The Story Behind Your Story


Every once in awhile, I get an email with an embedded video from Britain’s Got Talent, The Voice, American Idol or some other talent discovery program. The message accompanying these videos is always similar: “This is so uplifting. You’ve got to watch this!” Being a sucker for inspiring stories, I usually do . . . even though I know they’re designed to pull on my heart strings.

What the producers of these videos understand is that the stories leading up to a performance are almost as important as the performance itself. The hours it took to cultivate the talent being showcased, the personal struggles encountered and overcome, the long journey to get to the big show about to take place — that’s what draws viewers in, gets them hooked emotionally, and has them completely invested in the outcome of the performance.

As an author, it’s important to realize the value of the story behind your story.

As an author, it’s important to realize the value of the story behind your story. Many of you have created entire worlds for your books. How did you do that? Where did your creative ideas, your characters, your plot lines, your scenes come from? What was your journey as a writer? Who and what influenced you and informed your choices as an author? Readers love these stories. They’re like a director’s cut for a film. The minute you see what went into filming a single scene, your connection to the entire project is deeper and longer lasting. The story behind the story fascinates us. It’s human nature.

When you’re trying to find your audience or nurture the kind of reader loyalty that helps build a career in writing, the story behind your story can be almost as important as the story you tell in your book. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying this is a substitute for a well written book. The quality of your book will ultimately be what makes or breaks your writing career, but the story behind the story will enrich it immeasurably.

I mentioned a few writers who do this well in another post here on Creative Flux. It was called “The Art of Book Promotion.” Author Roz Morris and her story of a reluctantly scrapped scene about a “black dress” owned by a character in her book My Memories of a Future Life, perfectly demonstrates the potency of the story behind the story. I suggest you take a look at her original post, and the reader responses it inspired. Your life as a writer is full of interesting tales. Realize the value of the story behind your story, and don’t be afraid to share it.

At the company I founded, Serendipite Studios, we think a lot about how to help authors more effectively find readers in today’s crowded book marketplace. We believe strongly that the story behind the story draws readers toward book content. In fact, we are creating a platform to make it very simple for writers to share small excerpts from their books accompanied by the stories behind them. It’s called Bublish, and it’s going to change the way writers share their stories and readers discover new authors and books.

With Bublish, social book discovery will be a fun, relaxing and serendipitous experience.

With Bublish, social book discovery will be a fun, relaxing and serendipitous experience. Writers will be able to send out their enriched book excerpts, called bubbles, across multiple social networks where readers will encounter and interact with them. If a reader likes a bubble, he or she can ask for more. Not only will Bublish lighten the promotional content burdens authors shoulder in our socially connected, 24/7 world, but it will enrich the social conversations between writers and readers. As we’ve already discussed, the story behind your story is a powerful tool for audience engagement.

Writers need more effective ways to find and connect with readers, and readers need a better online book discovery experience. With Bublish, help is on the way. Oh, and did we mention it’s free? We hope you’ll come learn more and sign up for a beta invite at We’re excited to help authors share the stories behind their stories. Who knows, we might even be able to help you pull a couple of heart strings along the way!




Kathy Meis

Kathy Meis

Kathy Meis has been a professional writer for more than twenty years. She founded Serendipite Studios in 2010 to empower those who create and enhance quality content. Last week, her company announced the upcoming launch of Bublish, a platform that will redefine how writers share their stories and readers discover new books. If you’d like to learn more about Bublish and sign up for a beta invite, visit You can also find out more on Twitter @BublishMe


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Stupidity Rules for Creative Professionals

To be innovative, enter the Zone of Productive Stupidity.

Japanese Maple

Steve Aldous (Gigapic)

I’m having trouble being stupid. Productively stupid, that is. I have infinite reserves of unproductive stupidity—ignoring my car’s oil light, losing my wallet, hiring the wrong person. That’s the variety of a presidential candidate forgetting during a national debate which federal agencies he wants to eliminate (“Oops”).

Productive stupidity is something else. Productive stupidity pushes us beyond merely executing ideas and can lure us to extraordinary productivity. But I’m getting ahead of myself with that know-it-all assertion. See my problem?

