Tim and I took a recording week off during the American Thanksgiving holiday.
So we thought it would be fun to release the live recording of our appearance together at Jeff Goins’ Tribe Conference last September. The audience was terrific and the experience was the thing that convinced me to offer a Story Grid seminar next February in New York. We sold out the 35 spots shortly after we announced the event. So thanks to all of you who applied and for those of you who didn’t get a spot (we offered spots on a first come/first serve basis), I promise to get you first dibs on the next event.
To listen to the podcast click the play button below or read the transcript that follows.
[0:00:00.5] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. This is the show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. I’m your host, Tim Grahl and I am a struggling writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. Joining me shortly is Shawn Coyne. He is the creator of the Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid and an editor with over 25 plus years experience.
In this episode we’re doing something a little bit different. So Shawn and I took a week off from recording because of the Thanksgiving holidays here in the States. So we decided to do something special a few months ago we spoke at a live event at Jeff Goins’ tribe conference. It was the first time Shawn and I had done anything live together. So it was a lot of fun and we recorded it and Jeff was so kind enough to give us the recording so we could share it here with you. So what you’re about to hear is a live recording of Shawn and I as we discussed turning pro, what it’s meant to do, the podcast, and several other things.
So I think you’ll really enjoy it so I’m going to just stop talking and let it roll.
[0:01:04.2] JG: Please welcome to the stage Tim Grahl and Shawn Coyne.
[0:01:17.5] TG: Good morning. So as Shawn and I have been talking about this morning in what we’re going to talk about, we have all these different things. We’ve been spending at least an hour a week talking for a year now and getting to know each other and going through this process and what I didn’t realize when I entered into this podcast with Shawn is I was — we’re entering into this year long discussion of not just how to write fiction and how to tell great stories, but what does it mean to become a professional at something and when do you cross that threshold from amateur to professional? What does it take to build mastery in something? So over the last year, we’ve been working together and discussing all of this things, there’s been some really neat moments but mostly it’s been painful because…
[0:02:08.8] SC: Not for me.
[0:02:12.5] TG: Because I had worked, like Jeff said, for a decade to become really good at something and now I was entering back into becoming a complete beginner, but doing it in public. So every week we discuss some writing principles, I’ll go write something, I’ll send it to Shawn, we get on the phone to record the podcasts, he tells me everything that’s wrong with it, and I go back into my hole and try to write something else and all of this has to be done publicly.
And again, I was doing it selfishly so I could learn how to write fiction but what we’ve seen is this journey that I’m still in the middle of, and of what does it mean to learn something new. What does it mean to fail constantly while you’re trying to become good at something. We’re going to start there. I wanted Shawn to just start by talking about because he’s worked with so many amazing writers and seen them as the editor, they always see like the worst version of everything before it goes out into the world.
So I wanted him to just start off by talking with all this writers you’ve worked with, what is that transition from amateur to professional? Is it a mindset? Is it, you know, I saw this post on twitter from an author, I don’t like to say the word tweet by the way. As a man, I should not say that word. I saw this post on twitter from an author that says, “You’re a professional when you’ve published three books,” and that seemed a little arbitrary. So what does it mean to move from amateur to professional and when do you know you’ve made that transition?
[0:03:48.5] SC: Well, I’ll tell a little tiny story to give you my perspective about that. Years ago, I decided to leave major corporate book publishing. I was at Doubleday at the time, my job was to publish eight books a year, that’s it. So eight books a year, the big pressure on that was that they all had to be bestsellers and they all had to be bestselling writers and the books had to be delivered on time, et cetera.
So I decided to leave that because the pressure was just overwhelming me and it wasn’t the fun that I really love and enjoy, which is working with writers to make their stories better. It was about feeding the monster, it was about getting the book into the bookstore. Good is good enough. That was sort of the mantra and I was frustrated by that.
So I started my own publishing house, this is the year 2000, and one of my writers was Steven Pressfield and together I had edited Gates of Fire, which if you haven’t read this book. I think it’s the finest historical war novel ever written, maybe? Mary Renault was close, but Gates of Fire is about the battle of Thermopiles and Frank Miller was inspired by it, he made a graphic novel called 300, which they made into a film.
Anyway, so I said to Steve, “Steve, come with me, break your contract and come with me,” and he said, “I can’t do that, I made a commitment to Doubleday. But what I can do Shawn is I have this pile of stuff that I give to people when they ask me, what do I have to do to become a writer like you Steve? And I was sick of answering it so I wrote this manuscript and I literally Xerox it,” — this is 2000 — “Xeroxed it and handed to my friends when they ask me.” I said great, “Oh great, I get to have the thing that’s stuck in the bottom of your drawer. Wow, I can really build a business out of this.”
