We join speaker Kathi Lipp and her guest host, Cheri Gregory as they complete the list of the top 10 skills speakers utilize and how they apply to their writing. If you are a speaker who wants to write, then this is a must-listen-to episode. What are publishers looking for? What assets do you possess and how do you translate them into a compelling and well-received book that serves your audience? Listen to Part 1 here.
In today’s episode, you will know:
- What are publishing houses looking for?
- Are you serving the right people?
- How to translate facial expressions into the written word.
- What rhetorical devices can do to/for the reader.
- The danger (and craft) of the rabbit trail.
- Why you need a team.
Writing at the Red House
Diane Dokko Kim
Marion Roach Smith
John Mulaney – comedian
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Transcript of this Episode
Read along with the podcast!
Communicator Academy Podcast # 163
How to Move Your Message from State to Page – Part 2
Are you feeling stuck? My friend, Bethany Howard, over at Permission to Post, offers creative brainstorming and development editing sessions. You guys, she’s a genius. Get unstuck. Elevate your impact with Permission to Post. Check out her link in the show notes to find out more.
Kathi – Well, hey friends! Welcome to Communicator Academy, where our heart is to equip and encourage men and women to be the communicators God has created them to be. Returning today is my best friend, Cheri Gregory. How to Move Your Message from the Stage to the Page. How did you find out that you were really good at coaching people for moving people from the stage to the page?
Cheri – Oh my goodness. I was, “What is the focus of my writing/coaching going to be?” And I’ll confess: I actually coached a few people who were real writers and they drove me bonkers. I was like, “I can’t deal with real writers!” There are other people who can. Then I got a few clients who were saying, “I’m a speaker, not a writer.”
Kathi – And we’re your favorite people.
Cheri – I love you people! It finally occurred to me, I’ve been working with Kathi Lipp for twelve years, of course! This is all so very familiar.
Kathi – I think we are the unreached people group of the writers.
Cheri – I think you’re right.
Kathi – And so, I am so glad they have sent you, as the missionary, to come forward and to translate. Let’s be clear, I love all my writer-ly writer friends. I love to read what you’re doing. But publishing houses are looking for speakers who write.
Cheri – It’s true.
Kathi – That doesn’t mean if you’re a writer-ly writer that that is a problem. It’s not. It’s just that, if you are a speaker who writes, that means you are probably out there, speaking.
Cheri – It also means you know your audience, whether is a small niche, or a slightly broader niche. And you’re going to love the marketing part because you love being in front of people and taking care of your people.
Kathi – What I loved yesterday, at Writing at the Red House, we had Diane Kim here, who is tremendous. When she was reluctantly pitching her book, she kept apologizing to her future agent, saying, “I don’t have a platform. I’ve been too busy speaking. I’ve been too busy meeting with groups of people.” Her agent was, “That IS your platform!” But, we’ve been told, “It’s your blog. It’s your numbers on Facebook.” No! It’s the people you’re serving. So, are you serving the right people? So, if you are a speaker who writes, you have disadvantages. I have disadvantages. It’s harder to write. Let’s be really clear. But you have lots of advantages, too.
Cheri – Can I just throw in an apology for all English teachers who have ever shamed speakers who write? In my experience, a lot of you, not all of you, many of you ended up with traumatic experiences with teachers who covered a paper with red pen. I’ve heard so many stories of some form of learning disability, even though everybody I work with is at genius level, IQ-wise. The number of speakers who need to write, who come to me believing they can’t write; that they are a lesser writer; that they actually don’t belong. They think they shouldn’t go to writers’ conferences, because they’re frauds. It’s just not true. I’m appalled and so sorry that teachers have made people feel that way. The lasting effect is lingering.
Kathi – I’m dyslexic, you guys know that. I think, had I not had Cheri in my life, I would not still be writing. It’s really true. I blame you for all of it.
Cheri – I’m so glad I’m in your life, then! The world would be such a sadder place.
Kathi – You’re very, very kind. I want to review the first five things we expect to have, as a speaker. We’ve already talked about them in the last episode. As a speaker, you’ve got a Captive Audience, Audience Response, Stage Blocking, Body Language, and Vocal Range. Those you don’t get as a writer. So, go back and listen to the last episode about how you can develop those things. We’re going to do the last five. Number Six is Facial Expressions.
