Let me get this off my chest real quick: I am infatuated with Taylor Swift. I blame Netflix and its newly released documentary, Miss Americana, which has thrown me into an obsessive 24/7 binge of her music.
Moving right along, let’s jump into the topic of Ira Glass and storytelling.
For those unfamiliar, Ira is an American public radio personality and the host and producer of the radio and television show This American Life.
In a video I watched years ago, “Ira Glass on Storytelling,” he discusses anecdotes as being one of the two basic building blocks of a story. He explains how compelling anecdotes can be and why they are a big reason we like the idea of the story so much.
“…What I’m telling you is the most boring possible fact pattern. And yet, there’s suspense in it. It feels like something’s going to happen. And the reason why is because—literally—it’s a sequence of events like ‘This guy is doing this thing. He’s moving from space to space.’”
“You can feel through its form—that when you have one thing leading to the next, leading to the next, you can feel inherently, that you’re on a train that has a destination.”
Storytelling at an Early Age
When I was nine years old, my parents went through a divorce. I was in the fourth grade and my homeroom teacher, Mrs. Terdich, watched me process the unraveling of my life through weekly journal submissions.
I wrote. I wrote deeply. I wrote about things and went to emotional levels that were far ahead of my age. I was nine. And I was depressed.
The refuge I sought in writing became a pattern throughout my life and is a place that, to this day, I go to when I feel like I have something important to say.
Over the years, I have spent a lot of energy transitioning my negative thinking into a voice of positivity. I have found that it is far more rewarding to help people than it is to drag them into emotional mess I find myself in.
One night, my former business partner and (current) friend, Brian Clark, encouraged me by saying, “People want hope. You need to channel your energy into providing hope for people and help them with your expertise.”
It was a sobering exchange we had, but one that altered the way I chose to move forward. It’s something that never escapes me and drives me every time I design or write something that I send in my newsletter.
Storytelling by Taylor Swift
I am long known as being one of Sarah McLachlan’s biggest fans, but I admit that a proverbial changing-of-the-guard is taking place. Sarah will always be my first love, but there’s a new flame in my life—and it’s because of her storytelling. Back to Taylor.
Taylor Swift needs no introduction, but here’s what I know: Miss Americana left me gobsmacked and obliterated any preconceived notions I had about her.
I have watched the documentary more times than I’d care to admit, and each time, I find something new that’s worth writing about. I’ll save you from most of it, but for the sake of brevity (oops, too late), here was the biggest shock and takeaway for me:Taylor Swift has writing or co-writing credit on all of her songs.
This means—in some capacity—each of her 90+ songs (more than six hours of music) has an element of story in it—her story. It means that every single time we hear one of her songs, we are, as Ira puts it, on a train that has a destination. As a creator, it speaks volumes to me about who she is.
In a brilliant article, Taylor Swift’s Self-Scrutiny in “Miss Americana,” Amanda Petrusich writes (about the documentary):