Write For Your Consulting Business
Write For Your Consulting Business
with Laura Elliott
A professional ghostwriter tells us how to write for your consulting business 👇
Writing is a critical consulting skill, one that you may not have expected to have to do SO MUCH of. We have to write for clients, for persuasion, for copywriting, for ourselves. But what about telling your story? Today’s guest on the Profitable Joyful Consulting podcast, Laura Elliott, reveals her secrets about mining your story.
According to Laura, the best stories transform people. They’re an emotional ride, and people are different after hearing what you’ve said. Learn how to utilize this storytelling skill in your writing in this interview which Laura gives from her boat, moored somewhere off the West coast.
Key areas discussed in this episode
- 0:00 Why writing matters for consultants
- 5:28 How Laura helped a coach’s book turn her into a celebrity and have a global impact
- 8:44 The difference between a book that has New York Times bestseller potential and every other book out there
- 11:51 How to figure out which parts of your personal story are compelling and relevant
- 14:45 Finding your own voice in writing
- 18:37 Reading aloud to create a community experience
- 23:05 How to reconcile the difference between your written voice and your spoken voice
- 25:02 What all good writing has in common
- 25:56 How to unblock flow and access ideas
- 28:16 Ways to figure out what your story is
- 29:12 Why we’re often blind to our own significance
- 34:16 What makes someone relatable and how you can make yourself more relatable to your audience
- 37:50 What Laura always asks at the beginning of a project
- 38:28 How to improve at persuasive writing for non-professional writers
- 42:33 What writing books and screenplays means to Laura (and why it’s more than just revenue streams)
Hey there, it’s Samantha Hartley of the Profitable Joyful Consulting Podcast. This season we have been talking about consulting skills, and as I mentioned, writing is one of the most important consulting skills. “I wasn’t expecting so much writing in consulting,” this is probably the reaction you have had. We have to write for clients. We have to write for persuasion, for copywriting, for ourselves we have to write emails. But what about telling your story? Today’s guest reveals her secrets about mining your story. She is a ghost, also known as a ghostwriter. So today you get to meet a real ghost and hear her secrets, how she is doing that magic for her clients, including some of my clients, I’m happy to say. So let’s meet Laura.
Laura Elliott is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling ghostwriter of biography, memoir, history, business and leadership, and she specializes in survival stories, entrepreneurship and journeys of the heart. She earned her chops working at E! Entertainment Television on shows like E! True Hollywood Story, which gave her an appetite for finding the story behind the story. She further developed her skills at the Los Angeles Times where she reported on features, entertainment, crime, hard news, politics and investigative journalism. She has a passion for travel, particularly life at sea, where she is located right now. She’s calling in from her boat and makes her home on the beach in Santa Cruz, California, with her husband, daughters, their families and her dog, also her muse, Lucy. So let’s meet Laura.
Laura Elliott: Hi. How are you?
Samantha Hartley: I’m wonderful. And I’m so excited you’re going to help me to talk about writing because I have a liberal arts degree. And so I went to Sarah Lawrence. We didn’t have tests or grades. Everybody’s like, “How the heck does that work?” It’s like, “Well, we wrote papers, we wrote and wrote and wrote.” And in my earliest jobs, the way that I kind of apparently stood out was through writing. I had a lot of people come to me and be like, “Oh my God, can you write some more stuff for us?” So writing is a major strength for me, but it’s not for a lot of the people that I run into and they’re like, “I just did not expect it to be this much writing for my business.” So we have to write for persuasion, we have to write all these things, and one of the hardest things is writing our own story. So can we start by hearing a little bit about you, what you do, and your story?
Laura Elliott: I am a ghostwriter and I usually write books and screenplays for people. So exactly what you’re saying is what people come to me with, “I’m not a writer, I don’t know how to do this.” There’s a lot of self confidence, there’s a lot of self-doubt. There’s this idea that they’re trying to be some perfect thing and there really is no way to be perfect in writing. What we do when I work with somebody is we get together and a story, the best stories transform people. They’re an emotional ride, even if it’s a post, even if it’s just an email or whatever, it’s transformative. You want the person to be different after hearing whatever it is you’ve said. And we really often think about a book that we read being transformative or a movie that we see. Those are the ones that are gold. The ones that we remember, are the ones that we’re different afterwards. But a lot of people don’t realize that, the writing also transforms the writer. Writing a book does that for people. And it’s a process where you’re evolving with it and you start with one idea and you think it’s going to be one thing, and it just ends up being something that’s so much bigger and so much more material.
