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How Thinking Like a Writer Advances Your Work Story

Great authors all know secrets that are hidden from the 98% of us who are not writers and never intend to be. Yet the storytelling techniques used by writers can enhance our careers and professional success.

The good news to share is that you don’t really need to be a writer, you simply need to think like one. Applying the thought-process of a writer and making their mindset your filter will empower you to move your work story forward in any way you choose.

How do I know? Well, despite having been a media chief innovation officer (CIO) and a leader of brands, teams and projects, there were lessons for success that I never knew until I wrote a book. And now that I know them, I’m imparting how you can start leading more boldly and innovating more productively.

Here are three essential traits every great writer possesses that you can begin to cultivate within yourself:


To get the best story result, writers:

  • Identify the problem that their protagonist needs to solve.
  • Determine the obstacle that is in the way of solving that problem.
  • And then, set that character’s quest – the intentional goal that will overcome the obstacle and resolve the problem.

Being quest-centric means that writers focus on the solution. To do so, their character’s quests must be forward-looking, positive and proactive (rather than problem-centric, negative and reactive). In The Wizard of Oz, for example, if the author framed Dorothy’s quest in a problem-centric way, she would languish in Oz forever. Instead, Dorothy’s quest is solution-oriented – she sets off to meet the wizard who she believes has the power to get her home.

Framing your own quest like a writer amplifies results. Let’s say you’re trying to overcome a lack of adequate compensation. A problem-centric intention would be I need more money. A quest-centric intention would be: To learn these three new skills and justify my next raise.

Test this one thing today:

Identify one career story problem that you’re facing and re-frame it in a quest-centric way – what will you do to overcome it? This perspective shift will help you to be more self-directed and grab the reins of your career.


All storytellers must first be great questioners to best gather research and advance their stories with dialogue. Within scenes, if characters ask closed questions that yield one-word or non-revealing answers, the story withers. Instead, writers ask open-ended questions that begin with tell mewhat or how to create the deeper dialogue that moves stories forward. Likewise, creative questioning is one of your most powerful secret weapons to shape your most effective stories at work. Not only does the right question enable you to understand anything more completely, but it also bestows the ideas and solutions that wait within the enlightening answers.

Test this one thing today:

Let curiosity drive your conversations – pick one person and ask them an open-ended question like: tell me about the most interesting thing you’re working on, and you’ll discover so much more than you expect.


Writers write, then rewrite, revising and perfecting as they go. Any book you read is probably draft 200 – before it hit the shelves, every word was continually finessed by the author. Just as with writing, revisions are a key part of any creative process, project or initiative at work. The power to iterate, pivot or reimagine entirely and discard in favor of unexpected discoveries along the way is always in your hands. So, welcome the constant process of finessing and tweaking that can ultimately get you to a breakthrough leap.

Test this one thing today:

Think about one idea you have – from streamlining a process at work to turning a passion into a side-gig – and make it real. Even though it will be imperfect, take it out of the air and draft it on the page. Give it a name, figure out what problem it solves and just keep editing. You might be surprised by what takes shape.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected]. And to read more from our Spring 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.

Deborah Burns’ story has always been about invention and reinvention. She’s lived those two keywords throughout her career as a women’s media Chief Innovation Officer (CIO), a leader of brands like ELLE Décor and Metropolitan Home, an industry consultant and throughout a creative pivot that led to the award-winning memoir, “Saturday’s Child.”

The experience of becoming an author illuminated the path to her second book, “Authorize It! Think Like a Writer to Win at Work & Life.” Now, Deborah combines her business and creative expertise in professional development workshops that improve outcomes and help everyone invent, reinvent and live up to their career potential.

You can connect with Deborah on LinkedIn or at her website.

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