Today I have the privilege of guest blogging about the seductive power of story on one of the most innovative, savvy and engaging writing sites on the web – Men With Pens. And you know what? There’s something very intriguing about the site that you wouldn’t know at first blush. Something that the brilliant person who runs it, James Chartrand, wanted to a keep secret. Which brings us to one of my favorite topics: neuroscience.
One of the most thrilling (and sometimes unnerving) things about recent breakthroughs in neuroscience is that they’re proving that many of the things we suspected about how we see the world are actually true.
For example, the notion that “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” Turns out it’s not a metaphor, it’s a fact.
We don’t see what’s “objectively” right there in front of us, rather we see what we expect to see. Everything is subjective. That’s where story comes in – our own personal narrative explains what things actually mean to us, and what we should do about it.
Of course, sometimes what we expect to see is pretty close to what’s actually there. Sometimes it’s the exact opposite.
For instance, there was a fascinating article in the New York Times a few months back about Patricia O’Brien, a writer who published several books, none of which had done particularly well. When her next novel failed to sell, her agent was certain it was because the editors she’d submitted it to, knowing that O’Brien’s last book hadn’t sold well, were thus unable to see the story that was actually there on the page.
So she suggested O’Brien do a two word rewrite: her name. When her manuscript then went out under the pseudonym Kate Alcott it sold in three days.
Both groups of editors read the exact same manuscript, yet each group read a very different story. The second group read only the story on the page and were completely engaged, the first read it as a novel by a failed writer whose work just didn’t connect with readers, and weren’t engaged. Want to know how well the novel in question, The Dressmaker, connects with readers? Just click here.
Which brings us back to Men With Pens and James Chartrand, whose website was born after she – yes she – discovered that simply by taking a man’s name doors in the work world that remained steadfastly shut to her as a woman, suddenly opened. Like Patricia O’Brien, she didn’t do a single thing differently. Not one. As you can read here, the reality stayed the same, the only thing that changed was her name. And that alone, in and of itself, changed the world’s perception of everything she did.
Why? Because the stories we tell ourselves about how the world works are what create the reality we see. It’s eye opening, isn’t it? Not to mention a little scary.
It’s also why writers are the most powerful people on earth. The stories we write have the ability to change how others view the world, themselves, and what they do about it. The power of story is yours, use it wisely.