Just because you have this community of people you’re working with that really unearth the story and help you get to the bottom of what the bigger message might be. Because no one comes to me writing a book with one idea in mind. What really ends up happening is it becomes a platform for a huge movement in the world that they didn’t even know they were having in some cases. So it’s really amazing and I think some of the things that stand out for me are just being able to organize things for people, being able to make it effortless for people and also help them face the challenges, not just creative challenges, but the challenges that crop up in writing itself. In life that happens, so it’s a real privilege and an honor to help people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to put a story on the page or on the screen to get them there. And it’s my joy to do that.
Samantha Hartley: I love that. So can you share one example of somebody who came to you and was not able to do that themselves and that you did that for them?
Laura Elliott: Yeah. So it’s so hard to come up with just one example, but there’s two, I’ll say two really quick. One is a lady who had a coaching business and she wanted to leverage her cancer survival story because it taught her so many things about coaching. I write for people all over the world. And this is an energetic, vivacious, wonderful lady who hoped to increase her coaching business. Well, she changed her culture because in her culture, she couldn’t even use the word cancer to tell her story. People called it “The Disease.” And because she stepped out and talked about conquering this terrible illness, which came to her in a horrible way. She overcame it in so many inspiring ways that she became a celebrity. Then all of a sudden her culture started talking about cancer, I mean, actually using the word. So the book turned her into a celebrity.
It knocked her off the charts with her career, and also gave her a platform for theatrical work. So that was very unintended. So all these things that come about, people want to be on The New York Times. They want to sell books. They want to have speaking careers. They want all these things to happen and they all do. But I think the one thing that is amazing are the things that happen to the person inside. And having said that, we’ve worked through all kinds of things like now for another one, a lady was interested in writing a series of books with a certain purpose. And it takes a while to write a series of books. Right? So life happens, and I’ll never forget the call I got, she told me that her son committed suicide. So the work changed completely. We wrote a completely different project. Deepak Chopra wrote the testimonial for it. It got a Kirkus Star Review, which for people who don’t know, is like the World Series of reviews for what gets stocked in bookstores. And a speaking career that would just be her lifeblood and take off in new directions, and the other books that were being worked on also. But, the other thing is as a writer, you learn about yourself. You are mining things like we’re saying, memories really are what we are mining and we use life and we go with it, it has a flow. So the work we started on at the beginning is one version. But the work that ends up is so much greater and more impactful than you can ever, ever imagine.
Samantha Hartley: Wow, it sounds amazing. And as you’re talking, I’m thinking of my clients who have written books and they have had those kinds of experiences where it’s never what they expect when they go into it. And I do think it’s just a personal development exercise, it’s really incredible. Before we go deeper into writing, just for my clients who have written or are planning to write a book, or in the process of writing books. Those New York Times bestseller list goals, I think it’s hard not to have them. Like you really kind of have a dream for yourself. You want to have something like that. What do you think is the deciding point between something that really has the potential to be a New York Times bestseller versus every other book out there?
Laura Elliott: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of things about it. I think the passion behind the project, the voice on the page is the thing that’s really going to change it. And I think that’s the one thing that happens when you’re working with a ghostwriter or someone else on a project. I find it very often, which is incredible to me, it’s baffling really. Now that I work with people that are thought leaders and experts and, all these people who have big voices in the world, but yet don’t know how to have a voice on the page.
They’re struggling with their own voice. So we kind of practice, what is it? We talk and this voice gets stronger and bolder. And it’s like the first sentence, the first paragraph is a handshake with the reader. It’s the book’s promise when you ask, “What am I going to deliver this reader? What is this and being specific about that. Knowing your audience, you really need to know who you’re writing for. You really need to know what your intention is with your project, it’s in your heart. But people sometimes won’t do a little bit of that thought ahead of time.