So he gave it to me and I was reluctant but I read it and it was a book called The Writer’s Life. What was so fascinating about it to me was that Steve struck into the heart of what drives people crazy about creative endeavors. What he did was he put a name on a thing that battles everybody. Everybody on the planet has this problem. Whether they have put a name on it or not, when you describe it to them, they all understand and what Steve called it was “resistance”. What resistance is, it’s this powerful force within each of us that pushes us away from doing what we know deep down in our hearts that we’re supposed to do.
I read this, The Writer’s Life, and I said, “Steve, this is Fantastic,” but it was a hodgepodge and the chapters were very short and there wasn’t a through line story within the book itself, it was very personal. The personal stories were wonderful but they didn’t come together as a whole. So over a period of about three or four months, we went back and forth and we decided, “Steve, let’s break it into three.” Marian was talking about this yesterday and this is a great piece of advice. Whenever you have a problem, think of it in terms of three things; the beginning, the middle and the end. That’s pretty simple but it’s very helpful.
So we broke it into three and I said, “The first thing we had to do is to find the problem for people.” He said, “Well the problem is resistance. Let’s do a big section on just resistance, defining the enemy. Let’s know who we’re fighting here.” Because this was the first time that somebody was looking at creativity as an internal battle instead of a mystical presence that comes to you while you’re sitting in your chair, waiting for the muse. I love this because I love practicalities, I love solving problems. The way to beat anything is to break it down into a series of long tiny problems that you can beat down one by one, by one by one.
The second part of this book I said, “We have to offer a solution. Well what do you do? How do you beat resistance?” Steve said, “Well that’s simple, you turn pro,” and I said, “Well, what does that mean? What does turning pro mean? How do you do it?” Back to the drawing board he went and he edited a lot of the pieces that he had written that were very personal and he broadened their universality. He came up with, as Ray Edwards was talking about earlier this morning, really great titles for each of these chapters so that you could just read them as if they were a blogpost.
Now, this was really before blog posts became ubiquitous, and what he discovered in sort of fleshing out what turning pro means is, as Jeff said earlier, it’s an internal decision. Every single person in this room today is already a pro. You made that decision when you decided to put your hard earned money to come to this conference. Because you know that there’s something within you that must be expressed. There’s something creative within you that must be expressed. So, that’s why you’re here. So you are all pros right now.
[0:08:50.2] TG: Okay. I’m going to kind of call BS on that for now.
[0:08:55.9] SC: How many people aren’t here, Tim?
[0:08:57.6] TG: Well okay. I think — but here’s my thing with that, and this is the internal struggle I have on that, is that okay, that sounds wonderful. All I have to do to be a professional is say, “I’m a professional.” But yet I don’t have a book written, I can’t find an agent, I have a friend that’s in the third year of writing his first novel and he writes most days. It’s great to call yourself a professional, however at some point, I want some kind of — I don’t need an agent to tell me I’m a professional, I don’t need a sell a million copies to know I’m a professional but at some point, I need something outside of my internal to reflect back to me that, “Yes, you are now a professional.”
Because we all know those people that keeps saying they’re writing or keep saying they’re this or keep saying they’re this and it’s a decade later and they haven’t done, much. So you can say it all you want but there’s something more than just saying it. What is it?
[0:10:02.1] SC: Well, it’s a mindset. The reason why I say everybody in this room is a professional now is because there are certain things within the book, The War of Art, that will explain to you what the mindset of a professional is. The very first thing that’s the most important, I think, for becoming a professional is being self-validating and as you were saying Tim, you were saying, “But I don’t have a book published? My blogpost has no followers. I don’t have an email list. I don’t have this, I don’t have that,” and you know what that is? That’s looking for external validation of who you are.
So a professional self-validates. What that means is that you coach yourself. You say to yourself, “Yeah, I don’t have many on my email list but I have a blog post I have to write today and that’s what I’m going to do.” That’s part of being professional. A professional is patient, and they’re not looking for overnight success and this is the thing that I was talking to some people last night at dinner about that it’s an element of resistance too for the professional. Here it is, guess what? When you have that book published, you hit a best seller list, you’re at the end, you’ve broken the finish line tape. You are absolutely a professional in the eyes of all your friends, your parents, your sister in laws. They say, “Oh, I saw that — yeah New York Times bestseller. Congratulations.”