Cheri – This is closely tied to your vocal range. Think of an audience, and if you’re a speaker, you’ve seen this happen, where you’ve said something, and suddenly, everybody looks at you. They’re double checking to see if they understood you correctly. Did you really mean it that way? Then they find out that you did, or they find out that you didn’t really mean it that way. Even if they’re in the back row, they can look at you for clarification. Here’s the thing: When a reader is reading a book, guess who they are never thinking about? They are never thinking about you. If they’re in a speaking audience, they are absolutely thinking about you because they are watching you. You are right there in front of them. The reader is thinking about themselves. So, as words are coming out, or as you’re making a description, if anything, she’s being reminded of people in her life. So, she may hear things and imagine the facial expression of an ex-boss, or a critical parent, or an encouraging whatever-it-might-be. Not only are you not there with your physical voice, but you’re not even there with your facial expressions. So, remember that you are much more distant, than you would be in a speaking situation.
Kathi – You can say harsh things on stage, and use your face to say, “I wasn’t that harsh.” You can’t do that in a book. We’re learning, friends. So, Number Six: Facial Expressions. For the super-expressive, like me, how do you translate that into a book?
Cheri – One of the ways I see, especially in non-fiction, will be the intrusive narrator. Where you’ll come in and say, “Dear Reader: Right at this moment, you’re thinking….”, “I just need you to know I’m right there with you.” But you say it with your words. We don’t do this a lot in non-fiction, but if it’s someplace you really need to get in their face and be very clear that they’re getting your heart for something. Or, you might say, “If I were there with you, I would be grabbing you by the throat and be right in your face right now. Please know that.” Or, “If I were there beside you right now, please know my arm would be around you. I would not just be handing you Kleenex, I would be using them myself.”
Kathi – The other thing I often say is, “You can’t see my face right now, but…” Whatever that is. Number Seven: Pacing and Pauses. I use this so much, when I’m telling the Starbucks story. The thing is, we’re also pacing and pausing for audience reaction, which we talked about earlier, that we’re not getting here. So, how do you translate that from stage to page, when it’s such a gut issue, when you’re on stage?
Cheri – We were so fortunate, Amy Carroll and I, with our book, Exhale, that we had an editor who allowed us to keep the way we had written. She didn’t force everything in to paragraphs. I write with much more of a blogging style. So, I use much more short fragments and short sentences that are short paragraphs of their own, when I want to slow things down. So, you can experiment, whether it’s blogging, or article writing, or book writing, you can experiment. I think it’s become much more popular to slow a sentence down by putting a period after every word. It. Was. The. Living. End. Because that translates what it is you’re trying to do. Sometimes you can use a single word, followed by a period as an entire paragraph. It tells the reader, visually, “I want you to slow down, here.” Or, you can speed things up by not using any punctuation and running it all together.
Kathi – I’ll sometimes do six words without any spaces in between.
Cheri – Exactly. There are distinct techniques that you can use and you can experiment. You mentioned this in our first part. Keep samples of writing, where you see it done effectively, as mentor texts.
Kathi – Where you feel like it’s happening there, for you. Number Eight: Rhetorical Devices. I love it. I just had this conversation with Michele. She’s like, “I’m passionate about the Oxford Comma.” I’m like, “I don’t think I actually know what the Oxford Comma is.” I mean, I know it’s about lists. “Eats, shoots, and leaves.” Rhetorical Devices, talk about what that is, because I know what rhetoric is. I know what being rhetorical is, but talk about Rhetorical Devices.
Cheri – These are just techniques that are used in persuasion. The one I’ll mention is repetition. So, what you can do from stage, especially if you’re bringing your message to a close, you can say, “There is always hope. There is always redemption. There is always…” and you can do a list of ten or twenty things, because, again, you’re walking around the stage. You’re using pacing and pausing. You’re using body language. You’re judging if the audience is responding. You might add more to that list, as a crescendo effect, because they’re there with you. You try to put that down on paper? First off, “There were…”, “There are…” are the worst possible way to start almost any sentence. Replace 75% of that in your writing immediately. Just the visual of all that repetition does not have anywhere near the same effect as it would if it was done on the stage. That’s one of those things that was hard for me. I have a message that I give that has a sticky statement that I repeat throughout. When I put it in my last book, our manuscript development team wanted me to take out two thirds of the repetition. They were tired. It wore them down. They felt like, “You’ve said it already. STOP.”