So my work always starts with the book’s promise, the audience and the voice. Those are the three major things that people need to be clear about if their intention is to get on these lists. But I think it’s really about the heart behind the project. It can’t just be like, let’s say, I’m writing about pillows and I’ve got five steps to write about pillows. And there’s a lot of books about pillows out there. Well, what’s going to make me buy your book about pillows is because I know why you love pillows so much. What was it about you like with E! Write the story behind the story? What is it about you and pillows? We want to know. It’s that thing that we really are interested in. What is driving you and interlacing that in your story? And that helps with the emotion, putting the emotion on the page and making it a transformational experience for readers. And lots of times, I’ll be working for what I call a geek biz, maybe if it’s Bitcoin or scientists or something, and we have to be relatable to people. We also need to be surprised a little bit. So you don’t want to be like if you’re going to read a book about the neuroscience behind something, we very much surprise people when you’re warm and fuzzy and you really know some of this information, and you’ve got a back story about it. So people want to know a little bit more about the person that’s writing the book and why they should be listening to you.
Samantha Hartley: Well, so this to me is the toughest piece in some ways because having come out of eighth grade English class where they’re like, “you never use “I,” you always use passive voice, you’re nobody.” You can sometimes use “we,” but like you’re not an authority. And so I think so many of us had that drilled into us when we were children and then to emerge, what I will see is I’ll correct passive voice in my clients work a lot, it’s just that’s kind of standing in your own authority. But then the piece that you’re talking about is the story behind the story.
And I feel like it was hard for me, I wanted to write about everything except for me. And as a subscriber to my newsletter, you know that I’m writing a lot about myself now, but for years I didn’t write about me because I felt like that’s not what’s really relevant. What’s really relevant is the work or the thing. And the most response I get from readers and a lot of times the response that I’ll get in terms of wanting to work with me, is the ones that are the posts that are more personal or the things that are more personal. So how do we figure out which parts of our personal story are compelling and relevant and which parts are self-grandiosity or whatever?
Laura Elliott: That’s a very interesting question. I think a lot of it is practice, to be honest with you. I think that journalism has changed so much. I will never forget when I was working at the L.A. Times, and the Nieman School of Journalism at Harvard came to speak to us to talk about narrative journalism and the rise of it. Really the beginning of it was, In Cold Blood with Truman Capote and how he took journalism from, a fire occurred on the fifth block of this neighborhood at this time, which was the reporting to now it’s about emotion. So there was a focus on editorializing, competing with entertainment at the time that I was in the newsroom, there were all these things going on around that. So it’s a story and a story is what we’re interested in. We’re hard wired for it.
We’re programmed for it. Aristotle’s Three-Act Structure is still in place. Joseph Campbell, a huge philosopher, and the brains behind the Star Wars with George Lucas. He came up with The Hero’s Journey, and basic steps of how to organize the story. And these are things that we respond to in a story with our heart, not our head. I mean, there’s a lot of head stories that are out there, but until you get someone’s heart, they’re really not going to go anywhere with you. So it really is about practice.
It’s also about finding your own voice. And I really suggest that people take The Artist’s Way seriously with Julia Cameron because that is how you find your voice. One of the exercises she recommends in this book is to write morning pages. You write three pages a day. It’s a creative exercise for anyone. You don’t have to be an artist to get the stuff out that’s there, that’s on your head. It’s the top stuff that gets in the way of getting to the deeper stuff, which is where the real magic is. So just practicing using your voice, everybody’s different.
Some people are more comfortable having more things out there. Some people aren’t. I’m going to tell you right now what you said, and it is the most common thing that happens to me when I work with anyone, including myself. Showing up on the page, it’s so hard, like where on the page. And so that exercise alone is a natural thing that happens all the time. I think that when you creep up to it maybe a consultant who really is having a hard time can try something with posts and blogs and things like short pieces and see what feels good.