1. Throwing Out the Creative Baby with the Theoretical Bathwater

A lot of popular advice being doled out about creative productivity has its catchy truisms: Get things done. Make ideas happen. Cultivate grit and sweat more than imagination. I admire and respect Scott Belsky’s Make Ideas Happen team & work (@scottbelsky) and David Allen’s Get Things Done team & work (@gtdguy).   These imperatives can shake aspiring creatives and professionals out of their daydreaming stupor. And they’re consistent with the interventions I suggest for clients and organizations as well as my own adages of “Show up and shape time” and “Stoke the creative fire.” They’re also consistent with some social psychologists’ research in creativity. I consider myself among these creative activists, to a point.

Creative activists’ advice stems in part from a deep-rooted backlash to previous creativity theorists. These previous trends, from Edward DeBono’s lateral thinking and parallel thinking (@Edward_deBono) to J.P. Guilford’s divergent thinking, emphasized how to rewire an individual’s “creative thinking.” These theories are useful but limited. I’m admittedly oversimplifying them for the sake of space here, but in the 1960s and 1950s respectively they generally could not take advantage of more current evidence that shows how social creativity is.

Creativity is Social

Creativity is Social

Creativity is social. In part. Our coming up with great ideas might depend less on being a lone genius holed up in a cave-like study or lab lost in reverie—the current stream of creative activist and social psychologist thought goes—than on our shaping an optimal environment, building social networks, leveraging luck (Thank you, Jim Collins and Dr. Richard Wiseman), and organizing routines. I evangelize about these matters to my clients in meetings and my tribes at events.

“If you want to help people cultivate their creativity, don’t give them more wonder.” That’s what one social psychologist whose work I respect recently told me. “Give them more opportunities to be connected with other people.”

So here’s where I question and take exception. Are wonder and being social mutually exclusive, as he assumes? Is wonder solely the province of the mythical lone genius, as he assumes? As someone accustomed to stake out his intellectual turf in the sciences, was he and are other experts ready to diminish previous theories of creativity outside this field and trend? Is there, as I think he assumed, less value in solitude, deeply felt imagination, and the workings of the individual’s creative mind than in a creative person’s social life and environment?

Must we choose between creative thinking and creative doing?

Are we throwing out the creative baby with the theoretical bathwater? I don’t know.

 2. Back to Stupidity

Do you see how much trouble I have being productively stupid? I question a lot. But behind those questions I assume I have some deeper answers. And this is where those of us who have been working as creatives, who have been refining our métier, who have been thinking about and researching creativity for decades get into trouble. Our expertise and desire to know or appear to know traps us.

From what? From the deeply felt imagination and the nuanced mind of not-knowing that in fact does stem from hours of silence so you can hear thinking in colors as you compose and as you witness stray goldfish that flutter on your imagination’s margins as you write or theorize. So you can let the present moment of language and lines (for writers) or light and lines (for artists) or logos and lines (for designers) or movement and lines (for dancers) guide you more than your assumptions. You can let the troubling questions that fascinate you guide you more than preconceived answers.

Microbiologist Martin A. Schwartz knows something about this nuanced state of not-knowing. He writes,

Productive stupidity means being ignorant by choice. Focusing on important questions puts us in the awkward position of being ignorant. One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time.

Andre Dubus III has written one of the most compelling and exceptionally well written stories I’ve read in years—the memoir Townie. It explores how he as a young boy became hell bent on becoming tough enough to plow down the neighborhood bullies, how the passion of bloody violence overcomes him through much of his young adulthood, how he takes an unlikely journey to becoming a writer, and what all of this has to do with his father Andre Dubus II—one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated short story writers.

So how did he pull it off?

“I was cultivating stupidity.” That might seem like an odd claim for this skilled author whose novel  A House of Sand and Fog has been an Oprah’s Book Club pick and made into a film starring Ben Kingsley. Taking a cue from poet William Stafford, Dubus says he tried to be a receiving vessel, to accept anything that came, and was willing to fail.

Schwartz told me of his scientific experiments, “Much of the time I don’t know what I’m doing.” Of writing his first memoir, Dubus said essentially the same thing.

A creative director of an innovative advertising agency recently contacted me about speaking to his agency’s members. He mentioned that in an employee review he tried to encourage the person to be more stupid. I knew what he meant, and at that moment, I knew I wanted to work with this guy.

It’s that kind of stupidity I admire.


Solitude and silence can help you excise the "stuff" that your mind has accumulated.

And doesn’t that level of confident productive stupidity often require the opposite of what some social psychologists and productivity experts champion? Doesn’t it require solitude and silence? Solitude and silence can help you excise the “stuff” that your mind has accumulated. Solitude and silence helps you empty the branded messages and signature designs and trademark styles you’ve constructed to present your recognizable public creative self.