That’s when resistance really bears down on you because it’s like that old Peggy lee song, is that all there is? Because you will reach that finish line and you will say to yourself, “Oh my gosh, I threw away career and now I have this thing and yeah I have income and everything’s okay but it’s not what I thought it was. I don’t feel so great. I still struggle sitting in the chair every day. I don’t want to write my thousand words today. Maybe I don’t have to anymore? Why am I doing this?” This is the moment when resistance really can bite you, and as Steve says in the book, The War of Art, “Resistance rallies when you succeed and the success has to be self-validated.”
So you cannot look for external treasures and wonder and beauty to come to you every single project that you create. You have to be in it like a warrior, you have to seize ground every single day and know that you’re fighting a battle within yourself. So turning pro is about adopting that mindset and saying, “Okay, what’s next? What can I do to make my gift stronger, to communicate with people better about what it is that is important to me?” So, yes, I think it’s really important that you ship and that you do put your work out there.
But once you do do that, there’s a tendency to pull back and relax and say, “Well, I’ve got this product, it’s selling very well, I’m just going to sell that nine times a year and I’ll work on my marketing and my sales copy and I’ll get better and better at that. But as far as my craft goes, I’m cool, I’m good at my craft. So turning pro is about self-validating yourself and working on your craft because it’s your art, it’s your creativity. It’s the thing, and I think everybody in this room knows this experience. There are days when I don’t do anything and I don’t do my work, I don’t even sit down at the computer and it aches all day, it’s in the back of my mind saying, “Why aren’t you doing that? What’s going on? Yeah, the lawn looks good and the shrubs are looking well and that swim was good.”
[0:13:49.1] TG: That’s where the shame comes in for me. It’s like, I missed that day and then I’m like, “Look, see, you’re not really a writer,” and then I missed two more days and then it’s been a week and then it’s been a month and then it’s like, okay, that’s where that sets in of like — I get people ask me what I do and I say I’m a writer and I’m hiding this fact that I haven’t written in a month. So what does that mean?
So I struggle with that too of just like, that constant back and for me and that’s where I’ve looked for that. Like, I want something to tell me that I’m a pro before I consider — but I’ve seen I myself where like I will move that goal post. So the first time, my first big launch was Dan Pink’s book, To Sell is Human. I had lost sleep and stressed, and stressed, and stressed for eight months over this thing and it come out and it debuted on number one on the New York Times list, the Washington post and Wall Street Journal, the first week. So everything I did worked perfectly. I felt no joy.
[0:14:57.2] SC: Congratulations, that’s great.
[0:15:01.3] TG: One month before this, I had had coffee with Dan Heath of Chip and Dan Heath that wrote Made to Stick and Switch and they had hired me to launch their next book and so all I felt was the pressure to launch their book as good as I did Dan Pinks’. So, fast forward a few months, their next book Decisive comes out, everything went perfectly except for Dr. Phil came out with a book that week, which put us at number two on the New York Times list and all I felt was shame and so I called Dan and he’s ecstatic about the fact that they’re a number two New York Times bestselling book and I was expecting him to just be angry at me.
So I felt this where I kept telling myself, I’ll be a professional when ____. And once I hit that mark, I just moved that goal post a little further away and now I’ll be a professional when I can do it twice. Now I’ll be a professional when I get here, or when I finally get reviewed in this magazine or I finally get this happened or somebody finally invites me to speak at this conference. What I’ve had to do in this process is learn that internal thing of like, did I do my work today? Did I do the best I can? If I failed today, am I going to still show — why am I crying? Jeez. You know, am I still going to show up tomorrow and do my work? That’s where I found my center.
But as we’ve entered into this new thing of me trying to write fiction in public, the last two episodes that we’ve recorded that are out now. I’ve submitted a couple of scenes, those were horrible and he helped me through hat. Let me know, but helped me through it. Then I wrote an entire manuscript and that manuscript got thrown away. So now he’s like, “Okay, let’s not let you write a whole book before we look at anything because that was kind of a waste of time.”
[0:16:57.7] SC: Not exactly.
[0:16:58.2] TG: Right, yes.
[0:16:59.8] SC: The lies you’re telling yourself are interesting to hear.
[0:17:05.8] TG: So anyway, we’re working through, he let me write one scene, he helped me with that and I wrote the second scene in the book and I sent it to him when we got on to record the podcast and he was basically like, “Hey, it was good, you can keep writing,” and I was like, “What?” So I wrote 11 scenes and we just went through them and we’re going to throw away half of them, rework some more.
