What I Wish I Knew About Storytelling

Ted Wesenberg at the Book Cellar

As a writer in Chicago, you can’t help but be aware of the growing and lively storytelling scene in the city. Last week, CWC employee Amanda Claire Buckley hosted her own cross-generational storytelling event “Under 30/Over 60: What I Wish I Knew” at the Book Cellar. This week, she shares what she learned about storytelling from the event and her fellow writers. 


  1. Storytelling reaches readers in places you wouldn’t have thought to look. Storytelling events create a space where people who might have never said ‘hello’ to you on the street engage with you deeply and personally for eight minutes straight. At Under 30/Over 60, we had a crowd split between millennials and retired couples, two social circles that otherwise never cross. Many people came to see their under-30 friends perform, but stayed to chat with our over-60 authors and vice versa. If you’re looking for a way to move your experience, writing, and ideas beyond the limits of your social circle, I highly recommend storytelling.
  2. There is no better editor than a live-audience. It’s one thing to look at a page and mark where your own interest starts to fade, but it’s a whole other experience to be standing in front of an audience and feel the person two feet away from you start to pay more attention to the magazine rack behind you. Likewise, you also discover surprisingly effective punchlines and rhythmic grooves you might have missed when reading alone. Even if you aren’t writing for a “storytelling” event, reading aloud to an audience is a great way to viscerally experience what works and what doesn’t.
  3. Don’t be afraid of your first time: own it! One of our readers was Kayla Schwalbe, a volunteer at our partner 826CHI, and this was her first time reading at a storytelling event ever, but you wouldn’t know it. She read with the confidence and poise of a veteran. This gives hope to any writer who is worried about approaching the mic; just because you haven’t done it, doesn’t mean you can’t!
  4. Storytelling keeps the memory of all things alive. Over-60 author Samantha Hoffman shared with us a story about her father who passed away. After she read, a number of under-30 audience members took out their phones to text their dads “I love you.” There is a thin line between a story and a eulogy. By sharing your experience, you move your memories and that of your friends and family farther out in space and time so that the knowledge of them may exist longer. Share your loved ones with the world in your writing and you will keep them alive in ways you never thought possible.
  5.  Follow the fear. Famed improv instructor Del Close told his students to “follow the fear.”  If you aren’t telling a story that doesn’t scare you a bit, then you aren’t telling a story without stakes. Everybody has a story to tell, you just need to dive into the parts of your life that scare you the most: the places where you don’t have answer, the times where you disappointed yourself, the people you wish were still around. All of our readers, young and old, shared stories of vulnerability and that is what makes every storytelling event worth participating in. 


Missed our event? Don’t worry! Our next reading series will be held in conjunction with our partner Open Books on May 1! Join us then for A Celebration of Asian-American Writers in Chicago

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