It’s also about trying things and don’t be afraid to try things. Writing’s like anything else. You practice it, you do it. You’re okay if it’s not perfect, and you’re okay if it goes to the moon and it gets a million hits. You’re okay with crickets because guess what people are still reading it. If they didn’t like it or whatever, that’s okay. Somebody’s seeing it. Somebody is reading it. So it’s this practice with voice that I think is really important.
Samantha Hartley: So say more about that. What does it mean to practice with voice?
Laura Elliott: Well, I think journaling is one way of helping. One thing that we talked a little bit about is reading the work aloud. That’s one way that you can really hear it because when we write, it’s really not the same thing. The other thing that we need, like if you’re a consultant and you’re writing, you need a team of people around you because you’re going to write what you’re going to write and you’re not going to see everything that’s in it.
The good, the bad, whatever. So there’s always an editor. There’s always a copywriter. When I was working in the newsroom and my editor knew that I wrote fiction, he was like, “Who’s your editor, Laura?” Because like at the paper, I had editors and things like that. I said, “Well, I’m just kind of working with a loose group.” He’s like, “Laura, everybody needs an editor.” If there’s one hire that I would make, it would be a proofreader. Absolutely. Absolutely. Please. Everybody proofread. And also just getting a second opinion. And so working through that, I think is the best way to help your voice shine because there’s nothing like a careless typo that takes people out. Right? Some people are a little bit more than others, but you really want to just be a crescendo. You want to start your work in a certain place at the beginning, then have a crescendo and have people be changed as a result.
Samantha Hartley: I feel like it’s for those of us who like writing a lot, a lot of social posts or writing a lot of newsletters and things like that, like it’s hard to get a crescendo in everything we write right, it’s something to strive for. But I do want to go back to the thing of reading out loud because right before we started recording, I was talking about David McCullough who is just someone I adore. He’s an American historian who wrote many famous biographies and histories, including a book called 1776, Americans in Paris, a biography of the Brooklyn Bridge. His first book was about the Johnstown Flood. So he was a figure here on Martha’s Vineyard.
So I got to see him speak a few times. And since he recently passed, I’m just feeling sad so we went and watched a bunch of YouTube talks that he gave and it was wonderful to hear him talk. If you watch a lot of someone’s talk, then you start to hear things over and over again. And one of the things that he mentioned repeatedly was that he and his wife Rosalie would read his books. Every single one of his books, he said, had been read aloud to one another numerous times. I think what’s amazing about that is, if you read your work aloud, you’ll know where you stumble. And if you stumble when you read it, then your people are going to stumble when they read it. And so I think it’s just so helpful. Like there are small tips that those of us who I mean, I’m nowhere near at your level, but those of us who consider ourselves professional writers, there are things that we do religiously, so we write everyday, I write a version of the morning pages. I want to ask you if it is handwritten or typed?
Laura Elliott: It’s up to you. Whatever your process, everybody’s process is different. It’s handwritten for me, I enjoy that because I’m at the computer quite a bit. But ideas flow in different ways where our brains are wired differently. Yeah, in that respect, it’s very similar to an artist who will draw a picture and then hold it up to the mirror and see where the picture isn’t quite working. If you reverse it, you can see where their perspective is off.
Samantha Hartley: Yeah.
Laura Elliott: Yeah and with the read-aloud, I would have to say I came to it through Jim Trelease and the Read Aloud Handbook. He believes that reading aloud to children is a community experience. A book isn’t just a book, it can be very personal and beautiful, but it’s also meant to be shared. So I came to read aloud when I was raising my kids at a very young age.
Samantha Hartley: Oh, it’s incredible. I have the best memories of fifth grade. I had a teacher who read books to us every single day for an hour after lunch and you’d think I’d be sleepy after lunch. Instead I was enthralled. I can still remember the phrasing she used on some things. She read the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. That one is a wonderful children’s book to read out loud. So I really, really, really love that. And I just think it’s so informative to read your work aloud. And I also like the idea that you talked about and like I feel like we don’t do this enough, to have reader circles. We have a lot of writers communities here on the Vineyard.