So I’m like in the middle of this book or at the beginning of this book that won’t be very good because it’s my first book. Am I a professional fiction writer? That’s what I ask myself. I’ve been doing this for a year and people will roll their eyes, “Oh, you’ve been doing it a whole year,” and you know, am I already a professional even though I can’t write a beginning hook that works, I can’t even write 11 scenes that works, and I’ve been working on it, you know? Like when am I a professional?
[0:17:56.2] SC: You’re absolutely a professional and the reason why is this; you were describing earlier your success in what Steve calls the shadow career and the shadow career is the thing that we do that’s close to what we really want to do but it’s not really it. I was an editor at the major publishing houses and I reached a level of success, I guess you would call it where I could go to the four seasons for lunch, I had really nice clothes and I went with agents and it was eating me alive.
It was very successful and just like you, when my books were on the list, every week on Wednesday they would fax the New York Times bestseller list to all the major publishers two weeks out. So we would see it two weeks before it ever hit the news stand and people would stay around on Wednesday nights to see the list. Every single week, my stomach was in a knot, “Is my book going up or down? Up, or down?” I realized, “This is ridiculous, this is just silly,” because, as you’ve written before Tim, the best seller list are frauds. Anyway, I’ll just get that out there.
Now, to be fighting to be on the best seller list is silly but we can go into that another time. So my point is, the shadow career is the career that we do that’s close to what we really want to do but not quite it. So you are a professional in your real avocation, which is now your job, which is being a fiction writer. The reason why you are is because you have the professional mindset and you are making progress and the reason why I wrote The Story Grid and that was my shadow career was being a big editor in New York. It brought me a lot of things that were meaningless.
What provides me meaning today, my “why”, is that the thing that frustrates me is hypocrisy and lies and the publishing industry to me in New York is riddled with — well, every industry is. But it’s riddled with hypocrisy and lies, and the reason why I wrote The Story Grid is because there’s a big lie out there. There’s a big lie that says, “You have to be born with talent to be a writer. You have to be born anointed with some mystical gift that will make you a good story teller.” And that is a lie.
The reason why it’s a lie is that there is something called form and structure to storytelling. A lot of people don’t want to talk about form and structure in storytelling because it devalues what they’re telling other people is their talent. I’m not saying that certain people don’t have a certain gift for storytelling. I’m Irish and there’s no better storyteller than a drunk Irish guy at a bar. My father was that guy and he told some great stories. So my point is that you, through deliberate practice….
[0:21:03.4] TG: Is that what I need to do?
[0:21:05.3] SC: No.
[0:21:05.9] TG: Okay.
[0:21:06.7] SC: What you need to do is learn the skill set of story structure and form. That’s what The Story Grid teaches. It teaches nothing mystical, it teaches blue collar hard work. It teaches you how to cut a board, how to frame a house, how to think about your stories with very analytical eyes. It teaches you how to be your own editor. It teaches you when your stories aren’t working and why.
It doesn’t tell you, “You’re a loser.” It doesn’t tell you, “You’ll never be a writer.” What it tells you is this is what you need to do to get better and the more you work on this deliberate practice, the better writer and storyteller you will become. So a professional, what a professional mindset is, is it boils down a big problem into little problems. So if I said to all of you, “We’re going to go outside and we’re going to build a toolshed. Each one of you has to build your own toolshed.” Now, some of you are just going to run out and buy two by fours and slap something together as quickly as you can? Yeah, probably. But you’ll learn that that didn’t work very well.
Some of you will buy a book on how to build a toolshed and you will find the right tools necessary to build a proper toolshed. It will take you much longer than the person who slaps something together. But the problem with storytelling, and novel, and fiction is a lot of people think the slap together thing is going to work, and there aren’t many people who can say, “Hey, you just kind of slapped that together,” you know? You really need to know how to cut a board. Here’s a measuring tape and that’s what I’m all about, it’s boiling a very large problem into smaller units that you can solve without self-indictment, without self-sabotage.
If you have a problem with the scene and you can recognize, the problem is my scene doesn’t move. There’s nothing at stake in the scene, there’s no value at stake, it doesn’t shift from one to another, there’s not valence shift. That’s much easier than, “Hey, yeah, I read your thing and I don’t know, I just didn’t get it.” What do you do with that kind of feedback is you despair. That’s the kind of feedback that you get to despair, and my goal with you, Tim, is to teach you not to despair about things but to fix them as best you can, deliberately.
