By Shawn Coyne
Published: March 24, 2017
This is the second in my Storygridding Nonfiction series. To read the first, click here.
“The Story Grid is interesting and all for fiction,” many say to me, “but I’m a journalist and I deal with facts and interview transcripts, you know ‘the truth’ … so it’s not going to be helpful to me.”
Au contraire, mes frères et soeurs.
The Story Grid is a way to clarify your writing intentions, especially for nonfiction writers. Once you know what kind/s of story you want to write, it then provides prescriptive advice to best realize it.
A pile of research with loads of facts, interviews and ephemera does not a compelling nonfiction book make. But that pile does hold the clues necessary for you the writer to organize those facts and interviews into a compelling argument that puts forth a well-conceived judgment of what exactly the data means.
For example, when my oldest son and I come home from a walk and we find a trail of bread crumbs from the mudroom to the kitchen (fact number one), and we discover a jar of peanut butter on the counter (fact number two), with a butter knife with a glob of peanut butter and raspberry jam soiling one of my finest linen napkins (fact number three) and after interviewing my wife and daughter about their whereabouts the previous hour (they were working through a violin lesson in my daughter’s bedroom), the story that I concoct based upon that information is not difficult to construct.
Posted in What It Takes
By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 29, 2017
One of our earlier posts in this series on the Professional Mindset was called “You, Inc.” It observed that many Hollywood screenwriters (including me) find it useful to incorporate themselves.
These writers don’t perform their labors as themselves but as “loan-outs” from their one-man or one-woman corporations. Their contracts are “f/s/o”—for services of—themselves.
I’m a big fan of this way of operating. Not so much for the financial or legal benefits, which really aren’t particularly significant, but for the mindset this style of working promotes.
If you and I are a corporation, we’ve gotta get our act together.
Amateur hour is over for us.
We’re competing now (in our minds at least) against Google and Apple and Twentieth-Century Fox.
We’ve got to be as focused and as organized as they are. We need a vision for our enterprise. We need discipline, we need dedication, we need tenacity.
In other words we need a culture.
Apple has a culture. Steve Jobs inculcated it.
The New England Patriots have a culture. It came from Bill Bellichick and Robert Kraft and Tom Brady.
What’s your culture?
Twyla Tharp’s got one. We know it from her book, The Creative Habit. We know that she gets up at five-thirty in the morning, catches a cab outside her Manhattan home, and heads to the Pumping Iron Gym on East 91st Street, where she stretches and works out for two hours. After that she heads to her dance studio, where she works all day on whatever show or piece of choreography she has been inspired with for that season.
That’s Twyla Tharp’s culture.
I don’t know what Stephen King’s culture is, but I know he works every day including Christmas and his birthday.
A few years ago the L.A. Times interviewed a sample of movie writers, asking them about their work habits and routines. The one thing I remember from the article is that three of the writers said they worked in their cars—and one said he worked while the car was moving.
I applaud the guy.
He’s got a culture.
A culture does a number of things for you and me.
First, it establishes a level of effort.
How hard do we imagine Steve Jobs worked?
A culture establishes a standard of quality below which we within the culture will not let ourselves fall.
What level does Toni Morrison operate at?
A culture lays out standards of ethics.
What level of chicanery will Seth Godin tolerate?
But most of all a culture gives us a vision for the future.
When a new coach is hired for an athletic team or a new CEO comes on board at a company, his or her first and most primary objective is to establish a winning mindset.
She banishes laziness and tentativeness. She elevates the level of commitment. She gets her players to buy in to a vision whose object is to produce victory (or success), if not immediately then over time.
A culture establishes a style—a way of working that most expresses our natural bent and gives us the best chance to be who we are and to produce the stuff that is most uniquely our own. At IBM in the fifties that meant white shirts and black ties. At Facebook today it’s T-shirts and sneakers (at least I think it is; I’ve never been inside Facebook).
What’s Rihanna’s style?
