Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey was a starving musician in mid-1970s Los Angeles. To supplement his meager income, he sublet the dirt floor basement of his apartment to another starving musician. Every morning, Frey would hear his tenant’s tea pot whistle, followed by the sound of a piano. Unknowingly, Jackson Brown was teaching Glenn Frey a valuable lesson.
“I wanted to write songs,” Frey tells the camera in a documentary called, The History of the Eagles, “but, I didn’t know how exactly.” Like most people, Frey imagined the creative process as waiting patiently for inspiration to strike. But that’s when Brown’s tea pot would spout.
“I learned through Jackson’s ceiling and my floor exactly how to write songs because Jackson would get up and he’d play the first verse and first chorus. And he’d play it twenty times until he had it just the way he wanted. And then there’d be silence. Then I’d hear the teapot go off again. And it’d be quiet for ten or twenty minutes. Then, I’d hear him start to play again. And there was the second verse. So, then he’d work on the second verse and he’d play it twenty times. And then he’d go back to the top of the song and he’d play the first verse, the first chorus, and the second verse another twenty times until he was really comfortable with it and you know–change a word here or there. I’m up there going, ‘So, that’s how you do it. Elbow grease. Time. Thought. Persistence.’”1
Folks, that’s the same process to write a story.
Elbow grease. Time. Thought. Persistence.
Sadly, most storytelling resources won’t tell you that. Instead, they’ll offer generic facts about our propensity to tell stories around campfires. They’ll tell you how our brains are wired for stories and that we’ve told them since caveman times. Others will give you high-level advice to “be yourself,” “be transparent,” or to follow some magical storyline formula. And while there’s a trace of truth in each of these vanilla statements, there’s only one way to be a great storyteller. You sit down like Jackson Brown and write. Then rewrite. Then think. And start the whole process over again.
Storytelling is about elbow grease. Time. Thought. Persistence.
There’s no substitution for the hard work necessary to create any story–whether it takes the form of a song, blog post, book, advertisement, marketing content, presentation, documentary, or movie. The best communicators bend the ugliest of first drafts to their will, add some details, remove others, and finally spit polish.
In other words: Elbow grease. Time. Thought. Persistence.
So, what do you think? Time to fire up that teapot?
Photo Credit: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/fsa1992001211/PP/
- planktonrules,The History of the Eagles, (n.p., 2016).