Emerging Stronger from the Storm

Covid-19 has created a storm of uncertainty. But even in the darkness, there is a beacon of hope. A shining light. There is opportunity for your business to emerge more robust, innovative, and with even more dedicated customers. And there’s an easy step you should take right away. 

As leadership expert and executive coach Maya Hu-Chan explains: “If companies can see the opportunity in this crisis – to give back to their communities, to differentiate themselves, to strengthen relationships with customers – they can emerge stronger, more creative, and with a more loyal, engaged customer base.” 

Countless factors are beyond your control at the moment. Something that is absolutely, completely, and fully in your control? Your story. And to emerge from this storm not only safely, but stronger, you need to start telling it now.

You have an authentic chance to build the relationship with your customer base. Show them how your business is navigating this crisis with resilience and grace, guided by your core values. Connect to them with genuine empathy, honor their dynamic needs, and empower them to support the community alongside you. Demonstrate your capacity for innovation, and your confident leadership. 

Your distinctive story is of critical importance now, and will be even more so when doors and communities reopen. Don’t wait for that to happen; it might be too late. Start now. Let me help.

As an experienced copywriter and editor, I can make this process smooth and easy. As a Jackson Hole native, I’m deeply familiar with the community’s unique culture and values. Let’s team up to explore how you can create values-driven marketing and communication strategies, and how to connect with your customers via newsletters, blogs, and social media. 

I’m offering all of my writing and editing services at a discounted rate to local businesses during these difficult times. We’re stronger together, and our community is richest when we all support one another to thrive. 

I hope you’ll reach out so we can get started. The storm will end, and the sun will rise on a new day. 

Let’s make sure we’re ready.

How can a writing coach help you?

Athletes of all skill levels rely on coaches. Why? Because they’re incapable of achievement alone? Hardly! Coaches provide support, guidance, and perspective, creating space for athletes to focus on their performance.

A writing coach offers similar benefits, but in the realm of storytelling and writing. With guidance and encouragement from a professional, just imagine how amazing your work can become!

Personalized Feedback and Skill Development

A writing coach reads and reviews your work, but without the threatening “red pen” of the editor or teacher. Instead, a coach observes your strengths and weaknesses, and offers insightful ways to expand your individual skills. Perhaps you can craft witty, thrilling dialogue between your characters, but struggle to describe settings. Or have a real talent for penning compelling openings, but can’t find a way to draw a story to its close. These kinds of challenges are a breeze to overcome with the help of a coach.

Coaches can suggest resources or exercises to sharpen specific skill sets, too. Unlike an editor, a coach’s work isn’t about correcting errors. It’s about empowering a writer to elevate their own craft.

A Plan of Attack

Taking a project from idea to completed product can be an intimidating prospect. Where do you even begin? Life is busy; how do you find time to write? When do you want to have a first, second, or final draft completed? An external source of accountability can make a significant difference.

A coach can help explore these challenges, and help you achieve your goals. Whether it’s a full-length novel, a habit of writing thoughtful poetry, or incorporating personal growth journaling into your life, coaching is an excellent step towards building time management skills and productive habits that will endure.

Kickstart a Writing Career

Many writers want to take their writing from a hobby to a career, but don’t know where to start. They’re not sure how to pitch story ideas to magazines, work with editors, find an agent, or self-publish their work.

Coaches can offer assistance and support at every step on this journey. So, if you’re ready to start getting paid for your work, a coach can be precisely the jumpstart that your career needs.

Support & Encouragement

It’s easy to get lost in our own efforts, and swamped by problems or challenges. In moments like this, it’s priceless to have a supportive voice and outside perspective. Frequently, that’s all we need: someone to ask new questions or suggest fresh ideas.

A coach is – above all else – someone who is fully in your corner. On good days, they celebrate your wins and cheer you on. On the tougher days, they’ve got your back. They can remind you of what you’re striving for, and what the next steps are. With a great coach behind you, you’re never navigating alone.

And we can all benefit from a confident, loving reminder: You can do this.

The Wisdom of Silicon Couloir

In the late spring of 2018, I had the challenging and rewarding opportunity to participate in Silicon Couloir‘s StartUp Intensive program. This unique program, a collaboration between the entrepreneurship nonprofit and Central Wyoming College, is a ten-week super tour of business basics and the tools and skills necessary to build a thriving business from scratch.

Led by the brilliant and passionate Sandy Hessler and Liza Millet, I was immersed in a group of deeply intelligent and dedicated students. Together, we grew not only as professionals and leaders, but also as individuals and engaged members of a larger, vibrant community.