Kathi – The best example, I find, of this comedians. They can do callbacks from earlier things. We were just watching John Mulaney. He is definitely PG-13, friends. He is one of the best communicators of his generation. So, one of his jokes is, his babysitter, who he thought was 25 years old, come to find out, when he was 10, the babysitter with thirteen. He goes, “Thirteen? It just meant she could dial the phone slightly faster than I could. It was like a horse babysitting a dog.” So, then, later on, he talks about how he was at a party and they were just losing their minds. He said, “We were just a bunch of dogs without horses.”
Cheri – And it slayed us, because we knew exactly what he was talking about.
Kathi – We knew exactly what he was talking about. So, it’s the callback from ten minutes earlier. You can do that in your writing, saying, “I’m going back to something I referred to because it’s important, or because it’s going to make you remember this.” So, that’s an excellent writing technique. Number Nine: Ad Libbing. I am the Queen of Ad Libbing.
Cheri – For natural speakers, going off on rabbit trails is half of the fun of being in the audience. You feel like, “Oh my gosh!” Sometimes the speaker even says, “This wasn’t in my notes.” Then you lean forward, because you know you’re getting something customized just for you. It will probably not come out this way ever again. So that feels really special. You feel lucky. But, that kind of thing does not translate well to readers.
Kathi – So, what do you do? ‘Cause it does feel weird to say, “I’m going to ad lib in my writing.” So, do you pull people aside in your writing? What do you do? How do you do it?
Cheri – I think that just to recognize that you can’t just keep going off on rabbit trails. I think some people think that they’ve read some bestselling essayist who have a really quirky style, and they’re like, “Well, that writer always goes off on rabbit trails, so I’m going to do it in my writing.” But here’s the thing: If you’ve studied comedians at all, you know that standup comedians, who look like they’re saying it for the very first time, “This just occurred to me!” No, they’ve been practicing it for months to be able to come across as that spontaneous. So, even writers that appear to be going off on a tangent, who appear to have just had an idea come to them, that has probably been through so many revisions, you can’t even believe it.
Kathi – Exactly, and you can only ad lib on stage, if you know your material cold. John Mulaney, there’s one part where he ad libs in “New in Town”, when he sees the camera. He goes, “I don’t like robots thinking for themselves.” ‘Cause there’s another camera pointed at him that’s nodding. But he can only do that because he knows his material so well, he can go back and do that kind of thing. So, a writer, if you’re going to go off on a tangent at all, it has to be a well-planned tangent. You have to know how you’re going to get your audience back to the page. Such good stuff. Number Ten: Details. Now, this surprises me. I would think you could tell all the details you want in a book.
Cheri – Wouldn’t you? Part of the oral storytelling tradition is that we listen and listen, and you can throw in all the details you want. Now, a well-told story, as Michele has told many times, and I’ve heard her speak at Leverage. She is so careful about crafting, and rehearsing her stories to only keep in the best details. Let’s say you do ad lib a story for the first time. Your audience will forgive you for unnecessary details. It’s part of what we do. We smile. We nod. As long as you’re reasonably entertaining and you’re kind of going somewhere, they will go on that journey with you. When it comes to details in writing, Marion Roach Smith, who wrote The Memoir Project, says that details are currency. Your reader expects to spend every single dime you’ve given them. So, if you bring up a specific detail early in the book and it never goes anywhere, they’re going to feel, “What was that about?” They expect that those details are going to be important. So, just throwing in a ton of details, just for the sake of details actually comes across as amateurish and confusing and it’ll bog the reader down.
Kathi – You and I talked about this earlier in the week. You can describe and describe a person, a room. Your reader’s going to come up with their own picture. So, what’s more important is to give one, clarifying detail. “He walked into the room with white socks and pants that didn’t hit the top of his shoes.” That tells me he’s not into details. We might find out later that he’s an engineer who doesn’t think about how he dresses. I don’t need to know he had a blue shirt. I don’t need to know any of that stuff. That’s not important to me. Unless you’re writing cheesy romance, you don’t need to know every physical detail about a person. I don’t read cheesy romance. I read good romance, sometimes, but not cheesy. I almost don’t read romance. I just read great stories that just happened to have romance in them.
