Gini Dietrich

Fiction, Write Club, and Content Creation

By: Gini Dietrich | November 7, 2013 | 

Fiction, Write Club, and Content CreationBy Gini Dietrich

If you’ve been hanging out around Spin Sucks for a year or more, you’ll know I’m a big fan of reading fiction to help your writing.

I don’t talk about it a ton, but it comes out every once in a while, particularly after I’ve read a really good book (cough, Defending Jacob, cough).

That’s why, during Content Jam, I was so excited to see the closing keynote. Billed as WRITE CLUB, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I knew anything with the word “write” in it was going to be compelling.

Jill Pollack, the founder of StoryStudio, came to the stage at the top of the hour and explained we were about to see two people square off, based on stories they had written.

They were given a topic – the retro or modern lives of social media – and they had only five minutes to tell their story and convince the audience their version was the best.


But before I tell you what happened, let’s back up and talk about this concept.

You’ve likely heard of poetry slams, where poets read or recite original work for a live audience. Their performances are judged by pre-selected members of the audience and they can win cash or bragging rights.

WRITE CLUB follows the same principle.

Two writers go up on stage and they clash over opposing ideas. They are given their topic ahead of time and their job is to write a story so compelling you want to vote for them.

They have no more than seven minutes to read you their story, gain fans, and garner votes.

The audience chooses a winner and a cut of the show’s proceeds goes to a charity of the victor’s choosing.

Now back to Content Jam.

The Closing Keynote

Jill asked for audience members to volunteer to serve as judges. It’s likely no surprise (it wasn’t to us) that our own Laura Petrolino practically climbed over the seats to get to the stage first. She was joined by two other attendees and they were given directions: Choose the winner by gauging the audience’s applause.

Ali Kelley, a StoryStudio student in their novelists roundtable, was given the social media retro topic. Throughout her storytelling, she talked about life in the 60s, as she imagined it…having been born much, much later. She was masterful in talking about why it was so much simpler back then – with back of the pickup truck rides and drinking Coca-Colas with your friends – then today’s fast-paced digital world.

Then Keith Ecker, a StoryStudio faculty advisor, came on stage to talk about why today’s world is the place to be. He highlighted everything that is great about social media and made fun of things such as talking in hashtags and everyone wanting a viral video.

In the end, Ali won…even though we all live in the fast-paced digital world and Keith made a great argument for it. She told her story slightly better and even had to catch herself from laughing while she read.

It was an incredible 10 minutes and the conference ended on a very high note.

Fiction and Content Creation

Since then, I’ve perused the StoryStudio site (multiple times), signed up for a couple of classes, and bent Jill’s ear about how this kind of practice might not just improve my writing, but my speaking.

Reading – and writing – fiction uses different brain muscles, which is why I’m such a fan of it for business content creators. Being able to transform readers to another world through the written word provides you the opportunity to think about business storytelling differently.

And now you have the opportunity to not just create the stories for your organization, but to tell them out loud during a new business presentation, through a series of videos, or during an industry conference presentation.

It’s scary. It’s out of most of our comfort zones. It puts you in a position to be critiqued. But it will make you better.

WRITE CLUB is in Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Toronto. If you live in one of those cities (or are visiting), I encourage you to check it out.

If you’re so inclined, you can start a new chapter with a simple application and some passion.

As you begin to think about your New Year’s resolutions, add fiction reading to your list, consider taking creative writing courses, and check out a live lit event near you!

Image is Keith Ecker performing with Laura Petrolino photo bombing.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • I ghost wrote all the Harry Potter books you do know.
    You take so much enjoyment of making your readers read and write. I do much more of former vs the latter. I wonder in 50 years when we have everything read to us by Siri and written by us talking to a computer will be like.

    • rdopping


    • Howie Goldfarb You’re right. I do take great enjoyment in making you do things. Will you make me a sammich?

  • One of the coolest experiences of Content Jam. I might to think about starting a local chapter here.  
    I wonder if there’s audio of me guffawing in the background. 😉

    • jasonkonopinski Don’t know that I’d compete, but would love to join the shenanigans if you do this! 🙂

      • lizreusswig Chewing on it. 😉

        • jasonkonopinski Speaking of chewing…this would be a fun concept for cooking, too!

    • jasonkonopinski Probably. You were really loud.

  • What a cool idea.
    One of the things I’ve always preached is that you can really inject some life into your content by using fiction or storytelling techniques.

    • ClayMorgan Whoda thunkit?

    • ClayMorgan I’m about 95% committed to finishing my novel next year. So there will be lots of fiction talk around these parts.

