The Forrest Gump Guide to Writing That Bites Readers in the Buttocks
Southern Gentleman (John Worsham): “It was a bullet, wasn’t it?”
Forrest: “A bullet?”
Southern Gentleman: “That jumped up and bit you.”
Forrest: “Oh. Yes, sir. Bit me directly in the but-tocks.”
One moment, you’re checking your email or surfing the web or browsing through the aisles of Barnes & Noble, minding your own business, doing nobody any harm, and that’s when it happens…
You read something that jumps up and bites you in the buttocks.
It’s so beautifully written, so painfully true, you can’t help feeling like you just got shot. No, it’s not a physical wound, but you can feel the ideas kicking around inside you, and you know somehow that they’ll stay with you for a very long time.
Maybe you even wonder how you can write like that yourself. So few can.
With blogging in particular, most writing is pitiful, full of shallow ideas and poorly told stories. The posts are hardly memorable, much less capable of making readers feel like they just took a physical blow.
The good news is Forrest Gump is here to help. Here are some of the best lines from the movie, along with advice on exactly how you can up your game:
Forrest Gump: “Hello. I’m Forrest… Forrest Gump.”
Army Bus Driver: “Nobody gives a horse’s shit who you are, pus ball! You’re not even a low-life, scum-sucking maggot!”
And the truth is, neither are we.
Yes, I know you have the world’s greatest untold story. Yes, I know you’re aching to tell it. Yes, I know it’ll turn readers into blubbering, sobbing messes of emotion.
But restrain yourself for a while.
I waited years, though. Not because it took me that long to tell the tale, but because that’s how long it took me to earn it.
Before your readers care about you, first they have to know how much you care about them.
Their problems. Their dreams. Their questions.
Not yours. At least, not in the beginning.
An audience is only ready to hear your story when they feel you really and truly have heard theirs. Never before.
Jenny: “Do you have a dream, Forrest, about who you’re going to be?”
Forrest: “Aren’t I going to be me?”
Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to stick your personality in a box and stuff it in long-term storage. Lordy, no.
Any great writer’s personality bleeds into the page. There’s a special quality to their words, sentences, and paragraphs that’s as unique to them as a fingerprint.
Part of your job as a beginning writer is to find your own writing fingerprint. You were born with it, just as much as you were born with arms and toes and fingernails.
And the journey to find it, why, that’s one of the greatest journeys there is.
Truly dedicated writers don’t just explore topics and ideas and audiences, looking for the right match. They explore voices too, saying things this way and that until they find the voice that bubbles up right from their soul.
You can find that voice. It’s inside you.
You just need the courage to express it.
Drill Sergeant: “GUMP! What’s your sole purpose in this army?”
Gump: “To do whatever you tell me, Drill Sergeant?”
Drill Sergeant: “Goddammit Gump, you’re a goddamn genius. That’s the most outstanding answer I’ve ever heard. You must have a goddamn IQ of 160! You’re goddamn gifted, Private Gump!”
The best way to find that courage?
Get a mentor.
Too many writers struggle in solitude, fumbling to learn how to write all on their own. It’s a horrible mistake, not only because our craft is devilishly complicated, but because the anxiety of not knowing whether you’re good enough can rip you apart inside.
A mentor can tell you. A mentor can teach you. A mentor can make you a great writer decades sooner than you could have become one on your own.
So, where do you find one?
Well, you don’t. Mentors aren’t found. They’re bought.
In the olden days, parents would pay master craftsman to take their child in as an apprentice. Thousands of years later, it’s still largely the same. The only difference is you pay the master, in most cases, not your parents.
So, find yourself a good writing teacher and pay them to teach you. If you’re serious about writing, it’s the best investment you could possibly make.
(PS: You can find one of my mentorship programs here.)
Forrest: “Now Bubba told me everything he knew about shrimping, but you know what I found out? Shrimping is tough.”
The harsh truth, though?
