ASH AMBIRGE

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How to Be Interesting As Hell On Paper

In: Creative Writing for the Internet

Agency.

It was one of the first things my book editor said to me.

“These parts need more agency.”

And I obviously said: Like the CIA?

And she said: Shoot me.

And I said: Is that a CIA joke?

So while furiously drinking wine and researching this new writing foe—agency—I had been delighted to discover that this wasn’t some kind of polite euphemism to tell me that I was an absolute shit writer. But, it was a problem. Because lacking agency? Basically means that you appear like a puppet in your own story. It means that the story happens to you, but we don’t see things happening as the result of *your* choices. And then we think you’re a gigantic pansy.

You know what word I really wanted to write there.

And you know, I thought that this was really interesting, because out of all the people in the world who are actively happening to their lives, I’m right up there with BULLDOZE THROUGH THE HARD STUFF! I WILL FIND A WAY! TAKE THAT, MOUNTAIN! LIGHT A TORCH, EVERYBODY!

Except when I first went to put my story down on paper, apparently I was like:

Shhhhh. I’m trying not to be self-important, so we should probably just tell my story without me in it, so I don’t sound like I’m talking about myself too much…. 

Here’s what I learned: People want to read stories about people doing things. Not things that happen to them. And so, after going back to the drawing board, I finally got my agency levels in check. The story is better than ever.

But, it also caused me to reflect on agency as a whole. How often do we try to minimize ourselves? Our actions? Our choices? Our decisions? Us?

How often do we try to shove ourselves under the rug?

How often do we try to remain humble, not brag, not sound self-important?

How often do we not take credit for the decisions that are ours?

It’s like a god damn reflex.

Even if we do have agency in our own lives, we try to minimize it. Just look at the About Page you wrote for yourself. How hard was it to talk about your accomplishments without worrying you were bragging?

We forget that our lives are the product of our choices.

And that’s what makes you interesting, whether you’re writing a blog, a book, searching for themes or telling someone your story. Not the things happened, but the things you did in response. You're always responding. How is what we want to know.

So maybe start there. What were the things you did after the shit hit the fan? How did you pull yourself up by your bootstraps after you found out? How did you react when the cancer was diagnosed, or the decision was made, or the people were cruel, or the injustice happened?

What did you do?

That’s your story.

Because we don’t care what happened. We care about what happened next.

And when you have agency?

What happens next is you.

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