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What It Takes

What It Takes

Why Do Authors Still Approach Traditional Media Outlets?

By Callie Oettinger | Published: October 10, 2014

Roger Sutton made waves this past week for writing “An open letter to the self-published author feeling dissed,” which begat “No, I don’t want to read your self-published books” by Ron Charles, itself a G-rated echo of Josh Olson’s “I will not read your fucking script.”

If you care about my thoughts on Sutton’s and Charles’ pieces, read “Dearest Writer: Nobody Owes You Shit” by Chuck Wendig, who said exactly what I would have if I had his writing chops and wasn’t too lazy to write something myself.

There’s one thing about Charles’ piece that I would like to discuss here. It’s a question Sutton asked after Charles contacted him:

“And if old media is so passe, why do they care so much about what we think?”

Why indeed?

We talk all the time about traditional media, how they aren’t relevant and don’t push sales as in days of yore. Blah, blah, blah, and more blah… But . . . .

We still go to them.

Why? Follow-the-Leader (a.k.a. The Domino Effect), Following and Conversation. (more…)

Posted in What It Takes

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Becoming Our Own Editors

By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 8, 2014

Last Wednesday’s post ended with this:

Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in "The Way We Were"

The writer these days has to be her own editor. It’s tough, but true.

You and I have to learn the craft, whether we want to or not.

Writers today have to be their own editors because it’s so hard to find a real editor, meaning someone who understands story structure and can help the writer whip her work into ready-for-prime-time shape. The breed has become extinct, alas, at most publishing houses (or those who carry the title of editor and have the chops are so busy with material acquisition, marketing, and internal politics that they don’t have time to sit down and work with their writers in the old-school, Maxwell-Perkins, hands-on manner.)

It’s probably a good thing that we writers have to be our own editors. After all, who if not us should be responsible for the shape of our work?

But how do we become our own editors? What skills do we need? Where can we acquire these skills?

The editor’s primary creative contribution—i.e.,the skill that you and I need to master—is this:

The editor understands narrative structure. He knows what makes a story work. He understands genre. He knows that every story falls into a genre, and that every genre has conventions. He knows what those conventions are, and he understands how to use them.

Have you taken Robert McKee’s class in Story Structure? Take it. Take his class in Love Story. Take his class in Thriller. Whatever he’s teaching, take it.

Read Stephen King’s On Writing.

Read writers’ blogs.

Read Shawn’s blog here on Fridays and at

Read everything you can on the subject of story structure and story analysis.

Keep reading. Keep watching movies. Learn the skill of editing the same way editors learn it. Study stuff that works (and stuff that doesn’t) and ask yourself, “How did the writer do that? How did she achieve this power, this emotion, this meaning?”

When you and I find a book or movie that we love, we have to read it and watch it over and over. Take notes. Ingest it. Pick it apart page by page and frame by frame till we understand how it works as well as the writer or filmmaker who created it.

Shawn’s concept of the Story Grid wasn’t handed to him on a platter. He figured it out on his own by reading and thinking and reading and thinking some more after that.

Can you analyze Hamlet?

Can you break down Blade Runner or The Usual Suspects or Taken 2? (more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

What It Takes

What It Takes

Old Dog, New Tricks

By Shawn Coyne | Published: October 3, 2014

So in the past year, three of my contemporaries have died.

Michael O'Keefe and Ted Knight in "Caddyshack"

The usual suspects felled them—cancer, heart attack, and that never see it coming…sudden brain hemorrhage. When people you know well begin to meet their maker, you can’t help but look beyond today’s utility bills and tomorrow’s cocktail party at the Joneses.

I used to think that I’d build some sort of company that would carry on after I joined the great editorial board in the sky. But the one I thought would be my legacy crashed and burned, a gut punch that still makes me wince when I think about it. [Note to self: Stop thinking about it!]

Or better yet, I thought I’d create some work of art that would epitomize my singular brilliant vision of the world.

But rest assured my fantasies always required that these enterprises bring me lots of material comforts too.

You know, in the here and now. I mean a Vincent Van Gogh experience is all well and good, but a nice roof over your head with plenty of beans in the pantry isn’t too much to ask for, right?

Ideally, I’d be able to live the high life now and still be certain that when it’s my time to kick the bucket, I’d be guaranteed some after-life “that guy was awesome” remembrance years. Perhaps decades, dare I say a century…after my departure? At the very least, I could endow some professorship and some poor scientist would have to walk around being introduced as The Coyne Chair of Dyspepsia Science for the next hundred years.

You know what I’m talking about. We all have those Madison Avenue generated “dreams” pumped into us from childhood onward.

I don’t think that anymore. Those fantasies are silly really. As the character Judge Smails played by Ted Knight in Caddyshack so aptly put it, “The world needs ditch diggers too.” Seamus Heaney made an analogous point with his poem “Digging.” Check it out. Guaranteed tears…

Accepting the fact that you are a contributor to a larger community as opposed to being a Demi-God uberman is not just humbling…it’s a huge relief.


Time ain’t passing slowly and I’ve got a head full of ideas, plus lessons learned from hundreds of books and stories I’ve edited over my career. I’ve got business experience too and I’ve been yammering on and on about it all on Steve’s website for years.

There is nothing sexy about what I’ve learned. It won’t get me a Gulfstream G-IV and it won’t buy me immortality. But it could help artists struggling with Resistance. And having a little bit to do with a lot of other people’s work is far better than endowing a Chair at Punxsutawney State University.

So I’ve decided to stop talking and writing about how the things I complain about are things I could be changing…and just do it already. I’ve jumped into the permission/platform world, not to put up big numbers and tell everyone how easy it is to build your own private Idaho, but to learn something while downloading whatever is left of my editorial brain for those who find it interesting. I’m not going to make you rich, but I will show you just how wonderfully difficult and complicated, but ultimately simple Storytelling is. (more…)

Posted in What It Takes
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