Writing for Better Story-Telling

During this week’s Paperclipping Roundtable on better writing I promised to share a layout in order to illustrate the writing tips we shared (I captioned it below).

This is an older page. It’s not perfect, amazing, brilliant writing, but it tells a good story. And it’s not just a story about what happened at an event, but it illustrates Aiden as a toddler, and me as a protective mother of a three-year-old.

Little Rascal
Journaling directed to Aiden reads:

During one of Blake’s baseball practices an older boy, about 7 years old, challenged you to a race. You agreed and off you went.

Of course, we couldn’t expect your little legs to keep up with him and he hit the finish line with the declaration, “I won!” long before you did.

Here I was, your protective mother, irritated that this 7-year-old boy was gloating about beating you, my three-year-old.

But then you reached the finish-line, still at a full pace and with a huge smile on your face. You began yelling, “I won! I won! I won! I won!”


The boy tried his best to convince you (and the rest of us!) that he beat you. But he couldn’t overcome your boisterous “I won!” celebrations. He was frustrated.

And I have never stopped smiling about it.

Some things to look for in the journaling…

  1. I unfolded the story, beginning with the dilemma/conflict (2nd paragraph) instead of a summation, in order to create enough suspense to draw you in.
  2. I varied the length and structure of the sentences. Compare each one to see how they are all different.
  3. I wrote with active verbs instead of passive ones.
  4. I drew a clear and specific picture of the action with my words.
  5. I shared a very human story to which we can all relate as fellow humans.

I believe we all have great stories to tell. We just don’t always know how to tell them in a way that draws others in. Next time you write a story for one of your layouts, write it on scratch paper first, and then look at each of the tips above to see how you do.

Don’t worry if your first attempt doesn’t impress you. That’s why we revise. Writing is a practice.

Shine On,

  • Terry

    I get it! Thanks, Noell. You are absolutely right about how you unfolded the story in a way that kept my attention all the way through. Now I really want to go through my albums and read my journaling to see ways I could have improved it. I am going to be more mindful of your tips going forward. Thanks, you really know your stuff and how to share it in a most inspiring way – most appreciated!

  • Oh, yay! I was going to email you back to let you know it’s up, but I see that you found it. :)
    Thank you for the kind words. I’m really glad it helped cement the tips and ideas in your mind.

  • Julie H

    Thanks for ‘dissecting’ your journaling into the 5 specific points. Sometimes I write out the story but then read and re-read it to make sure it tells enough of the story but not more than i need so the point isn’t lost. These points will give me direction in my process of creating stories I want others to read.

  • Gabrielle McCann

    That is such a great story … and thanks for sharing your writing tips too

  • Marla Gallagher

    Maybe you already know about this since Izzy is such a podcast fan, but today
    I ran across an interview with the creator of a podcast in which he
    talks about his thinking, composing process that exemplifies many of the
    writing concepts you talked about on this PRT episode recently. I had so
    much fun listening and learned so much about ‘writing’ (composing) just
    by listening to him talk — he thinks like that and it comes out so
    beautifully — just like we want journaling to. On that episode someone
    mentioned that to write well you need to read good writing — for me,
    listening to him talk serves the same purpose — he just puts words
    together and choose words that are beautiful and as concise as
    journaling needs to be. I listened to this episode right after I looked
    at your spread on Aiden’s race and immediately could see the

    Check out the podcast ‘Stuff You Missed in History Class’ the most recent episode –‘ Nate DiMeo’s Memory Palace’. I loved how he is doing what’s in his passionate core — just like you and Izzy.