Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


Welcome back, dear readers,

I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend!

Today I thought I’d share one of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned. When I was in college, I was lucky enough to have an incredible mentor. This man was my journalism instructor, but he also taught me so much about life.

There were many useful things I learned from him, but one of the best came during a first-year journalism class. Donald was discussing the Iran-Iraq conflict that happened in the 1980. For a journalist at the time, the hottest interview imaginable was with the Ayatollah Khomeini, but–incredibly–almost no one tried to get an interview with the Iranian leader! Why?

“Everyone presumed the Ayatollah would refuse to talk to a Western reporter,” Donald said

Along came a rookie. This guy was wet behind the ears, so he had no idea that you couldn’t try for anything you wanted. He had no clue that his overtures would be refused. So this new reporter, with almost no experience, actually attempted to get an interview with the Ayatollah. And you know what? He did.

The moral of the story, as Donald so eloquently put it, is:

Never assume the Ayatollah won’t talk to you.

This one sentence has become a guiding force in my life. Whenever I’m faced with a daunting task, or a goal that seems insurmountable, I can actually hear Donald’s voice in my head: Never assume the Ayatollah won’t talk to you. So I don’t assume, and it turns out that nothing has ever been impossible. And if I do miss out on the interview of the century, or don’t win the contest, or don’t land a great agent, at least I’ll always know that I tried my best.

I will never fail simply because I was afraid to try.

That was the greatest lesson learned during my years in college and beyond. I thank the great Donald Benham for teaching it to me.

Have you ever used the Ayatollah principle in your own life? How did it go?

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  1. Kim

    I probably have the opposite response. I usually assume the answer will be “no” and I either won’t try at all and do it anyway (Don’t ask the question if you do not want to hear the answer) or I’ll still ask anyway and be shocked when I get a yes.

    I could have never been a journalist. I hate the “cold call” phenomenon.

    Speaking of doing things without asking….. I taught my first official academic writing course today (I’ve been teaching this stuff unofficially for 4 years) and I stole from you… (LOL — I just noticed your copywrite notice today).

    Well not really. I wanted them to do a writing exercise that would be about something “comfortable” and familiar and under the umbrella of “write what you know” (the lesson being about voice and clarity) so I popped up your blog on the lecture theatre screen from the Friday Fun Day and had them write about their favorite winter memory or a survival technique.

    So I now have 200+ responses to that exercise. When I’m done recording them as complete, I’d be happy to mail them to your for your evaluation 😉 Hope you don’t mind.

  2. Lisa

    I never used to ask attractive men out because I was positive I would be rejected (why would they want to go out with ME?). I had a crush on my current boyfriend for a long time before I bit the bullet and finally got up the courage to ask him out. The date went so well that I threw it all out there and took the initiative to kiss him at the end. He tells many people that that kiss was what made him take notice. We have been together for almost two years now, living together for one and there hasn’t been a day that I don’t look back and say a small prayer of thanks that I kissed him that day.

  3. Story Teller

    @ Kim – I’m flattered that you used the blog for your writing class. I always love to get more publicity, so as long as they knew where it came from, I don’t have a problem with it. As for cold-calling, it gets easier after awhile. I get the odd person who’s unreasonably suspicious or uncomfortable with being interviewed (I say unreasonably, because I usually come across the most difficult people when writing the most benign stories), but for the most part, people are overjoyed to be asked for their POV. The Ayatollah was probably no different.

    @ Lisa – good for you! What a great account of how it pays to be bold. I’m sure your bf is very happy you kissed him that day, too.

  4. Laura Best

    You are so right, Holli, about not letting fear stop us from trying. So many people allow fear to hold them back. Yes, sometimes we might not get the result we’re looking for when we attempt something but that’s not the end of the world..

  5. Lisa S.

    Ah, Donald. The best journalism instructor EVER!

  6. Story Teller

    @ Laura – Not getting the result we want isn’t the end of the world, but not trying just might be. I know so many people who could be wildly successful if they just put themselves out there. Thanks for your comment!

    @ Lisa S – I agree! Did you remember the Ayatollah story?


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