  • It was a great ending to Content Jam. I appreciated that the organizers integrated fiction into the conference and how well it all melded. Brought me back to my Columbia College Story Workshop days. I checked out the StoryStudio site the next day. Not all that conveniently located for me, but it looks awesome.

    • I am practically apoplectic with enthusiasm in my agreement with this! I definitely believe having a diverse range of approaches to enjoying words (and images) makes us better communicators. I talked a few days ago about my recent entry into Toastmasters ….. one of my favorites is “table topics” where we are given a prompt and have to speak extemporaneously for two minutes. The other wrinkle for me is that it’s a bilingual club so my “actual” speeches I am doing in Spanish which messes with my language facility (b/c I pretty much have to have the Spanish in front of me word for word vs being more flexible with English) but it’s making my brain do all kinds of calisthenics to keep up, which in the long run will be a good thing I hope! Thanks for sharing this.

      • biggreenpen That’s so cool! I’ve often considered joining Toastmasters to address some persistent vocal ticks that show up in conversation.

        • jasonkonopinski biggreenpen Me, too!

        • lizreusswig jasonkonopinski I am a little too new to Toastmasters to say anything definitive. I had tossed around the idea for years but never felt like I had time. I have heard enough bad speakers recently (about good topics) that, when I found a bilingual club, convinced me I could improve my speaking and my Spanish at the same time. The Spanish part as I said is a mixed blessing because I can’t purely work on my speaking technique but … that’s the only way I can justify the investment of time! And Jason it is a good vehicle for dealing with vocal ticks, etc. because you are given honest fair feedback (and each club has a grammarian/ah counter role …). Will keep sharing as I proceed!

        • lizreusswig jasonkonopinski biggreenpen Me three!

      • biggreenpen Wait. You’re doing them in Spanish?!?!

        • ginidietrich Sí

        • ginidietrich (but to be perfectly clear) – it’s a bilingual club. Two members are fluent; two are not fluent (very rudimentary). We can do our speeches in English but since my goal is to improve my Spanish (and, undoubtedly, entertain the native Spanish speakers), my goal is to almost always use Spanish.

        • biggreenpen That’s amazing. I’m impressed!

    • Word Ninja They have weekend workshops that might make it worth the trek to the city.

      • ginidietrich I was really tempted by the write-in sessions, too. The atmosphere looks amazing. Definitely worth the drive, just wish there was something similar down the street…that I’m walking along, one dark and stormy night when a stranger appeared out of the sewer mists…wow, just talking about it is inspiring.

        • Word Ninja I’m doing the write-in session on the 23rd, if you’re so inclined…

        • I’ll be heading out on a scouting expedition to NC/SC for the week that day but would LOVE to meet up for another write-in if you want to keep me posted for another date. I’ll do the same.

  • And of course, the first rule of Write Club is…You write about Write Club!

    • lizreusswig Did you go to their site? They have rules and they are H-I-larious!

      • ginidietrich Just did…that is funny!  How can you not love a group like that? 🙂

  • I loved both of these stories – but Ali’s made me laugh more. Agree with the comments below that by using fiction and storytelling techniques can really boost your content.

    • yvettepistorio And she’s a girl so we HAD to vote for her.

  • Aimee West

    How do you know when I am looking for information!?

  • amandag

    They both killed it. So good! Thanks for the Content Jam recaps, Team GiniD! 
    …oh, and nice image (stalkers. you AND LauraPetrolino)

    • amandag Hi! 🙂

      • amandag

        jasonkonopinski Oh hello there, stranger! How’s the Konopinski today?

        • amandag The Konopinski is doing wonderfully, thanks. How’s the Gant?

        • amandag

          jasonkonopinski the Gant is great and a little tired from all the Blackhawks game attending she was doing last night 🙂
          ginidietrich you didn’t see me?! I’ll try harder next time.

    • amandag LauraPetrolino You were too busy getting on the boobtube.

  • Arment Dietrich, Inc.

    We’re psychic 🙂 ^yp

  • Such a fun post Gini. I have been contemplating taking a creative writing course for a while.  Maybe I actually will now 🙂 And LOVED Defending Jacob too.

    • LSSocialEngage DO IT! We can do it together…virtually.

      • ginidietrich  Which classes did you sign up for so far?

        • LSSocialEngage I’m doing the write-in session on the 23rd, which I’m going to use to finish editing Spin Sucks. But next year I’m doing a novel in a year, which meets once a month and holds you accountable to getting it done.

