Early literacy information was a big part of my librarian training. Story times for the under-6 set are central to the outreach part of the job, and those are about a whole lot more than entertaining children. They are building crucial pre-reading skills, and I am so grateful for the training and for all I know about early literacy, especially now that I am a mom. But everyone gets things wrong now and then.

She was very highly trained in her field, and I’m sure my library system was paying this woman a lot of money to be our guest trainer. She was speaking about print motivation, which is a fancy way of saying that one of the crucial building blocks of lifelong learning is getting kids excited about books. That’s a good thing! I’m all for it! But then she said this:

“We have to teach children that stories come from books.”

Stories come from WHERE? That was a spit-take moment for me. Teaching children that stories come from books is like teaching them that Grandma’s chicken soup comes from the pot in the corner cabinet. It misses the entire point.

Stories are everywhere. Stories crackle around us like electricity. Stories are happening right now. Stories are alive. We are in the capturing stories business, us writers. Yes, I’m talking to you nonfiction folks, too. You’re just writing stories that really happened rather than ones you made up. Both are stories.

It’s an easy thing to forget, the story. Seriously. I mean, the outline of what happens, we get pretty good at remember that as writers. I know what my main character wants. I know where this is going. But that’s plot. Story is the part that is alive. Story is the part that makes my readers care.

Podcasters tell stories, too. In fact, telling stories orally is a tradition that goes much further back than writing them down. We are all storytellers. Around the dinner table, at the BBQ (really anywhere there is food,) we spin our stories. The writers among us are the ones who try to elevate the art to new heights.

What makes a story great? That it is real. No, not like that. Real doesn’t mean “it happened.” Real means “I believe it.” Think Velveteen Rabbit real.

One of my favorite podcasts is a podcast about podcasting for women podcasters. Pretty meta, no? Sounds dry and boring? Well, if it were, I would have stopped listening long ago. What keeps me coming back? The ladies who host it. They are real. They are vulnerable. They let us in. I know about the daughter of one of them, fighting bipolar disorder and heroin addiction and headed for a new rehab facility.

Stories require us to be brave. Real doesn’t come unless you take the walls down.

I’m writing this late at night. I should be in bed. But I just had a productive evening of recording, and I took one of my walls down. I sat down at the mic and told a story I was afraid to tell even myself. And now I send it into the world. And let me tell you…it feels awesome. Terrifying. But awesome.

The No Extra Words Podcast is really proud to be hosting a virtual podcast storytelling festival this fall. If you are a podcaster head over here to find out how you can be part of it. And if you are ready to listen…well, stay tuned because the walls are coming down.

Happy telling,