You’re reading SLANT LETTER, a monthly letter designed for writers like you looking to deepen your craft and practice soul care in the creative life. Subscribe to get it straight from this editor’s desk to your inbox, plus my free guide to crafting your unique writing angle. Also: are we Instagram friends yet?
Whether you’re new to SLANT LETTER or have been along the ride over the past six (six!) years (bless you), you know by now that as a reader, writer, and editor, the angle is it for me. There’s no question I love asking writers more than this: what is the boldest thing you have to say?
Because that’s what we all want, isn’t it? To get to the guts of a thing.
I recently joined digital marketing extraordinaire Caleb Peavy, founder of Unmutable, on his podcast to talk about creative concepting through the life of a book. We covered a short list of what I’m looking for not just in a proposal but a prospective author, the publishing industry as a business of (something invigorating, sometimes devastating) hope, and why it’s essential to stay in touch with yourself and your voice throughout the process.
At the end of our time, Caleb asked me if I would be willing to put together 10 prompts for leading with your angle in Instagram Reels, and I said challenge accepted, so here we are. And Caleb accepted his own challenge of putting these to work over the next 30 days, if you want to see them in action!
Let me begin with a showing of my cards. I am no apologist for the algorithm gods which reign our day. Like many authors I work with, I am conflicted—at best—and resistant—at my feistiest—to any video feed that gives me motion sickness and carpal tunnel. I have watched many writers grow discouraged by the dominance of Reels in a place where they used to play and find joyful expression.
On my side of the publishing desk, frankly I am not thrilled that the written word is taking a backseat to video. Because I’m in the work of underline-able sentences, and no matter how viral a video, these do not always (or often) translate well to the page. The privileging of image and motion over language makes both your job as a writer and my job harder.
I don’t often talk about the mechanics of publishing here, because the focus of SLANT LETTER is the writing craft itself, but I hope I can speak some empathy here on behalf of the public work you are doing.
Let it be known: your work is hard. And I see you in it.
In our podcast conversation, Caleb said the first three seconds of a Reel determine whether a viewer engages or keeps moving. This urgency is the same when it comes to book titling and covers: the first impression matters, and it is always fleeting. Which is why we need a strong angle more than ever.
Listen, you don’t have to make Reels. The form isn’t as interesting to me as the message itself, the actual “something to say.” But I am always interested in exercises that press us to get to the guts of something with more immediacy. So maybe there’s an invitation here, after all. Perhaps video, caption, copy, or title draft can be a playing field in which to practice the art of the angle in micro form.
Because I have found that where there are constraints, there is often deep potential for creativity. If we let them, limitations can press us into profoundly generative work.
So whether you are pitching an article, crafting a personal essay, titling a podcast episode, polishing a book proposal, or creating a Reel, my hope is these 10 prompts will meet you wherever you are and provide some creative kindling for your way.
Debunk a myth—like this simple, yet lovely word from a writer to writers.
Edit an adage—Consider the conventional advice, then pick up your red pen and give it a live edit. A great example of this is Aundi Kolber’s Try Softer, or for a cheeky Reels edition, see Sarah Nicole Landry’s “realistic girl summer.”
Make an argument—Go ahead, channel your inner contrarian. Make a case. Draw a line. Take a side. See: Sarah Bessey’s Why Everything You Think You Know About the Nativity is Probably Wrong or Morgan Harper Nichols’ “A Case for Journaling.”
Name an experience or dynamic that is keenly felt but has not yet been fully or aptly identified. See: Stephen Pressfield’s “Resistance” from his book The War of Art, “revenge bedtime procrastination,” or the most-read article from the New York Times in 2021 which nailed this: “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.”
Fill in the blank—I really love this one! Which is designed for curiosity. The idea is to intrigue the brain by presenting an omission, such as this TED Talk title, “The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get” (I’m listening!) or What No One Tells You: A Guide to Your Emotions from Pregnancy to Motherhood which I read (and recommend) after my daughter was born.
Declare a superlative—This is one of my all-time favorites. If ever your angle feels a bit light, a bit generic, take your idea to the nth degree: the most dangerous, the most powerful, the most overlooked, the greatest, the costliest, the biggest mistakes, the best perspective, the most common reasons…nothing brings an angle into clarity like taking it into superlative voice. See: “The Most Overlooked Leadership Skill.”
Craft a high-value how-to—Take the brass tacks approach and speak straight to what your people want. See: Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing or “Garden Marcus” Bridgewater on how to propagate plants.
Pose a question—There’s nothing like a well-crafted question to snap human curiosity awake. A question might reach into a relatable experience, it might be provocative, open-ended or suggestive, but questions all have this in common: they engage the reader in conversation, like this question posed from author Jennifer Dukes Lee.
Take it behind the scenes—Sure, this one makes for a great Reel, like Austin Kleon’s writing process preview or this inspiring studio tour, but also makes for great essays and books, such as Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory. Take your reader inside an experience that is unique to you, then draw out toward truth that matters for them, too.
Finally, throw out the rule book—I’m talking subversion, which can be its own art form. Like this delightful clip from Nora McInerny, who has a whole Reels series on “inspirational content” and it’s pure play and joy. Or, see the classic The Book with No Pictures. Understand the assignment, then get to work upending it. Mischief managed. The invitation here is to have FUN.
What you’ll note all of these prompts have in common: they’re designed for curiosity. A well-crafted angle will always leave you wanting more.
Most of all, I hope you’ll give yourself permission to PLAY. Get curious, go deeper, discover without the pressure to produce. Then let your work flow from that place of authentic discovery.
Until next time,
Take heart. Write on. You got this.
If you’ve found something that speaks to you here…
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P.S. // A Blessing for Writers
SLANT LETTER is about both craft + soul care for the creative life. So for each issue, I want to speak this blessing for all of us anxious, ambitious, internet-exhausted writing folk.
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Thank you for your work. I don’t plan on using the prompts for reels, but what curious ways to explore different topics in writing as well. I always get excited when I see you in my inbox!
So very helpful, thought provoking and inspiring! Thanks so much for sharing your creativity.