And so people who are writers are always part of a circle of people who write and read their work to one another and get feedback. Whether that’s poetry or memoir or fiction, short form fiction and essays, there is that here, everywhere. And I think just having someone who is like, you didn’t have to do it for a long time, but I feel like having any feedback at all on your writing is super helpful because if you have something like social, then you might have big responses or whatever, but it can really help to have somebody who is like, “I want to help you improve the quality of your writing and to turn that into something.”
Laura Elliott: And even in these newsletters, you’ve written a newsletter and people will reply and respond and that feedback is important.
Samantha Hartley: They’ll rarely say, “You could have developed that story better.” But in general you tend to hear back. What’s nice is the things that people do respond to, I’m grateful that I get a lot of fan mail. When I ran a different kind of business, I would get a lot of customer service hate mail. Back in the bad old days.
So getting a response from your readers tells you what’s working in the writing. It does encourage the things that you’re talking about. So I wanted to go a little further in finding your voice. So writing often, writing morning pages, reading your work out loud, how do you begin to reconcile the difference between your written voice and your spoken voice?
Laura Elliott: Well, it’s kind of interesting. I think what you realize the more you practice, you get more clarity. And clarity is really important. It’s the way you connect with people and you also get in touch with your intentions better. So I think it’s all about confidence, it’s all about just putting yourself out there. It’s all about showing up on the page. It’s showing up to write every day. It’s the attitude behind the writing. We all have to do it, as you say, it’s a big part of your job that you didn’t expect. So when you come to the page and your cup is full, you’re taking care of yourself in terms of your writing and nurturing yourself.
Then you show up to those things instead of like, “Oh, I got to write this thing. What am I going to write in this newsletter?” “Oh, this is the last thing I want to write,” and oftentimes it is, but we can work around that. Find your own (writing) process and honor it. We have a process. We all have a creative process. I have some people that have talked books into microphones because they can’t write. They’re too busy or distracted. Whatever your process is, investigate “What is it?” Maybe start that journey. Honor it. If you like to wake up at 4:00AM in the morning because that’s the only time your house is quiet. And if you need a whole day to write all your newsletters for the year or a weekend or whatever, you get into newsletter mode and you just do it.
Samantha Hartley: Hang them out.
Laura Elliott: Yeah, yeah. I think if we just simplify it and get down to the real basics, I think all good writing can be summarized by clarity, connection and community. You want to be clear about what you’re writing for people and what your intention is for them. You want to be clear who your audience is. You want to have a connection. You want to have an emotional beat to it. There has to be a heartbeat to it and there has to be community. I know a lot of people who have beautiful writing in their drawer and they’re not sharing it with anyone.
So there’s all kinds of ways we can do this and take it out of being a scary thing. We have all kinds of writing we do that can be leveraged in other ways. So think about all the writing you have and how you can leverage it for another purpose, or retool it. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel all the time. But I do recommend that when I work with my class, one of the first things I always ask them to do is to journal however they want. If that’s like talking it, if that’s why actually handwriting it out. However they want to do it because the process of putting an idea in your head and revisiting it, I call it making appointments with your imagination, every week, we talk weekly.
Your brain shows up and starts remembering and starts knowing what to talk about in a way that’s visceral, in a way that was maybe at the beginning like, “Oh, I’d like to talk about this and this is what I’d like it to be.” Well now we’re in it and it’s going, and so you get the notebook by the bed or whatever it is for you. You’re on the train and you come up with a new idea, or maybe you take more walks, maybe you meditate during this time and you will start to generate a lot of content.
Samantha Hartley: Ideas. You unblock the flow and ideas do begin to come to you.
Laura Elliott: Absolutely. And make appointments with your imagination. You don’t have to work with me to do it. You just say, “Okay, Laura, Saturday morning is going to be my time to be creative in my writing life. Take it out of the box, maybe you’re writing a newsletter for a technical piece. Write about other things too, you can always write around something. That’s what I talk about when we’re working on a book, you don’t see the revenue stream even at the end of the book. You can see it at the time of it.
