Yes, there are stories to tell

Recently, I heard another author claiming there are no more the stories to be told. All the stories that could be told have been written. All that’s left are changes to the characters and the scenery. Authors who make this claim support their argument by listing a few basic plots all stories use.

Many stories have the same basic plots because they follow standard templates such as the hero’s journey or “save the cat” with its planned story beats. Yes, following templates like these will result in all the stories being told.

If a writer wants to write a different story, they need to be creative and ignore templates. This comes with risk as readers may reject something different from the template driven stories they are used to reading. But, I think this is a small risk.

I’m always asking readers what they are reading. While some read the same authors (who use the same templates), the majority enjoy finding something different. When they do, they stay with that author. I think the best way for an author to stand out and be successful is to write something that is not like everyone else’s story.

I’ve blogged about this topic before. But, I’m writing about it again to encourage writers to reject the well worn path of standard templates. Stop writing the story that everyone has already told. Like Robert Frost wrote:

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Volunteers in a Nonprofit

I have not been a nonprofit volunteer coordinator responsible for managing volunteers’ time. The following are some of my thoughts from working with coordinators and nonprofits.

I found that the biggest problem with volunteers is dependability. Many times, people scheduled to show up do not come nor do they call that they are not coming. While there’s no clear solution to this problem, except keeping a list of people to call at the last minute, there are ways to make things easier for everyone.

What I saw that works best to improve dependability is scheduling people for specific days in the month. This way they know for that month when they are volunteering. Also, volunteers seem to like a monthly schedule.

Communication is important for scheduling. I found it surprising that nonprofits have limited contact with volunteers. Many nonprofit coordinators do not text or email and instead rely on phone calls. They provide little notice to volunteers when needed or assume the volunteer will come on a certain day because they did the previous month. Nonprofits need to communicate with their volunteers on a regular basis.

The big thing missing for nonprofits is that they do not send reminders a day or two before the volunteer is scheduled, and giving the volunteer an easy way to respond. There are software programs which will do this.

Finally, nonprofits are almost always needing volunteers. Yet, many of them do not advertise. Every nonprofit needs an overabundance of volunteers for when someone does not show up. Nonprofits need to tell people they need help.

My experience has been with many small nonprofits, so I wonder if large nonprofits have the same problem. Nonprofits and volunteers want the nonprofit mission to be successful. To accomplish this, nonprofits should communicate and volunteers should show up when they said they would.

Writing by Templates

Here are two ways to write a story:

  1. The writer creates characters, action, and an environment based on how they think the story should unfold.
  2. The writer follows a template, created by someone else, that dictates who the characters are, when action takes place, and most times what the ending will be. Examples of templates are Save the Cat and The Hero’s Journey.

In June 2019, I read a blog by Janice Hardy titled The Lure of the Writing Template: Why Filling in the Blanks Doesn’t Work.” Janice was a guest blogger on Anne R. Allen’s blogsite.

Janice wrote, “When templates are used for developing stories or to help keep writers focused, they’re useful. But when they dictate how writers should write their books and tell their stories—especially if they give false hope as to the marketability of those stories—they lead writers down a dangerous path.”

I agree with Janice. Yes, it is easy to follow a template, like following a paint-by-numbers kit. However, the writer must “. . . hit specific turning points at specific times, even if they don’t fit . . .” as the template demands. By avoiding a template, a writer can tell the story as they think it should be written.

Writing is a creative process and I think using a template diminishes the creativity. However, a writer can write and sell more books by following a template. It is faster and readers recognize the formalistic style. Therein lies the decision.

To write for quality or quantity. If a writer’s primary income comes from novels, many feel they must write for quantity and follow a template. This is not necessarily true.

There are many successful writers who do not follow a template. They write a story they feel is their story and not someone else’s. Whichever way a writer chooses, it should be their story and not someone else’s.

A Nonprofit’s Turnover Rate

A turnover of staff (employees leave and are replaced) greater than forty percent over a six month period is not good for any organization and can be critical to nonprofits. This should be a warning sign to grant writers that it may be difficult working with the nonprofit.

A high turnover can mean a continuous change in mission direction, different goals, redirected priorities, and always new people to work with. Sometimes nonprofits need this change and it is understandable that staff leave as a result. It is important that the grant writer know why so many people leave.

Besides a planned overhaul of the nonprofit, the most common reasons staff leave can be underpay, no upward mobility, and excessive workloads. However, I think people who work for a nonprofit do so because they believe in the mission. They want to stay despite the low pay or even working conditions and it takes a lot of negativity to discourage them to leave.

While negativity can come from other employees, I find that staff leave more because board members overstep their authority and/or the executive director’s lack of leadership.

A grant writer may try to change this situation. However, if they decide to get involved, they are not writing grants and have assumed a different role in the nonprofit. Eventually, the leadership leaves and/or the nonprofit fails. That is when the grant writer is most needed.