        • That sounds awesome. Now there’s two things to look forward to in 2015. The release of Your third book ( and first fiction novel?) and Star Wars VII. I have to look around to see if they have something like that in Ottawa. Otherwise I may take an online continuing Ed course for starters.

  • Back in the good ol’ days, I used to take fiction writing night classes – just for fun. I am a HUGE fan of injecting STORY into your writing – especially when writing a boring business article – you have the opportunity to grab people’s attention and lure them into your post. And you should do it in the first paragraph if you want it to be super effective. 🙂

    • belllindsay I prefer to bury the lede. 😉

    • belllindsay I with Jason…I prefer to bury it.

      • ginidietrich jasonkonopinski Never. Bury. THE LEAD!!!

  • Marketers who never take a crack at writing fiction are missing out on a big opportunity professionally and personally.
    If our basic goal is to tell a story that compels people to respond, act or react it makes perfect sense to exercise all of the muscles we have at our disposal.
    Reminds me a bit of conversations I have had with friends who are big on exercise. I often ask if they have ever a real swimmer’s workout (I was on the school swim team years ago) and then I try not to laugh when they tell me they could do it easily.
    Because if you aren’t a swimmer and you try one of those workouts you’ll learn first hand just how many muscles aren’t being trained or aren’t adapted for water workouts.
    Same sort of concept here. You don’t have to be able to write a best selling novel but if you haven’t tried to tell someone about you got arrested for beating someone with a salami and about how you fended off a rapist in jail with a butter knife you really haven’t lived.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Really good analogy. I used to run marathons, but I haven’t run in years. There is no way I could go out and run a 5K now. But give me 200 miles on the bike and it’s no big deal.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Or how you fell off a porch.

  • BillDorman

    Let me tell you a story about a man named Jed…
    Yes, if you can paint a picture by telling a story you will captivate your audience. I know a few who do this very well. I think your strategy of putting yourself out there, out of your comfort zone, will only make you better.Good luck.

    • BillDorman Here’s the story of a lovely lady. Who was bringing up three very lovely girls. All of them had hair of gold, like their mother. The youngest one in curls.

  • Gini Dietrich

    Aimee, about two months ago, you had a procedure. I was inserted into your brain.

    • @Gini Dietrich  And this is the confirmation that I needed- Being John Malkovich has landed on terra firma. I am hoping the portal left only a scar. 
      Or is this straight out of Scott Pilgrim? Maybe @Aimee West should look for a microchip.

  • KevinVandever

    I thought the first rule of WRITE Club was to never talk about WRITE Club? 
    Sounds awesome and, yes, scary. I will check it out.

    • KevinVandever You should totally check it out. There is one in your city AND it’d be great for what you’re working on.

  • Don’t be afraid of fiction writing. Writing fiction helps me to understand what I would want to read – which I think translates really well into the content marketing strategy.  More than just understanding how to tell a story, I think writing fiction helps us to understand what our “voice” truly is. 
    Why would you write something that you wouldn’t want to read yourself? Who is going to share that content? If you wouldn’t send out your own link – why would anyone else want to? (Also, if you want to go right into the frying pan – it’s not too late to start NaNoWriMo (: )

    • marandagibson I did NaNoWriMo last year and got 62,000 words written. But I haven’t picked it back up to finish it. I got talked into writing Spin Sucks instead. But next year!

      • ginidietrich 62,000 is quite impressive. 🙂 Last year was my first to “win” (I think I did 51K)

        • marandagibson ginidietrich I signed up for the first time this year. I’m trying to finish a rewrite of a novel, which isn’t really in the rules of NaNo, but spurred me on to make a “public” commitment to getting it done. Great that you both accomplished those word counts? What kind of books?

        • Word Ninja Now I have another reason to talk you into the write-in on the 23rd. You have a book to finish!

  • Totally agree. I took a almost two years of sketch and screen writing classes at Second City and it taught me a TON about structure and story and show/don’t tell and tuning into your audience and a bunch of other stuff directly related to writing of any kind for any audience.

    • RobBiesenbach I was talking to Tim Washer a couple of weeks ago who went through a similar process as you. I’m amazed at how well the improv stuff works for what we do. But I’ll never do it. Waaaaaay outside of my comfort zone.

      • ginidietrich Yes but this is the writing program, which is waaaaaay less “out there” than improv. Even though it’s at Second City, it’s just writers working individually to write stuff, most of which will never be put on stage. Every week you bring in a new sketch, and it does get read out loud in class and people critique it, but that’s the extent of the risk to your comfort zone. 
        I did the improv, too, though, so had multiple opportunities to make an ass of myself and definitely too advantage of it!
        And I know Jill at StoryStudio and have long threatened to take some creative writing classes there. It seems like a great program!

