing up for my runs was the stated goal but I unintentionally started showing up for myself in other ways. I started prioritizing sleep, staying hydrated, eating healthier foods, and taking breaks from technology. I got brave and started selling the mixed media work I love creating but was never comfortable sharing. I allowed myself to start taking up space in creative communities and asking for opportunities. I dug deep and risked sharing some of my stories.
And nothing bad happened.
People didn’t hate me for sharing my stories, fucking things up along the way, or having opinions. In fact, it was the opposite. My community is kind, accepting, and encouraging. My life and creativity began to bloom in ways I’d never believed possible. I more deeply connected with my friends and made new ones who shared similar experiences and values.
When you learn (or remember how) to show up for yourself it’s kind of amazing what can happen. I couldn’t have predicted the ways working on ONE goal would change so many other things for the better.
In sharing all of this I hope I was able to demonstrate the elements of a complete story — this wasn’t about the mess or the running or the dog’s floofy tail or the achievement of a goal. It was a story about what was normal for me (a huge mess and an achy body!), the moment things changed (deciding to run a 5K), and how that change created my new normal (running a 5K and creative super powers!). I pulled in a relatable character (me!) in a familiar situation (mess! needing exercise!) and added some specific details (floofy doggo tail! diet of hummus and wine!) to help the story stay sticky in your brain.
This is something that works not just for the way we share our stories, but also in how we talk about our art.
Making art changes us on a molecular level. Some of us use our art to process thoughts, worries, or trauma. Others create art as a means to provoke a certain emotion or a connection with the viewer. There are stories in that process. It could be your genesis story, or how this particular piece of art changed the way you look at things, or maybe an experience you had where a piece of art brought up some strong feelings for you.
You might miss these stories if you’re not looking for them. There’s so much gold there it’s worth slowing down and investigating.
A few things I’d love for artists to remember:
Our stories are our power and what makes our art uniquely ours. It’s ok to go “off topic” and talk about things other than art – life, family, challenges. Sharing your stories provides opportunities to form deeper connections with your community.
Sharing your wins sometimes feels hard because we’re a little too humble for our own good…but when you do share your wins it creates a positive feedback loop to fall back on when things get hard. Celebrating wins no matter how small sticks in our brains!
Being willing to risk being seen gives your friends the opportunity to support you in the same way you show up for them. I see you out there showing up for your friendos but not nearly often enough for yourself.
You never know how the stories you share will impact someone. Something as simple as sharing your daily run could change someone else’s life.
If you use social media you have an opportunity to write on stage to see which stories resonate and how. That’s valuable insight which can help you refine your storytelling technique over time. You don’t have to tell stories perfectly. In fact, it’s best if your stories AREN’T perfect because over-refinement sucks all the life out of it.
There’s a part two to this conversation because I want to show you what it looks like when you use storytelling and vulnerability around an art project. Lots of artists struggle with this but I have a few ideas that might help.