Three Steps to Writing a Story

In my line of work I’m constantly telling people that the best thing they can do for their marketing is to blog. Every department in an organization has something to contribute to a brand’s story. My biggest obstacle to this recommendation is “I’m not a writer” or “I don’t have the time.”

Likewise, with Gone Dogs, I’ve had at least a dozen people tell me they’re going to submit a story, but so far none have. In fact half of these folks have contacted me to say, “I’m not a writer. It’s not very good.” I get that. Very few people are employed as writers.

So although we’ve received some great stories for Gone Dogs, we still don’t have nearly enough entries for a book. Which is why we’re extending our submission deadline to 31 December. This may seem far off, but I’m here to tell you that if you intend to submit a story, don’t wait. Just write.

I assure you, if you’ve had a dog in your life, there’s a story in you. And we want those stories. Part of our model is to tighten and tweak story entries so that they’re amazing when we go to publish. We will work with you to sweeten your story so that it sings.

This editing process is why we charge a fee for submissions. Trust me, nothing we’re doing now is geared at generating revenue. That will only come when we sell the book. For now, we’re dumping everything back into ensuring that this book is as strong as possible. We don’t want to publish a book just to say we published a book. We want this thing to be something that people love.

And to do that we need those intimate, funny, heartbreaking stories that come with every dog we spend life with. Don’t worry about whether you’re a good enough writer. Just write.

That said, here are three suggestions to help you get started:

  1. Consider the angle. What’s the one story you remember most? That’s the one people will identify with. Let’s say your dog used to howl at firetrucks and one day as a truck flew past your apartment on its way to a 3-alarm fire, his howling set off the sprinkler system in your building. That’s a story! Or maybe the day you brought your first child home your dog shifted from playful pup to cautious guardian and stayed that way til the end. Again, this is a story. We’re not necessarily looking for a catalogue of a dog’s life. This is a book of short stories, not a novel.
  2. Commit to writing. Because you’re not a writer, you probably don’t have the training to bang out a story quickly. You should probably expect a minimum of two-hours to get something down that you can submit. So once you have your angle, open your calendar and pick a day where you can sit down for two hours and focus with minimal (preferably no) interruptions. If you can’t commit to those two hours, circle a date on your calendar for your story to be complete and then commit to being accountable to this date. You’ll never start writing if you don’t commit the time.
  3. Write. You have your angle. You have your time. Now start. Open a blank document on a screen, or grab a notebook and pen. It doesn’t matter how you do it–you have to start. And when you do, that’s when the magic happens. You see, we’re all storytellers. Once you begin, your story will flow out of you. Stephen King once told me (in my audio book) that you’ve got to “trust the process.” That’s how I finally mustered the courage to write my first novel. I trusted in the process. And if I could do it for a whole novel (even though it’s barely 200 pages), you most certainly can do it for 1000 words or so (almost the exact length of this very post). Just remember, the hero of your story isn’t you or your writing. It’s your dog. Let that shine through.

When you’ve finished your first draft, put it down and walk away. Don’t even glance at it for at least 24 hours. Just leave it alone. After 24 hours you can go back and read it. Feel free to correct any glaring issues you find, but don’t worry about major editing. And don’t agonize over trying to make your story sound better. If you feel like you communicated the core idea of your story, then it’s ready to submit.

You may go back to your story and think, “This is total crap. I’m not submitting it. I’ll do it over again later.” But then you never will (I know from experience.) And then the world is missing out on a great story because you self-edited and second-guessed yourself and decided that it wasn’t good enough. Trust me when I say all we need is for you share your story. We have copy editors to make sure it sounds amazing.

So please, take the time today to commit to writing your dog’s story so we can include it in Gone Dogs.

I promise you’ll be extremely proud to be part of this book.

Note: Not all stories will be published in Gone Dogs. We expect to select 35 stories for the book and hope to receive 350 to choose from. The ones we select won’t be based on whether the author is a professional writer (though we definitely will have some submit), but rather on strength of story.

Tell us your story.

– Jim

*Photo of Spencer and a friend, courtesy Bob Aycock

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