You write around it, you write articles for different magazines about what you’re doing and make connections with people because these are your community of people who are going to be your readers. Writing that’s shared in the community is private and beautiful. Then there is a kind of writing that’s important to you and you don’t share everything I’ve written on the page. But there is writing that I do want out in the world and we do need to have that out in the world to inspire people, to let them know our movements, to change culture, like my client who got hers saying the word cancer. I mean the reason why we are writing in community and just honoring that is really important and recognizing that.
Samantha Hartley: Absolutely. So I want to just go back one more time to this idea of the story behind the story for ourselves. Do we need someone like you to identify what our story is, or how could you help us to figure out what that is? I feel like when I work with a lot of people, they’re like, “I don’t know what my story is.” It’s kind of like it doesn’t seem to have these dramatic turning points, or and maybe there are those and we’re immune to them, and maybe there aren’t those.
Laura Elliott: Yeah. I think we’re really like this for the same reason that we can’t edit our own work. We need someone to see the greater themes in our life. It’s hard to put our story on the page because we don’t have that voice yet. We don’t really know how to articulate our story yet. And so I think it is very important to have a trusted person help you with that because it is an honor to help someone find what their real story is. I’ve had people come to me thinking that their story was sort of up here and not of consequence. Then it would go out to change the world. So I think we’re blind to our own significance in some way.
Samantha Hartley: We’re immune to our own superpowers.
Laura Elliott: I know it happens for lots of reasons. I think day to day we have to get through things. We have to accomplish things and stuff like that. So what I find is I provide a little island of safety, a place where a reflection can occur. And I would love to say that happens every day for everybody in a healthy way, but it doesn’t.
I think until they make time to really dedicate and do that, the work really, the ability to define that story, the time isn’t given to it any other way. It doesn’t take a lot of time to figure out the background, the story behind the story. But if you’re doing a greater piece, it can take some time to see the themes of that. But just like a personal story, something that you can use for your newsletter or marketing that could probably be done in a few hours. But when you’re working on a longer piece, there’s so many things that happen during the generation of the work. I have a lot of clients ask me, “When will we get an agent, or when will we publish?” And I say, “When it’s brilliant.” Unless there’s a real time line on it.
Laura Elliott: Brilliance is the key. The book is the key. The story is the key. All the other stuff happens after.
Samantha Hartley: Now you have written books and screenplays for some people whose names we would recognize, like really famous people. What do you feel distinguishes their stories from everyday people like you and me?
Laura Elliott: Well, they were everyday people. That’s the interesting thing. I think it’s hard for everybody. You would think that for some people being out there is really easy. But it’s not, it gets to the fact that it’s a universal story. What affects us is universal. So I think anybody can be a superstar. I don’t really think that it’s a privilege held by certain people. If a story’s compelling, it’s going to find an audience and they will run with it.
And that’s absolutely it. And then the other thing that happens quite frequently with people I work with is there’s a story that’s untold. I work with people in the areas of war who have little known stories, or even in the Holocaust. I’ve completed a screenplay about the Farhud, which is something that people say, “The Farhud, what’s that?” Not too many know that Jewish people were persecuted in Babylon during World War II.
So there’s just all these stories in the world that come to us. And I think what also happens is when they’re stories that stay with us, they teach us something. It doesn’t even have to be something big. It’s just something about our own heart or the way we could have been different in a situation, or about tolerance or inclusiveness. I write very much for minority businesses also and I find that coming from that background of knowing where and why and how this has all been created gives you a level of appreciation that you wouldn’t normally have. I mean, of course, you appreciate someone who’s doing fantastic business and genius and all that, but you don’t know the story behind the story. You don’t know the struggles that came with it. And that gives you even more of an AHA, in that moment.
Samantha Hartley: For sure. I think it always looks easy once you see success. It’s hard for anybody to imagine, we think, well that was easy for them and my story’s completely different. There’s almost always obstacles along the way and we only see the snapshot of success instead of the whole entire thing.
Laura Elliott: Yeah, it’s this idea of relatability again.
Samantha Hartley: So what makes someone relatable? And how do you, how does one do that for themselves? How can I make myself more relatable to my audience? How do I even do that?