It also made me a better content writer; there’s no question that the course equipped me with essential keys to help brands and organizations tell their distinctive stories in a powerful way and become more competitive. Here are a few of the takeaways that help me deliver excellent content for all of my clients:

Target Audience is Everything

The most important and fundamental question as I approach a new project is this: Who is your target audience? It can be a tougher question that it seems! But it is deeply critical that any brand (business, individual or nonprofit) knows exactly who they’re trying to reach. And no – “everyone” isn’t sufficient.

Let’s really dig deep into whose attention you want, and explore how to earn it.

Authenticity Is Critical

People can smell a fake a mile off. So, let’s be real.

Brands that are authentic and honest are the products and services that customers and followers want to support. It’s not about perfection or puppeting what you think someone wants to hear. It’s about a little vulnerability, a lot of truth and showing up in a way that represents the values underpinning the brand.

Is your identity one of laughter and whimsy? Is there a dash of magic? Or are you striving for precision, performance and razor-like excellence in your field? Perhaps you’re seeking to cultivate an air of nostalgia? Or chic Western charm? No matter your unique tone and vibe, it’s important that all of your content reflects it. Consistency is key!

Stories Resonate

We’re bombarded by a blizzard of images, numbers and statements all day long. Thousands of them. It’s nonstop.

Our human brains are wired to connect not to an avalanche of data points, but to stories. On a deep, primordial level, we are drawn to narratives. We long to understand why and how things came to be, and where they’re headed. And when those stories are particularly compelling, we yearn to be a part of them.

The StartUp Intensive, in combination with my Creative Writing studies at the University of Chicago, gives me a distinct and robust skill set when it comes to developing and communicating brand identities. And perhaps more importantly – I sincerely enjoy it!

So, drop me a note and let me know how I can help you tell your story.

One Question That Will Make You a Better Storyteller

In this era, we have boundless access to stories. At any given moment, almost any podcast, song, film, magazine, book or television plot is a mere click away. It’s entirely possible to debate the merits of this instant gratification, and what impact it has on our actual engagement with media – but that I will leave for another day. Instead, I’d like to give you a tool to leverage your exposure to these stories, and use them to become a stronger, more adept storyteller and writer yourself.

It’s not a difficult question, but can be deceptively challenging to answer. And therein lies its utility. Ready for it? Get your pen out. Because here it comes.

When you see, read or hear something that you like, ask yourself:

Why does this work?

Challenge yourself to identify what about a particular story or song you find compelling, and describe it. (There is also some use to examining where otherwise good stories fall apart or go wrong, but in my opinion, simply listing why something is terrible isn’t quite as helpful to developing new writing skills.) Is it the overall tone that a film or play manages to create? Or do you find yourself deeply engaged in the emotional journey of a fascinating character? Is it the way in which rhythmic language is used in poem? Or the way negative space creates intensity in a photograph?

Really, I’m not kidding when I suggest that this tool can be used with anything you like. And when you start examining your answers, you’ll discover some inspiration for achieving similar success in your own narrative crafting.

I’ll give you an example. I deeply enjoyed the Cohen Brothers’ recent film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. In general, I am drawn to stories about the American West that challenge the stereotypical portrayals of Western narratives, and thought the film was dark, whimsical and wonderful. (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend hopping onto Netflix and giving it a go.) In particular, I found the final segment – The Mortal Remains – phenomenal. So – why does the story work?

The segment strikes a mysterious and macabre tone, and offers a deep, philosophical examination of human nature, love and death. This all unfolds as the sun slides lower on the horizon as travelers bounce along in a stagecoach toward a shared destination. It’s a simple premise – just a stagecoach ride and a conversation. And yet, it manages to achieve storytelling excellence. There are a great many things that make this portion of the film work, but here are a couple that I noticed immediately.

When the scene opens, the lighting is warm-ish; it appears to be early evening, and the sun is sinking down in the sky. The light transitions from kind, yellowish hues into deep blues and greens, with heavy shadows. This change – while simple and a literal everyday occurence – becomes ominous, and slowly builds the thrum of deep-in-your-gut tension around what’s really unfolding in the stagecoach.

The beginning of “The Mortal Remains” – notice the warm light.
As the scene wears on, the lighting and tone becomes very different.

Now that I’ve identified this simple thing – the way the changing evening light offers an evocative backdrop to an increasingly disturbing conversation – I can consider how that might be useful in a story. Could changing light or the waning of a day help with foreshadowing? Or perhaps a metaphor for a larger theme in a narrative?

Another factor that makes this particular storyline work so well is something that is never, in fact, seen. Two of the characters on board the stagecoach explain that they, under a requirement of their employment, are transporting a dead body. This corpse is never shown, and yet the references to its proximity cast an uneasy pall over the conversation. It’s an interesting example of how things unshown or not present can have immense power. It manages to stir up a huge number of unsettling questions, and thereby contribute to the overall macabre tone without explicit violence or gore.