Cheri – That’s a great distinction.
Kathi – So, let’s go over those five again. I think they’re important for us to remember. Number Six: Facial Expressions. When you’re speaking, you get facial expressions, but your reader isn’t thinking about you at all. You need to know, in the written word, how you are expressing yourself. Are you being sarcastic? Are you doing something different? Number Seven: Pacing and Pauses. Cheri has explained that you can do through your writing style. Ellipses, one word per paragraph, running all the words together. You can even do hashtags.
Cheri – Yes! That’s a fun, new thing we’ve been able to add.
Kathi – Number Eight: Rhetorical Devices. Callbacks, repeating, alliteration, or something that’s going to help people remember. Don’t over-use it. Number Nine: Ad libbing. You can take a well-planned rabbit trail, just make sure you know where the bunny is heading. Number Ten: Details. Details are currency, is what Marion Roach Smith says.
Cheri – Your reader wants to spend them all.
Kathi – They want to spend them all. I love this. So, we’ve got all this. What would be your encouragement for the person who is going from the stage to the page? Who still don’t feel like they’ve got it all.
Cheri – Here’s the best thing I can say. Number one: It is very likely that you are a social writer. That’s a term I think I’ve coined (but if it’s somebody else, that’s okay). There’s a learning theory called Social Learning Theory, that some of us learn best when we’re interacting with others. I love working with speakers who are becoming writers, because they think that in order to be a real writer, they have to hole up in a cabin in the woods and write all by themselves. They’re rather poke both eyes out with a red pen than do that. So, the best thing for many of you who are speakers who need to write, is to realize you don’t have to write alone. You can have a writing coach. You can have a manuscript development team. You probably need to be in constant interaction with people as sounding boards. That’s what I realized was working with us as co-authors, is: I was your initial audience. I served as an audience.
Kathi – And right now, Lyneta Smith is my initial audience, and we will have people who will read it and give me feedback. I needed the accountability, too. I was waiting for my writing to get as good as other writers, and I just needed to write. So, I send my 500 words to Lynete each day, except for when I’m writing at The Red House, ’cause I’m not the one that’s writing. I’m making sure that everybody else can write.
Cheri – You’re running to Costco, so you can listen to an audiobook.
Kathi – This is true. But that was just one time. I promise, nobody missed out on any instruction. When we understand that; when we understand it doesn’t have to be sitting in a room all by ourselves. I still say, “Go to a cabin in the woods.” Just go with a bunch of people.
Cheri – Yeah! Absolutely.
Kathi – We’ve done that. I consider Susy a writers’ writer. I consider Michele a writers’ writer. And you! But you still want to get together and write.
Cheri – And I have a writing coach. That surprises people, but I cannot write without her. I get 60-80% done with whatever I’m doing: blog post, book chapter, then I hate it, and I want to cry, and I want to quit. So, I press ‘send’ on it, and I say, “Tell me what to keep, what to cut, what to clarify, and what to include.” Then she sends it back. There was one chapter in Exhale that I was so lost on. I was like, “It doesn’t need to be in the book. I’m not going to do it.” And she was all, “No, it has to go in because of four words.” There were four words she thought were important enough for me to wrestle for another month with that chapter to put it in the book. Because of our interaction and because she knows me, and she knows my writing style, and because I’m not alone. When I get to that point of, “I can’t do this. It’s too hard.” I send it off to her and then now, I don’t think I can write a book again without a manuscript development team of some sort, for that sounding board.
Kathi – It’s like throwing things out into the universe, and hoping somebody catches them. A feedback team says, “No, we’re going to tell you what to aim at.”
Cheri – The most exciting thing is they tell you what they like, so you can do more of it. It’s so much fun.
Kathi – You guys, this has been such good stuff. Cheri, thanks so much for being here at Communicator Academy. You always bring such a great perspective and a different way of thinking things. I love that.
Cheri – Thanks so much for having me.
Kathi – Friend, thank you so much for joining us. You’ve been listening to Communicator Academy. I’m Kathi Lipp. You’ve been given the best message in the world. Now, go share it.
*see show notes in podcast post above for any mentioned items
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