Solitude and silence, even long walks and long showers, can help dismantle enough of our conscious reality to let breakthroughs emerge.

3. The Productive Stupidity Zone at the Perimeters of a Creative Field

Every creative field—be it architecture, design, dance, science, writing, consulting—and every industry has an understood circle of convention. These conventions might include principles or protocols, elements of craft or choreography.

This circle’s boundaries encompass the industry’s or field’s accepted conventions. Most successful and extraordinary creatives and creative enterprisers understand and even master some of these conventions. They dance confidently within the circle.

And most creative professionals and professional creatives have their own personal field-circle, their own assumptions not just of what to create but of how to create it. Over years of practice, they’ve refined and revised this circle. Perhaps they’ve become maestros of such personal field-circles.

We construct our own perceptual circles within the social circle.

Usually the exceptional creatives and enterprisers find ways to take their minds and actions to a field’s perimeters. They stalk those boundaries between the known and unknown, the rational and irrational, the accepted and the derided. They become creative shaman.

At that perimeter, that boundary, we come to the Productive Stupidity Zone.

Zone of Productive Stupidity

Zone of Productive Stupidity

Productive stupidity births breakthroughs by dismantling our own assumptions within an industry field circle or our personal field circle. Here we question the hows. How to create a business (Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Nonconformity @chrisguillebeau). How to cure a disease (any number of scientists). How to publish a book (Seth Godin’s The Domino Project@ThisIsSethsBlog, @ProjectDomino). How to write and promote a book and reach #2 on Amazon on launch day (Michael Bungay Stanier’s End Malaria). How to develop an economy in another country (Paul Romer’s Charter Cities).

“The more comfortable we become with being stupid,” Schwartz writes, “the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries.”

How do you get there?

You do connect and interact with others within your field. Mentoring, networking, idea combining, conference attending, Creative Wild Packs (other creatives who will “run” with you and your ideas) – all of these social facets are essential at the foundation.

You do honor your field. You do study your field. You pursue mastery. You honor the craft of whatever you do whether it’s microbiology or consulting or blogging or publishing.

You do sweat. You do your Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours.

And then you dismantle. You question to the edge of insanity. You break down the assumptions. You turn them upside down and sideways. You go to West Texas or Walden Pond or some other strange territory within to remove yourself from the familiar and safe and comfortable. You overlap one field with another and create a hybrid field.

You take risks.

You stop caring what unimportant people or strangers think. You let yourself feel incompetent or heretical or utterly, defiantly stupid. This isn’t high school. This is your one wild creative life.

Go there. Live it.


Wonder is an emotional experience . . .

4. Wonder is the Holy Sh*t Window.

Wonder is an emotional experience of utter receptivity and openness, of boundary dissolution. But openness to what? To the unknown. To the discomfort of shifting boundaries. To the rational ground on which your intellect has stood for years falling out from underneath you.

To learning to fly.

The world is utterly more beautiful than we admit.

We have the power to craft extraordinary stories of who we are and who we might become.

From our unrest, we dismantle and re-create. Over and over again. Like the earth that keeps repeating itself sun cycle after sun cycle not to get it right but to keep playing the day the best it can.

Holy sh*t!

It is that window that wants to open in this know-it-all house.

What About You?

Do you value productive stupidity? How do you cultivate it? Anything I’ve said that you question? Tell me your stories. I love the company.

See you in the woods,

P.S. Shameless promotion moment: Come to the Bahamas or to Taos with me in the winter of 2012, and we’ll cultivate some productive stupidity together.


Jeffrey Davis

Jeffrey Davis | Tracking Wonder

Jeffrey Davis is a creativity consultant and author of The Journey from the Center to the Page: Yoga Philosophies and Practices as Muse for Authentic Writing (Penguin 2004; Monkfish 2008). He helps creative professionals, authors, and small organizations around the world flourish amidst the vagaries of creative work. He writes the Tracking Wonder blog for Psychology Today and A Hut of Questions blog for creatives at his website He lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley with his wife and daughter.

Connect with Jeffrey Davis | Twitter: @JeffreyDavis108


Books by Jeffrey Davis, M.A.:

The Journey from the Center to the Page

The Journey from the Center to the Page

The Journey from the Center to the Page: Yoga Philosophies and Practices as Muse for Authentic Writing

by Jeff Davis
Monkfish Book Publishing
Buy now


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