My Top 5 Storytelling Resources

I can’t believe that I am eight months into the year of story! It’s been amazing journey and I can feel my approach to storytelling changing in small but profound ways. Sometimes changing your approach is uncomfortable. It makes you ask questions that you’d never considered and challenges you to do things differently.

I’ve read dozens of books, spent countless hours in online courses, and done some serious digging into the storytelling community. So I wanted to share some of my favorite discoveries from this journey. I hope that they will help you in your storytelling journey.

Power Your Podcast Storytelling by Alex Blumberg on Creative Live

I don’t have a podcast, but this is the best course I have ever purchased on Creativelive. Alex is the master of the interview and gives very specific instruction on how to create and direct a good interview. Then he helps you craft powerful stories. Prepare to have your sock blown of! He has single handedly changed that way that I interview for multimedia pieces.

 

The Storytelling Nonprofit: A Practical Guide to Telling Stories That Raise Money and Awareness by Vanessa Chase Lockshin

I have followed Vanessa’s blog for the last year and took an online course she offered. I got to meet her at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference in 2015 so I expect this post makes me an official fan girl. Her book primarily focuses on writing good stories for fundraising and donor retention. But fear not, visual storytellers, there’s plenty of solid information that we can apply to the stories we create. I often refer back to her story structure formula: Connection, Character, Conflict, Resolution, and Call 2 Action. This is invaluable when I am editing a story together.

 

Humanitarian Filmmaker Kate Lord on Involving Beneficiaries in the Filmmaking Process

Shameless self-promotion alert! I did an amazing interview with Kate Lord for NGOStorytelling that was a major light bulb moment in my storytelling journey. In the interview, Kate talks about her process of inclusive editing. She works with beneficiaries throughout the editing process to make sure they are comfortable with the way the story is being told. I realized that most of the stories that I created had zero input from the beneficiaries after the shoot. I can’t wait to start collaborating with beneficiaries to tell the stories that they want to share.  This just goes to show that no matter how long you’ve been telling stories you always have something more to learn.

 

The Living Brave Semester by Brené Brown

This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me well, but when I learned that Brené Brown was going to be offering an online course, I couldn’t sign up fast enough. This course is based on her books Rising Strong & Daring Greatly and it might seem like a strange choice in the line up storytelling resources. But I believe that in order to engage in honest storytelling, you need to be in touch with your own story. Brené started me on a journey of self discovery that has allowed me to be a more vulnerable person who holds sacred space for the people who wish to share their story with me. And she’s going to start the second round of this course in January 2017!

 

Ira Glass On Storytelling

My favorite discovery on this journey is a four part video series by Ira Glass. You’ll probably remember that I wrote a post on the first video of his series. But he has three more that are absolutely inspirational. Every aspiring artists should watch these and be inspired by his words.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is a gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quite. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume o work that you will close the gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve every met. It’s going to take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You just gotta fight your way through it.”

This series gave me such hope about what is possible with my work if I just keep producing. So if your discouraged or unsure if you should move forward. Watch it and be inspired!

Compassion is My Superpower

I am an empathetic person. I cry during movies.  You might even see me shed a tear when a commercial pulls at my heart strings. I feel things deeply, and there's nothing I can do about it.

My empathy turned into a problem when I was a graduate student. I was told that I wasn’t tough enough to be to be a photojournalist. I’ve been shooting for fourteen years (albeit I prefer documentary photographer to photojournalist). My compassion allows me to connect with people around the world and to tell their stories.

Sometimes my compassion and intuition tell me to put the camera down.  I can feel if my subjects are uncomfortable and I am duty bound to do what is best for them. Sometimes I choose to put the camera down so I can share experiences over a cup of tea. There have certainly been a few lost photographic opportunities. But I'd choose human connection over a spectacular photo any day. And I appreciate a spectacular photo.

I spent the last few years working exclusively with nonprofit organizations. It’s a magnificent way to see the world. But there are heartbreaking moments in between. I have come to discover that my job is not just to show up with my camera. My job is to capture reality and stay within the bounds of human dignity. My job is building a story that does not reduce my subjects to one-dimensional sad victims of life. My job is to use the human connection to dig deeper into the narrative.

My method requires time. It requires cultural understanding, curiosity and being open to where the story leads me. My life is surprisingly similar to the people I meet. No matter what their life story. We are all just people living our lives. 

Even the most vulnerable people that I photograph seek understanding. They have the capacity to improve their lives, they simply lack resources. I believe that compassionate storytelling holds the key to connecting vulnerable people with those resources. I hope my stories will inspire others to act with humanity, kindness, and purpose.

I look at the world, and I realize that I lucky enough to win the genetic lottery. I get live where meals are plentiful, health care is available, and I go to sleep at night feeling secure. I’d like to think that it is because of my hard work. But I was born a leg up in the world. So I try to take all that I was given and give back in some small way. So I tell stories. I meet people. I strive to understand the world beyond my own reality. But most of all, I try to have compassion and empathy for all the things I can't possible understand. 

My empathetic connection with humanity isn’t a weakness. It’s a superpower.