A Storyteller’s Creative Process


I’m the Digital Storyteller for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It’s a new position that I’m happy to say I’m really enjoying. I’ve gotten to learn so much about digital platforms, content, and subjects within the Agency. Back in January and February, I wrote and published a series on our blog about Community Emergency Response Teams: teams of volunteers that are trained to support first responders after disasters occur.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about and working toward making disaster response and recovery something that people want to read about in their digital worlds–on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and my personal favorite: the FEMA Blog.

I took this job thinking I was going to be spending a lot of my time doing “conventional blogging.” Truth be told, I thought it’d be a lot like my life before I took this job, just having a different subject matter.

But, like I am pretty often, I was wrong. (One of the times I’m pretty happy to have been.)

It’s “a horse of a different color” when you think about digital content in terms of storytelling. You try to captivate your audience, like my favorite authors always have. The arena is just different: WordPress, Tumblr, a government-owned space…

When I start writing a post for work (whether it’s a long form story or an Instagram post), it tends to start with two things: a mechanical pencil and a five subject notebook. It’s pretty archaic considering the resources that are out there, but I guess I’m just a little old fashioned!

The writing process starts with an outline of questions: “What am I looking to get out of this? What do I want my audience to get out of this? Is this going to be a narrative? A photo essay? A short/medium/long form piece?”

Once I know the answers to those, I start writing away. I generally find myself erasing more than writing; trying to wordsmith perfect sentences…even in a first draft. I always strive to make the first draft the best it can be, even though I know it will always be one of the worst after a peer review.

My whole creative process doesn’t just stick with a notebook though. I find myself doing well when I get out a whiteboard and markers. Sometimes college ruled paper is just too constricting. (I’ve also been known to turn a notebook sideways.)

No matter what, it’s always about being creative and making it fun. If it’s not fun to write, it’s probably not going to be fun or interesting to read.

What’s your favorite way to get ideas flowing? What’s your creative process like?

Jessica Stapf is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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