[0:23:37.5] TG: Yeah, deliberate. I want to touch on that, this idea of deliberate practice. We’ve all heard of the 10,000 hour rule with Malcolm Gladwell made famous and then now like the guy that actually wrote that research came out with a book. But there was this idea of deliberate practice and a book I read that talked about this that’s really good is So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Wow. I forgot his name — Cal Newport. That’s from a quote from another guy that I can’t remember his name — Steve Martin.
So Steve Martin was getting interviewed at one point and he asked like basically, “How did you become so successful?” And he said, “You know, you have to be so good they can’t ignore you.” Well in that book, Cal is talking about this guitar player and how he’s worked really hard to become a really good guitar player and the way that you do that is two things. One is you constantly are at the edge of what you know and what that means is, it’s constantly scary and you’re constantly trying things you don’t know how to do. When you’re trying things that you don’t know how to do, you fail.
So you constantly are in a place where you’re doing something that you are going to fail at. George Orwell’s little essay about why he writes, he talks about how by the time you master a style of writing, you’ve already moved past it. Because if you’re being a pro, you’re always doing something else that’s scary. So that’s the first thing, is it never feels good. Because most of the podcast episodes do not feel good for me because it is me being at the edge of my current knowledge. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing with deliberate practice, and this is where so many writers don’t have this and this is why I believe that I am progressing faster as a writer is you have to have a short feedback loop. You have to have somebody telling you that you’re doing it wrong. So, the problem, especially in writing books and I would say even more in fiction, is that people will write entire manuscripts. So they’ll spend nine months or a year or more writing something before anybody looks at any of it. You’re a hundred thousand words into a project when you finally give it out. Then you’re trying to get feedback on a hundred thousand words; it’s too much.
So what’s been great working with Shawn in this capacity is my feedback loop has gone from a year to 24 hours. Or it’s like, he looks at 1,500 words and lets me churn on that and get feedback. So as you’re becoming good at something, I do recommend learning about deliberate practice and understanding, if you’re feeling good all the time about your creativity, you’re doing it wrong. You’re probably, you’re not pushing yourself into unknown territory, you’re doing something that’s safe, you’re not getting true feedback on things and so you need to put yourself in a position where that you can get that bad feedback. Because that’s the only way we can learn.
So as we’re getting into this, we wanted to — as we were talking about how to do this talk, we wanted to hear from you what you struggle with, what you think about turning pro, when you think about being an amateur or dealing with mastery, face your own fears, let’s have a little group therapy session here and like share and let’s talk about what this things are. Again, I’ve worked with a lot of professionals, Shawn has too, so we’ve seen people in the throes of this. I have seen the number one New York Times bestselling authors dying under resistance because they feel like their next book has to do that again, and think about that pressure.
So let’s talk about this. I don’t know, we’re raising hands or just stand up and shout out — go ahead.
[0:27:29.1] Female: I’m a relationship therapist, I do group therapy. But I think you all are doing great.
[0:27:33.5] TG: Great
[0:27:36.0] Female: Because it is our fears that hold us back. Me, as a therapist that like, you’re my therapist. I’m sorry, do I need to repeat what I just said?
[0:27:48.1] TG: No, we heard you.
[0:27:49.6] Female: Okay. So anyway, I just want to applaud you because this work definitely touches my soul and while I’ve gone through Tribe Writers and I’m still going through but I always claim that Jeff is my therapist because he’s gotten me into some real deep places with my relationship dignity manifesto. Doing this as a therapist and then realizing my own comfort level within the four walls of my counseling room, this has been an awesome thing for me. But I just wanted to give you all kudos and lots of compliments. Thank you very much.
[0:28:23.4] SC: Thank you. I love that questions.
[0:28:27.4] TG: All right. Right here? And I’ll repeat it for everybody.
[0:28:32.4] Female: Okay, I appreciate what you said. This is just me blabbering because I’m not making any sense. But I published my fifth book in February and I really appreciate what you said because it’s like, “Okay, we’re doing good. Four Amazon number one bestsellers,” and then now, I have an idea for another book that is too big. It’s like the idea is like swirling around in my head and then rather than dealing with the issue, what I’ve done is I’ve developed two new businesses.
[0:29:01.9] TG: Yeah.