        • RobBiesenbach Take a creative writing class there with me!

        • ginidietrich I’d be interested in a short story class! Maybe in the new year. Like you I do so much business writing that it’s hard to fit in “other” writing. The great thing about Second City was we had to write and bring in a comic sketch every week for almost a year and a half.

  • Absolutely agree! If you want to write, read. Lots and lots and lots. In fact, I go a step further. I always carry my highlighter sticky flag pens, and obsessively use my highlight and notes options in my Kindle app. I flag new words or sayings and make note of them for later. I think about what about those words and lines appealed to me. How has the author crafted that sentence? What caught your eye? Was it the structure, the word choice, the humour? I know, without looking, that one of the most beautiful and challenging sentences ever penned lives on the upper paragraph of page 17 in Ondaatje’s “In The Skin Of A Lion.” I read that first almost 20 years ago, and committed the page reference, if not the exact wording, to memory as an example of pure brilliance. It struck me so hard I felt a bit like Brian Wilson upon hearing St Pepper’s- I will never, ever live to create something so perfect and lovely. But- I analyzed it and learned what I could about his craft. I may never reach that level of word smithery, yet learned from the structure he employed. So it goes.

    • RebeccaTodd This is the geekiest thing you have every said. I love it!

    • RebeccaTodd Did you like the rest of the book?

  • Aimee West

    I wondered what that scar on the back of my neck was.

  • jenzings

    Ah, I so adore this post. Reading fiction has so many benefits (they’ve done studies that show that people who read fiction are more empathetic and are better at reading the moods of others–that has direct applicability in business settings).
    Writing fiction is a wonderful challenge. If people don’t think they have the time to write fiction, try flash fiction. It’s stories by paragraph, practically. I’m extremely lucky that New Hampshire has a very vibrant writing community–there are writer’s nights out, tons of workshops, and the New Hampshire Writer’s Project is a wonderful resource. Writing fiction helps your non-fiction writing in so many ways. Storytelling is a key component in marketing and persuasion, is it not?

    • jenzings It totally is a key component in marketing and persuasion. Yes!

  • I wish I could join one of these clubs! 
    I love writing fiction (even though I’m not very good at it.) I actually wrote a blog post once on how writing fiction helps me improve my marketing writing.

  • Fantastic piece. Be a writer first and a marketer second– or at least remember to step outside of the marketing sandbox often enough that you don’t get stuck in a rut of humorless jargon. I would say very few people get excited about reading anything that fits that description. (This is a great nudge for me to get back to doing more reading and less Netflix-ing. After I finish the third season of Downton Abbey, of course.) 

    • SarahAParker Oh you definitely need to finish Downton Abbey first!

      • ginidietrich I may have taken care of that last night : )

  • Woohoo! Look at my fine photo bombing performance! See how I do it was such skill and ease. That technique took years to perfect! Years I tell you. Don’t try it unless you are a professional.
    Anyway, enough about me (for now)…I have to say that Write Club was so cool I honestly thought about moving just to be able to attend their sessions. I don’t just think tapping into this creativity is helpful for writing (and speaking), but really all aspects of both your professional and personal life. It forces us to expand our thinking and getting in the practice of doing so will help us expand the way we view the world and think about everything we encounter. So instead of just looking at a fork in the usual way, you start to look at a fork within context of all the stories it might be part of, all the different perspectives of the same fork, and so on and so on…
    I’d start a Florida chapter but in the hands of Floridians this would probably just turn into porn 🙁

    • LauraPetrolino Yeah, Florida has a way of bringing out the worst in everything! LOL

    • LauraPetrolino Wouldn’t it be in your hands if you started the chapter?

      • ginidietrich I’m a pretty persuasive force, but I don’t think even I am powerful enough to fight the Florida powers of porn….you have no idea! 
        Or I could just limit membership to myself, TaraGeissinger, biggreenpen  and BillDorman (well maybe not Bill if we want to keep it PG, but the rest of us…)

  • That sounds like so much fun.
    When you say the writers got up and talked about their ideas, do you mean they read their stories? Or was it more of a contest in extemporaneous public speaking. Either way, it sounds fun. I would love to do some competitive writing…to the death! (and by that, I mean to the mildly uncomfortable)

    • ExtremelyAvg They had five minutes to read their stories. It was awesome!

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