Yes, a mentor is a must, but there are also certain ephemeral lessons you can learn only by your lonesome. And it’s tough. Just as tough as shrimping, I would guess.
For example, deciding what to write. A mentor can teach you how to organize sentences, express your ideas, and even deal with your inhibitions, but tell you what to say? Sorry. Nobody can decide that but you.
The bad news is the decision of what to say is maybe even more important than knowing how to say it.
In my years as a teacher, I’ve taught more than 1,000 bushytailed bloggers how to write, and I like to think I’ve made all of them better, but there’s a certain percentage of them that just can’t help writing about the dumbest things. Oh, they write it well, but it’s a topic no one cares about, so it does nobody any good.
On the flip side, there are also bloggers who write about topics the world is so desperate to learn more about they can’t help become popular. When they sign up for one of my courses, I just take away the rough edges. Nothing more, really.
Which camp do you fall into?
Well, I don’t know, but I believe it’s a choice. And it’s one only you can make.
Lt. Dan: “They gave you the congressional Medal of Honor.”
Forrest: “Yes, sir. They surely did.”
Lt. Dan: “They gave you, an imbecile, a moron who goes on television and makes a fool out of himself in front of the whole damn country, the congressional Medal of Honor.”
Forrest: “Yes, sir.”
Lt. Dan: “Well, that… that’s just perfect!”
The good news?
Not all your decisions have to be right. In fact, you might as well prepare yourself – a fair percentage of what you write will be shockingly stupid, and when you publish it, you’ll look like a fool in front of everyone.
But therein lies a precious secret:
The difference between a great writer and a merely good one is being willing to look like a fool. You have to be fearless, writing not with a squeak, but with a roar.
That’s what readers remember. That’s what readers reward.
Forrest: “Sorry I had a fight in the middle of your Black Panther party.”
How, exactly, do you write with a roar?
Well, you can start by standing up to the bad guys. Not just obvious ones like serial killers and rapists and drug dealers, but every day baddies like mean-spirited critics, moneygrubbing gurus, and brainless bloggers.
Don’t do it in anger. Don’t call anyone names. Don’t be self-righteous.
In fact, be the opposite. Be humble, maybe even a little apologetic for having to cause a commotion, but also unquestionably firm in your convictions and unwilling to back down.
A lot of times, you’ll be all alone. You might even be surrounded by a whole industry of people who vehemently disagree with you.
But you’ll also get emails from people who are grateful for someone saying something. Seeing your courage, a few other brave souls might even speak up and publicly agree with you.
Your job is to be that spark, to be the lone voice of dissent willing to take a stand. A small but very loyal group of people will love you for it.
Lt. Dan: “Come on! You call this a storm? Blow, you son of a bitch, blow! It’s time for a showdown! You and me! I’m right here! Come and get me! Ha ha! Ha ha! You’ll never sink… this… boat! Ha ha ha ha!”
And most of all?
Never, ever give up.
Yes, you can make adjustments. Yes, you can change directions. Yes, you can even start over, if you have to.
But don’t quit. Not ever.
Not when you’re struggling to pay the bills. Not when your family thinks you’re crazy. Not when everyone ignores your work. Not when publishers reject you. Not when you feel like God is urging you to do something else.
It will be tempting, believe me. I thought about quitting lots of times. At the end of the day though, here’s the simple truth:
If you’re a writer, you write. Every day. For life.
That’s how you get good. That’s how you get respect. That’s how you build an audience.
And Forrest Gump?
If you remember, Jenny told him to run. You know, “Run, Forrest, run!”
Well, I’m changing that up a bit. For us, the motto is “Write, writer, write!”
Do that, and everything else will take care of itself. Just you watch and see.
About the Author: Jon Morrow has asked repeatedly to be called “His Royal Awesomeness,” but no one listens to him. So, he settles for CEO of Boost Blog Traffic, LLC. Poor man.