Laura Elliott: Yeah. You help them understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. I’ll start with me, I didn’t ever think and no one grows up wanting to be a ghost.
Samantha Hartley: Right?
Laura Elliott: Right. So I have done a lot of interviews with celebrities, with movers and shakers, with travelers in the travel world, and the explorers, famous explorers from all over the world, that type of thing. And I didn’t know that I would do that as a direct result of interviewing my dad for a personal story, trying to get his story behind his story. He was a Japanese prisoner of war and he never talked about it until he was 80. We kept talking and talking and having these letters written back and forth between us about the story and putting that together.
And he would be the greatest interview of my life because he wanted to tell his story, like everybody does, and he is my model for everyone I talk to, but for various reasons he couldn’t. And in this case, it was trauma. But there’s lots of reasons people can’t access that genuine part of themselves. There’s lots of reasons people can’t go there with themselves. So for him he was too traumatized so he would talk about the general history of the time, and little by little, you find ways in. It’s not intrusive. It’s in order for them to understand their story better. It’s maybe not for publication. A lot of what we discover doesn’t end up on the page. But there’s a way in that it takes some time and it’s this interview process.
So I never thought that just doing that when I was curious about my daughter’s first birthday party, when my brother pointed to this bench and said, “That’s a concentration camp bench and it was a bench that he had made with all the kids, for all the years of our lives.” And I had I’m like, “What are you talking about?” And that one question, “Tell me the first bench you made, Dad. Tell me about that.” I never knew that would put me on a career path to be a ghostwriter. There’s just something about being able to help people tell their story that they wouldn’t be able to. Whether it’s a legacy story just for the family, which is another kind of thing, or it’s for publication. It’s sacred no matter what.
Samantha Hartley: Yeah.
Laura Elliott: Yeah.
Samantha Hartley: And legacy stories just for the family are so important. My husband and I have been sharing them and we share them with my family. And once that person is gone we think, “Oh, who knows the thing?” We have to find people who do know them.
Laura Elliott: Oh, it’s incredible. And when they die people have come to me. One particular person found hundreds of letters in an attic after his father passed away. And I made a book out of that so they’re precious and priceless. But I think the question I always ask at the beginning of any project is, “Why this story now?” You can ask that for a newsletter. You can ask that for a post. You can ask that for a blog, particularly for a book or a screenplay. “Why now? Why are we doing this now?” That’s a very important question to ask when you’re writing a piece, and it’ll give you inspiration. You’ll probably be able to write even more when you know, “Why.”
Samantha Hartley: Yeah, it’s very inspiring, just thinking about it. Okay, so I could just talk about this forever. I want to just do a couple more things. I always think of writing in business for consultants in two categories. One is we write about our expertise and then another one is writing for persuasion, or for someone to spur action. So a lot of us feel much more comfortable writing about our expertise. It’s like that’s the thing we talk about. And what we’ve talked about a lot today has been how to make writing your expertise even more effective and weaving a story into it. When we’re writing for persuasion, how do you see the work that you’re doing, improving persuasion, and how we as non-professional writers can do better in that area?
Laura Elliott: Yeah. So this question just reminds me of being in Mr. Post’s seventh grade speech class where he wants us to write a persuasive speech.
Samantha Hartley: There you go.
Laura Elliott: And it’s like, “Oh my God, this persuasive speech is completely different than anything else I’m writing.” There are certain hallmarks that are there to persuade. And then for my world, it would be writing an op-ed piece.
Samantha Hartley: Mm hmm. Yeah.
Laura Elliott: So if you write an op-ed, I’ve gone to so many workshops and this particular bit of information came from the editor of the Jakarta Post. I was in Bali for the Readers and Writers Festival and attended a journalism class and he said one of the most important things when you’re trying to convince someone of what you want to convince them of, is to take away the argument against it.