I have my own personal culture. Some people think it’s a little crazy. I do myself sometimes. But I’ve evolved it over the years (or maybe I should say it has evolved me). It works. It works for me.
The difference between an amateur and a professional is an amateur has an amateur culture and a professional has a professional culture.
Posted in Writing Wednesdays | 11 Comments
By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 22, 2017
When we finish any work of art or commerce and expose it to judgment in the real world, three things can happen:
- Everybody loves it.
- Everybody hates it.
- Nobody notices that it even exists.
[Continuing our exploration of the Professional Mindset, let me repurpose this post that first ran about four years ago.]
All three present you and me as writers and artists with major emotional challenges, and all three drive deep into the most profound questions of life and work.
It will not surprise you, I suspect, if I say that all three responses are impostors. None of them is real, and none should be taken to heart by a writer or artist working from the Professional Mindset.
When we labor in any field that combines art and commerce, we’re working on two tracks.
Track One, the Muse Track, represents our work in its most authentic, true-to-itself and true-to-our-own-heart expression.
Track Two, the Commercial Track, represents the response our work gets in the marketplace. In other words, points 1-2-3 above.
Track Two counts for putting bread on the table and getting our kids through college.
Track One counts for our artistic soul.
The problem with Track Two is it also represents the siren song of riches and fame, or at least applause and recognition in the real world.
Two weeks ago my friend Paul finished writing a TV pilot. It was the first time he had completed a project from FADE IN to THE END. He turned it in to a friend who is a serious producer and who was anxious to see it. Almost immediately Paul’s spirits went over a cliff.
He became depressed, anxious, irritable. He couldn’t sleep. He stopped working. He was waiting to hear his producer friend’s response.
In other words, Paul let himself get sucked over onto Track Number Two, the Commercial Track.
Hollywood (or any big-buzz field like music, publishing, games, software) is a Rorschach test for the soul.
Can we keep our focus where it should be? Can we find our real self and stand up for it? The dream of success/glamour/megabucks is like dark matter. It exerts a gravitational pull that’s so strong it can haul even the best us down into a black hole.
What’s the antidote?
The antidote is remaining grounded on Track Number One. There’s nothing wrong with success. I hold no beef with cashing a check or getting a parking place with your name on it. But don’t confuse Track #1 with Track #2.
While Paul was pacing his living room wondering if he could really kill himself by leaping out a second-story window, the real truth of his situation was this:
He had completed his first serious full-length piece of work.
He had shipped.
He had delivered.
His creative momentum was high.
The Muse was with him.
On Track #1, Paul was rolling!
My advice to Paul (which he did not heed, by the way) was to start another project immediately. In fact Paul was already working on Project #2. But he had stopped.
Why is it so important to keep working?
Because when we finish a project and wait around breathlessly to learn the world’s response to it, we have planted our butts squarely on Track #2. Track #2 means evaluating our work and defining our artistic selves by the opinion of others. (What Shawn calls 3PV, Third Party Validation.)
Nothing good ever came from 3PV. Even success can be bad, viewed through the prism of 3PV. How many people have won Oscars in one year, only to vanish into rehab the next? And failure? Ask Van Gogh how that worked out for him.
And yet: how was Vincent doing on Track #1? He was red-hot. True, a century ahead of his time, but still smokin’ hot.
The ideal position for an artist of authenticity is when Track #1 and Track #2 coincide. When he is working his real stuff—and that stuff finds a welcome in the wider world.
When an artist’s voice is true enough to his own heart and authentic enough to his own vision, Track #1 pulls Track #2 over to it. Bruce Springsteen. Bob Dylan. Hunter S. Thompson.
But we lose our way when we overvalue Track #2 at the expense of Track #1. “Sunflowers” was just as great in 1889, when Van Gogh couldn’t give it away, as it was in 1987 when it sold for $39.9 million.
Whatever Track #2 fate awaits Paul’s pilot, he knocked it out of the park on Track #1.