We Forget Everything Except How We Feel

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I was teaching a Fearless Marketing workshop at a writer’s conference recently when I asked one of the students what she did when she wasn’t writing. “I’m in marketing, actually,” she admitted. The rest of the class and I laughed, and I asked her why she was taking the workshop. She smiled and shrugged. “I guess it’s harder to market my stuff.”

The next day during breakfast this same student joined some other attendees and me at our table as that morning’s Keynote speaker was being introduced. She mentioned that she had enjoyed my keynote at this same conference three years before. “Actually,” she confessed, “that’s really why I took your class yesterday. I felt really good after you gave it.”

“Well, that was the goal!” I joked. “What was that one about anyway?”

“I don’t know, something about believing in yourself.”

In fact, I soon remembered that that keynote was about stories, about how you have to choose the stories that serve your life rather than serving some story that someone chose for you. I was delighted, however, that she couldn’t actually remember anything I’d said. It reaffirmed what I’d long believed about writing and teaching and life itself: all that matters in the end, all we ever care about, is how we feel.

If you’re a writer, your readers will absolutely forget 99% of what you’ve written, whether they love your stories or hate them. They will forget the characters you bore and raised like your own children, they will forget that one sentence you just nailed, they will forget the plot twists and foreshadowing and cliffhanger chapter endings. But they will remember how you left them feeling. And if you left them feeling better at the end of your story than they did at the beginning of your story, they will want to read another.

Writing a story can seem very complicated. There are so many details to curate and discover, so many sentences you have to construct, so many paths you must abandon to find a story’s true path. Yet every story’s goal remains incredibly simple: to help a stranger feel a little better. We are feeling merchants, we storytellers. But we cannot share what we do not already have, and once given we are always left with more of what we offered another.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.