So to improve persuasion, the first thing you do is you realize what the resistance is and eliminate it by addressing it. It’s the elephant in the room, right? It’s like using the pillow analogy. I want pillows that are really soft and then you have to go and say, “Why? Hard ones are…” and take the air out of that argument, or whatever you anticipate would be the most important thing that would come up for that person. That’s one of the things. And then it’s the crescendo, like you’re talking about. And I understand when you’re saying, newsletters and stuff like that crescendo. But what you really want to do is, you want to have that intention, right? So if you don’t have room for a real crescendo, make sure that the intention builds. That’s another word for it. So you come in, you take away the argument, and then you build your evidence for why it’s good. Like this is going to be the best thing since sliced bread.
And it’s not manipulation. I really think that persuasion is, especially when most of us are trying to enrich people’s lives. We’re trying to make the world a better place. And so by doing that, this is a very easy, tried and true formula. And look how people do it, right? Take op-ed pieces, look at these persuasive things and reverse engineer it, take it apart, see and read. This is another thing I always do when I’m working with people.
Before we work together as I am getting their voice, they send me three reads and Netflix series they like. You see What you like? What moved you? What persuaded you? That’s your roadmap to get there. It’s your sensibility. You have it all. It’s like Dorothy, she always could get home. Well, she just knows you really do have it all inside. You just follow your own sensibilities and your own true north, and you’ll find that you will be moving the needle for people in ways you never imagined.
Samantha Hartley: Amazing. So you have said elsewhere that writing books and screenplays aren’t just revenue streams for you. So what are they then?
Laura Elliott: Yeah. Oh, it’s amazing work. I’ve written with people who have, like I said, gone through these huge, huge moments in their life and the work was their life raft. I don’t know if you’ve experienced that. I have in my own life, I’ve had a work, a piece that was my life raft. When things are completely upside down and crazy, I have the great honor in shepherding people through those experiences and seeing them to the other side, and seeing that darkness does turn into light.
My small role in that is to provide the safe little island, a place to come create, to organize, to make it easy and effortless in the face of challenges. And really, those challenges, those things that people go through, inform the work beyond. You can’t even imagine how much better it is. I’ve gone through wars, pandemics, revolutions. I’ve had people’s livelihoods be lost overnight. So it’s all just an honor to go through that with people. It’s like I said, a sacred kind of experience.
Samantha Hartley: It feels sacred. I have felt many times that my work is sacred.
Laura, where can our listeners learn more about you and your services?
Laura Elliott: At laurasmagicday.com
Samantha Hartley: What’s a good next step for people to take with you? I think they need to follow you on LinkedIn, and I will put those links in the show notes because your stories on LinkedIn are amazing. First of all, Laura’s Magic Day is a great way to describe them, they are so magical. We hear stories of you on the boat and your adventures, but also your life stories. And as we’re going to hear, you’re an amazing storyteller, so you should definitely follow Laura’s LinkedIn because her posts are just such a delight in my timeline. So where else would you like us to go?
Laura Elliott: Thank you so much. That means so much to me Samantha, that was such a sweet thing to say. For people that want to know more, there’s a ‘Work With Me’ tab on my website. It’s just filling out some information, and that way I can know more about how I can help you.
Samantha Hartley: Awesome.
Laura Elliott: So where people are short term trying to find their story, or a long term on a bigger project.
Samantha Hartley: As I mentioned, Laura is working right now with one of my clients who is delighted with her. It’s like we all have this kind of expertise that we do or our signature system and sometimes there’s a bigger story behind that. And so it’s a little memoir. It’s not a textbook, let’s just say that. So I love that you’re doing that work.
Laura Elliott: Oh, thank you. It helps get the message out there because it’s more relatable. So once people understand it, then they can take the systems and the ideas and create things and understand it better, so they’ll want to use it more.
Samantha Hartley: Totally. Thank you for everything, Laura. I really appreciate it. Those watching the video know that her video is fighting because she’s on a boat for goodness sake. People on the mainland envy those on an island. And those of us on an island are like, “I could be on a boat.”
Laura Elliott: Yeah, we’re separated by a continent.
Samantha Hartley: Thank you so much for being with me. Laura and I are wishing those of you, our listeners and viewers, a Profitable and Joyful Consulting Business. Thanks.
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