These two simple elements of the film segment – changing light and a mysterious dead body – contribute hugely to the Gothic energy that infuses the conversation. There are many more details that could be examined here, too! What does it add to have the scene unfold in a moving stagecoach instead of in a static location? Why are the characters dressed the way that they are? How do their accents contribute to the energy of the conversation? Each answer can be a new tool in your writer’s kit.

This is an excellent journaling exercise, or an easy go-to when you’re feeling stuck by writer’s block. Perhaps you’ll start to discover patterns in what you’re drawn to, or inspiration to play with new or different styles and voices in your writing.

Better yet, the next time you sit down to create a rich, compelling scene on the page, think through these tools, and consider how you might use them to make your own work “work” at a higher level!

4 Ways to Craft Tone through Landscape

Rich, powerful stories evoke a depth of feeling. Superficial plots fall flat, and readers can struggle to connect emotionally to the story that a writer is telling. One way to give storylines depth and complexity is to ensure that they unfold against a backdrop that actively reinforces the tone of the central events.

When I write about the West, whether it’s a work of fiction or an article digging into real-life events past or present, I find that the landscape that surrounds the story almost always lends itself beautifully to helping craft the precise tenor that I’d like readers to experience. Below are four elements of the natural world that are simple to weave into your writing to add depth and craft overall tone.

WATER

Take a moment and reflect on the variety of ways that water exists and appears in the natural world, and how each have a different feeling. Imagine a crystal clear mountain stream, dancing swiftly around rocks on its way downhill, its sound echoing softly through the trees. How does that imagery compare to a murky, stagnant pond, opaque with grimy scum?

What does a rapid river evoke? Power? Energy? Tension? And how about a tiny spring, bubbling up among bits of gravel and tiny mint-shaded leaves? Hope? Freshness?

Water – as an element with great potential for motion, temperature or degrees of clarity – lends itself as an easy metaphor, and an elegant way to imbue a scene on the page with the emotional energy that you’re working to create.

VEGETATION

The plant life that surrounds a story can be likewise helpful in creating depth of mood. Again, take time to consider how different kinds of vegetation evoke feelings. Consider a tall stand of pale, trembling aspens, with vivid leaves dancing in a soft breeze. How does this differ from a sparse plain, populated with gnarled sagebrush and tufts of crisp, wind-dried grass?

Vegetation isn’t limited to large-scale landscape uses, either. It’s useful in descriptions of urban settings, and even indoor spaces. How does a character with a decorative cactus on their desk seem different than one with an orchid? Or opulent vases overflowing with fresh cut lilies?

WEATHER

Yes, a sad person staring ruefully out a rain-streaked window is cliche. But it is entirely possible to utilize weather as a tone-crafting background tool in a way that is much more subtle and sophisticated.

Think instead how something like falling snow could be utilized to create a unique tone for a scene. Is it reinforcing the warmth and coziness of a peaceful indoor space? Or is it more menacing and sinister? A slowly-mounting intensity of cold and darkness? A thunderstorm can easily represent tension or conflict, but it can also bring long-awaited rain and restore life to dry streambeds.

Weather phenomenons – in the expanse of the American West, especially – can range from subtle to dramatic, and can add elegant nuance to the overall backdrop of a plot.

LANDSCAPE

On a similar scale as weather, the overall landscape that surrounds a storyline has the potential to create an evocative and compelling context. Features can represent thematic elements within your story; mountains can be metaphors for challenges, canyons symbols of insurmountable differences between characters. But – like weather – landscape features have the potential for much more dynamic and subtle use as well.

How do human-shaped landscapes create a tone that’s different from wild ones? Do the straight lines of a cornfield evoke a sense of order? Or do they represent a loss of the whimsical and softer edges of the untamed world? How is the character and personality of a town different if it’s on a steep slope as opposed to tucked into a lush river valley?

Obviously, these are far from the only landscape elements that are useful in crafting tone in both fiction and nonfiction. But they’re an easy place to start, and can provide a starting point for writing exercises. Select a natural scene – imaginary or real – and describe it. What elements do you identify that can represent themes or evoke a reader’s emotional connection to the page? If you’re up for a challenge, do it a second time and aim for a different tone and feeling! Can you make the same forest feel peaceful and then sinister? Or the same meandering stream represent hope and then sadness and regret?

Developing your ability to weave carefully-selected and well-described background elements into your storytelling – whether fact or fiction – is guaranteed to make your writing richer and more engaging to readers!