How to generate 100s of story ideas every year from your daily life
Tactics from Kendrick Lamar and Matthew Dicks
Welcome to 829 new World Builders. Each week, we study the best storytellers throughout history — from creatives to entrepreneurs — to become better storytellers ourselves.
Check out past pieces here.
A message from... Me!
The interest in this tweet blew me away...
One way to become a better storyteller:
Take your two favorite authors. I recommend one non-fiction and one fiction.
Copy, word for word, their best work. Do it by hand.
I chose Paul Kalanithi and Neil Gaiman.
It’s the single exercise that improved my writing the most.
— Nathan Baugh 🗺️ (@nathanbaugh27)
Jan 5, 2023
In my experience, there are two ways to get good at storytelling:
- Study the greats (what this newsletter is for)
- Practice, practice, practice
I do a lot of practice through StoryWork.
And so many of you liked, commented, and sent me DMs about the practice I decided to turn it into a guided course for you.
Check it out:
Note-taking is the closest thing we have to time travel.
One of the great lies I used to believe about storytelling:
Stories must be about crazy, insane, remarkable events happening to crazy, insane, remarkable people.
Nothing is further from the truth.
But when I talk about storytelling, a common problem people mention is the struggle to identify stories to tell in the first place. There are the obvious ones but more important is capturing the small but powerful stories that happen every day.
You need to find, see, and (most importantly!) remember these stories.
It’s a theme I see across great storytellers – a process for capturing small moments in their life, connecting them, and turning them into great stories.
Let’s look at Matthew Dicks and Kendrick Lamar. Two guys in wildly different fields but also two of the best storytellers alive today. They have strikingly similar approaches to capturing story ideas...
Matthew Dicks and Homework For Life
In his book Storyworthy, Matthew Dicks shares the idea of Homework For Life:
Write down one “story-worthy” moment from your day, every single day. It’s that simple and that difficult.
I’ve added two constraints to make the practice sustainable and more meaningful.
- Limit yourself to 3 minutes max
- Limit yourself to 3 sentences max
The practice has made me remember little moments I never would have otherwise. After a few months, you look back and start to notice trends, common themes. Often, when I tell a story, I pull from multiple “Homework for Lifes” to tell a more complete story.
Here's a 3-week stretch that ranged from the 4th of July in Spain as an American to my first time with Covid to my wife graduating top of her MBA class. I bet I remember less than half of these stories without the spreadsheet.
Notice how my entries are short and informal. They provide just enough context to jog my memory.
Use a simple journal or, if you’re a recovering consultant like myself, a two-column Excel spreadsheet like above.
Make this a habit and you can capture 365 stories every year (or more like 292 if your hit rate looks like mine).
Kendrick Lamar on the Power of Emotion
In a convo with legendary producer Rick Rubin, Kendrick Lamar explained his idea generation and note-taking process.
His best ideas come when he’s living his normal life:
- Talking to a little kid
- Walking around his neighborhood
Kendrick mentions one insight I hadn’t seen elsewhere:
He ties every story back to a single emotion.
Kendrick looks at a short description and the emotion, then remembers exactly what he was doing and feeling that originally inspired him. Kendrick says he’s written songs about moments five months after they happen.
He’s onto something – emotions supercharge your memory. Check this out from a Johns Hopkins study on emotion and memory:
“A hormone released during emotional arousal primes nerve cells to remember events by increasing their chemical sensitivity at sites where nerves rewire to form new memory circuits.”
But what does that mean for you?
When writing down your daily story, call back the emotion you felt in the moment – Joy? Anger? Empathy? – whatever it is, include it in your notes. Tap into that part of the brain which remembers emotion better than anything else to take yourself back to that moment in time.
I might even create a third column on that spreadsheet.
Put it together
The basic process these legends follow is repeatable by mortals like you and I:
- Capture story ideas
- Filter for the best ideas
- Connect your ideas to tell larger stories
Take the consistency from Matthew and incorporate emotion to ignite your memory like Kendrick. You have more stories hidden throughout your day than you realize.
James Clear summed up the importance of capturing your ideas beautifully:
It's a myth that great storytellers only think of great stories or that insightful people only have brilliant ideas. But they do have a habit of capturing their experiences and insights, and the patience to filter the majority until the best remain.
Talk next week.
What'd you think of today's newsletter?
🗞️ Newsletter: Get more ideas for your ad creative.
📹 Video: David Perell teaches how to take notes like Kendrick Lamar.
📜 Essay: Why content is king and media creates power.
💎 Gem: René Magritte painted a man with his face hidden by an apple in 1946 and called it The Son of Man. Here's why.
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If you’re open to new opportunities, apply to the collective to get introduced to some of my favorite companies. You can join anonymously (if you want) and leave anytime – completely free. Apply here.
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