7 Secrets to Writing Stories That Change Lives

When you think of transformation, what images come to mind? Perhaps a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, or a classic rags-to-riches tale.

Transformation can mean a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance, or a metamorphosis during the life cycle of an animal.

When you instigate transformation through your writing, you’re creating transformational writing. Transformational writing is writing that changes lives.

Think about how your writing can transform lives on the following levels:

  • Transform yourself: How will your life be different as a result of your writing?

  • Transform your reader: How can you change the life of your reader? What could you say that could positively impact the lives of others?

  • Transform your world: How can your book make a significant difference in the world?

The seven secrets of transformational writing

When you write, consider these elements in order to ensure that your work maximizes its potential impact.

1. The secret of meaning

Every word has meaning. Each action or plot twist in your story should also convey some kind of meaning. This isn’t to say that every element has to be some kind of profound life-changing event, but consider the concept of parables and hidden meanings.

Think about ways to add new levels of meaning to your writing. What is your story or book really about on its deepest level? What are the deeper meanings your writing can convey through stories?

2. The secret of legend

Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, popularized the storytelling concept known as the hero’s journey. Also known as the monomyth or metanarrative, the hero’s journey is a deeply imprinted story template that connects people from diverse cultures throughout history. There are several variations of the hero’s journey, but the basic elements follow the protagonist or hero through a departure, an initiation, and a return.

The departure begins in the hero’s ordinary world with a call to adventure, a refusal of the call, a bit of aid (often supernatural), and the commencement of an adventure. The initiation phase consists of the road of trials, meeting with a mentor, some form of crucifixion, and a resurrection or transformation. The return is where the hero demonstrates mastery of both worlds and brings back the reward. Along the journey the hero may meet various characters including a herald, a mentor, a trickster, a god or goddess, several allies, and of course, some enemies.

There are many variations of the hero’s journey, but if you look closely you will see the template in many popular stories and myths. How can you create a larger-than-life legend in your own writing? Who is your hero?

3. The secret of vision

When visionary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille headed west to make movies in 1913, California was nothing more than “orange groves and desert” and movies were considered a passing fad. He followed his vision and went on to establish Hollywood as the motion picture capital of the world with over 70 major films to his credit.

Henry Ford said that if he had listened to what the people wanted, he would have created a faster horse. Instead he invented the automobile, something that nobody knew about or wanted until it was created. When John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress in 1678, nobody had ever seen a novel before.

What is something new that you could say or create that no one has ever seen before?

4. The secret of showing

One day Buddha silently held up a flower to the assembly of his disciples. One disciple smiled, understanding completely and became enlightened. Words were not needed.

The human brain reacts more to images and stories than it does to explanatory instructions. Think about an early storyteller weaving tales around a fire; perhaps he described how a leopard pounced on his younger brother, who was walking alone along the dark path under the mango tree, and tore him to shreds. Wouldn’t that have more effect than simply telling the audience that leopards can be dangerous animals?

Show, don’t tell. Check out the award-winning film The Artist or watch the short film Nuit Blanche for wonderful examples of visual storytelling.

While writing your book, even if it’s nonfiction, imagine how your stories could be translated into images. How can you make your storytelling more visual and less explanatory?

5. The secret of releasing

Many of my greatest writing successes have come when I wasn’t looking for them. When I was in my second year of law school I began having second thoughts about my future career. Did I really want to become an attorney?

Even though I was still doing well in school while working a full-time government job, I began to wonder whether I had made the right choice. Around that time I received a call out of the blue from a previous publisher who asked me if I could write a book about identity theft.

Realizing that my heart was more into a writing career than practicing law, I accepted the assignment and took a leave of absence from law school. I later returned to graduate school, but this time to earn my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. I let go of my plans for a legal career and my writing career took off.

This also applies to certain projects after you’ve done everything you can. Sometimes you just need to let go and move on. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)

What do you need to release in order to take your writing career to the next level?

6. The secret of silence

What if you spent less time talking about writing and more time writing? What if you listened more than you talked?

Become aware of the still, small voice within. What is the space between your thoughts? Learn to listen to the silence. Take time every day to sit or walk or stand in silence. Whether you call it meditation, silent prayer, or waiting in the stillness, listen for the voice inside you. What does it want you to know?

7. The secret of action

Have you ever known someone who is always talking about what they are going to do someday, but they never take any action?

I’ve met many aspiring writers who spend a lot of time talking about their stories and telling people what they are going to do one of these days. I’ve known others who are always reading books about writing, taking writing workshops, and going to writers groups. But they never get their books written. They often start but never finish. Many never get started.

