THE STORY GRID: A Five Part Video Series from Shawn Coyne.

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Beautiful Losers

By Steven Pressfield
Published: October 7, 2015

People write me letters sometimes. Wannabe musicians, aspiring novelists; I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

Andy Warhol and friends at Max's Kansas City

Andy Warhol and friends at Max’s Kansas City

These letters purport to be seeking counsel. The writer details his or her struggles with deciding which creative field to pursue, their frustrations with their own indecisiveness, with getting their art going, etc. Then they ask for advice.

Now, there’s a good way to ask for advice. The good way is when the person is earnest, sincere; he or she can, in truth, profit from a boost of encouragement or an impartial reality check. That’s the good kind of advice-asking.

But that’s not what these other letter writers want.

I can’t tell you how dispiriting it is to receive such missives. They reek of mental weakness, shallow superiority, and an impenetrable mantle of self-delusion and self-indulgence. Worse, they’re “hooks.” Meaning their aim is to steal a piece of the recipient’s soul.

For years I took these cries for aid seriously. I’d ask myself, How can I help? What wisdom can I impart? The poor letter-writer seems to be suffering so.

Then one day I realized, These characters aren’t really looking for help. They love the state they’re in. They’re wallowing blissfully.

They are Beautiful Losers.
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Posted in Writing Wednesdays

What It Takes

What It Takes

Are You Ready For Mama?

By Callie Oettinger | Published: October 9, 2015

Luther and Bobby stole their cousin’s new lawnmower.

The plan: The cousin would file a claim. The insurance company would send a check. The cousin would split the check with Luther and Bobby. Luther and Bobby would return the lawnmower to the cousin.

Johnny Hooker and Henry Gondorff made scheming look good.

Johnny Hooker and Henry Gondorff made scamming look good. Credit: Movie poster for THE STING.

When their half-baked schemes weren’t landing them in jail, they were selling their plasma or sorting out other ways to make a dime.

Gaming the system was the one thing they came by honestly. Their parents had been working the disability arena their entire lives. They were raised as gamers. Mama had the mad scamming skills of Johnny Hooker and Henry Gondorff, but on the redneck, not-so-good-looking, side of the tracks.

Luther was Molly’s boyfriend and Molly was my best friend in high school. I watched their games as a third wheel, not wanting to be there, but not wanting to bail on Molly—which ended up happening anyway. I went from being amused by Scheming and Stupid to being scared.

It was amusing when Molly’s dad asked Luther where he went to college.

Dad: Where’d you go to school, son?

Luther: Penn State.

The reality: Switch Penn State to State Penn—or State Penitentiary. It wasn’t a lie. It just wasn’t the Penn State Molly’s Dad had in mind.

Amusing stopped and Scared stepped in when a gun came out during a routine argument. Usually they just called Social Services or another agency on each other—or on one of their family members. Pissed off at Mama? Call Social Services on her. Pissed off at Bobby? Call the police for a disturbance.

Jail seems a safe bet for where they are now.

The other option is trolling.

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Posted in What It Takes | 9 Comments

What It Takes

What It Takes


By Shawn Coyne | Published: October 2, 2015

For a while now, over at I’ve been writing about Malcolm

September 1, 1939

September 1, 1939

Gladwell and his first book The Tipping Point.

I’m doing something that I call “storygridding it.” And that’s just my short hand for creating a revealing infographic that a writer can look at lickety-split for inspiration.

And if she gets stuck writing her Big Idea nonfiction book, she can look deeply into the data of the story grid. And that data will reveal how a fellow scribe solved the same problem that she’s battling.
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Posted in What It Takes | 18 Comments
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