I’ve done this myself: I recall telling a counselor that I had just checked out half a dozen books on writing from the library and enrolled in a writing class. When he asked me if I had started writing anything yet, I had to tell him no.

Sometimes the smallest actions can yield the greatest results. Sometimes less is more. Rather than getting overwhelmed with thinking and talking about all these major projects that you don’t have time for, take small actions on a consistent basis. Learn to take baby steps. One word at a time. One page at a time. Five minutes at a time. One day at a time.

Small actions yield results

How can you break your writing into baby steps? What will you write today?

How has writing changed your life? How will you transform the lives of others with your words?

The seven secrets of transformational writing are excerpted from Transformed by Writing: How to Change Your Life and Change the World with the Power of Story.

Filed Under: Craft


  • Monique Summers says:

    Thank you for your wonderful insight Robert! This is excellent advice!

    For anyone interested in watching the short film “Nuit Blanche” (recommended in secret #4), it can be found here:

  • Marie Mona Joseph says:

    I did not know what I needed to know in order to take my writing to the next level. After reading the seven steps, I resolve to take my writing serious and go for it. Leaving all fear behind, I begin to take baby steps. In January 2010, the earthquake that devastated Haiti left a void in my life and discouragement settled in. Now I am back in school at SNHU and I am definitely on my way to keeping a long time promise to myself.
    Thank you for your hard work and thank you for keeping it real


  • Wanda (AKA Lawander) Thompson says:

    WOW…this was the best advice since my last class, to give yourself persmission to have bad drafts and to start somewhere, how to apply the “down draft.”
    Alll of my stories are passed down from oral tradition, and they all have a central hero in different adventures that save the good in people and denounce the not so good in people through folktales. So this just hit me, that I’m on track, in my story lines and meanings to tell my stories of the colossal heroes in lifes’s journey, with a spiritual lesson.
    I did not have a name for it before but now I do and I have been doing this all along. Each semester is a step-up.
    Excellent secrets that resonate with the heart of my writing.

  • Ron says:

    This has been a very eye opening read. At first the Secrets 1-4 jumped out as the most influential to me, and actually the most refreshing. I actually thought of new ideas for a favorite book that I have written that has not found a home as of yet. So many of us don’t consider that perhaps our story is something seen before and we often don’t really have a meaning to the story at all. The stories that have stayed with us all have a meaning, a moral, or a lesson to learn. My book didn’t really have that.

    But then Secret 5 spoke to me more as I read it, perhaps in a different way than intended. I released my original ideas about my book. I let them go and found something new, something fresher, and more exciting to my mind. And that goes along with Secret 6 in that the ideas came as I was reading this the article and just focusing on what it all meant.

    We all like to say writing is our life, but what we do with our lives should be something worthwhile to others otherwise we are being self serving. By writing with intent to give readers something new and something mind changing, we grow ourselves in many ways along with those who read our books.

    Thank you for the Secrets.

  • Darlene Marcucci-Miller says:

    Grazie for this beautiful posting/article. Today in our celebrity mindset it is nice to hear that it is not about fame and fortune (which few make) but making a difference in some significant way. It is not about the razzle dazzle but sharing from your life in a way that intersects with others in a meaningful way. 2014 is my year for stepping out into serious writing. The last several months have been preparation, research, and selecting which project to move forward with along with the announcement to friends and family that for four hours a day I will not be available. I am propelled by some modest success in getting published in 2013 and enthusiastic responses to some of my creations among those close to me. My goal is to set down everything I’ve plotted out over the last two years and then to tackle the publishing aspect from that point. In the meantime, hearing such noble thoughts from a respected author encourages me that in embarking on this course of making my “calling” a vocation does not remove basic ideals from the picture!

  • Thank you so much for this post. Number 7 really resonated with me. I’m that person who checks out books from the library about writing and devours them, but most often doesn’t actually write. I think to myself, “I’ll write something after I finish the chapter,” but that chapter turns into the next one and then the one after that, and so on. Its encouraging to know that its okay to take baby steps, as long as you at least take them. Thanks again

  • I’ve been learning the art of story writing for a while so I can better serve others. Beautiful article Robert with excellent advice!

  • This is a truly inspiring post that I have already read through three times. There is an awful lot in it. I have bookmarked it and intend to read it each day before I sit down to write.
    I love the Buddha analogy especially – Thank you

Speak Your Mind

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.