[0:29:05.9] Female: But I realize that if I don’t solve this in myself, I’m going to be fucked up. Because I think when you’re a creative person, if you don’t have a way to release that, the energy just goes around and around and round, and you drive yourself crazy.
[0:29:23.8] SC: Can I just cut you off there? Okay.
[0:29:26.7] TG: Let me kind of repeat what she says. So I’ll kind of try and sum it up. We’ve all felt this, right? We’re coming up against a new project that we don’t know how to do and it seems way bigger than us. Instead of actually like face it and work on it, we start like looking for other things to do. So she started two new businesses just to keep her from writing, and having to deal with this. So, go ahead Shawn.
[0:29:48.0] SC: I’ll just tell you what Steve Pressfield always says and he’s always right about this and he faces this demons himself. Resistance is extraordinarily painful, but it’s also a gift and the gift of resistance is this: that thing that you are avoiding the most is the obstacle that your insides are telling you to fight. So use it as your north star. If you are resisting the epic novel that you always wanted to write, because it’s beyond your scope and you can’t really get a hook on, “What’s the genre? What’s this?”
The thing to do is to fall back, when you face a problem like that and I’m talking in terms of storytelling, which is also entrepreneurial too, is to think about it in terms of craft. So break down that huge mass of pain into actionable steps that you could use with craft. In terms of craft, you would say to yourself, “Well, what would the movie of this be? What story would I want to see? What’s the genre of what this thing is? How can I boil it down into things that I can solve?” Because if you know the genre, there’s a lot of different things that you can solve based upon that one simple piece of knowledge.
So when you’re facing something and you’re avoiding it with so much energy elsewhere, the thing to do is stop yourself and say, “Okay, there’s a really good reason why this is bothering me. I don’t know what that is, I’m not going to be able to solve it today, all I can do is try and find a simple problem that I can offer a solution to, to keep me fighting in that direction.” Ryan Holiday wrote a terrific book called The Obstacle is the Way and it’s based upon a lot of stoic philosophy and The Obstacle is the Way is pushing against the resistance that’s coming at you, instead of running away.
We’re all taught in this safe world to run away from conflict, to run away from negativity. But the thing for creative people, creation comes out of a very difficult struggle. So, when you’re facing resistance and pain and suffering, push into it, don’t let it overwhelm you but take the craft steps necessary to move forward instead of having it overwhelm you, I hope that helps.
[0:32:22.0] Female: The pain is just going up and up and I know it’s because I’m not writing the thing I need to be writing.
[0:32:29.6] SC: There you go, you solved your own problem.
[0:32:33.3] TG: Yeah, thank you.
[0:32:34.7] Female: Will you ever make the clover in poster size?
[0:32:37.9] SC: We do have it available at blackirishbooks.com. So you can get the Five Genre Clover — I have it in my office because I forget what they are too. One of the great things and I’m sure Tim — go ahead.
[0:32:50.4] TG: Don’t do that yet. The Story Grid, his book, and in it has this like how to think about genres, has a couple of pictures, that’s what she was referring to. I’m having trouble seeing so I don’t even know who that is out there.
[0:33:07.2] Female: You guys have like a really good friend because where do you find sources of constructive negative feedback. Because all I get is either people who feed my desire to quit.
[0:33:20.7] TG: Those aren’t them.
[0:33:23.3] Female: Positive and they’re all like, “It’s great.” And, no, it’s not. Where do you find sources of constructive feedback?
[0:33:31.5] TG: Well, Shawn has offered to do a podcast with all of you.
[0:33:39.1] SC: That’s one of the reasons why I wrote The Story Grid is it’s difficult to get somebody to be specific and we all have intuitive understandings of when a story works and when it doesn’t. We all go to a movie and say, “Oh, that movie was terrible.” But if you asked somebody, “What made it terrible?” “I’m not really sure, but it just stunk.” So the thing about The Story Grid, and I’m not trying to pump it up, but what it does is it teaches you how to be that third party, non-family member who can look at your work in a constructive way.
The way to do that is to do the very irritating, miniscule work in The Story Grid spreadsheet, which is an 18 column monster that will take your scene from the beginning to the end and it will show you, if you’re honest with yourself, what’s working and what isn’t. Tim and I just went over The Story Grid spreadsheet for his first 11 scenes on the last two episodes of the podcast and Tim was able to discover the problems without me saying, “Now Tim, this is a problem in scene seven.” He found out before I even told him because he’s like, “Oh, right, the spreadsheet, I forgot I didn’t do that.
[0:34:52.2] TG: I’ll speak to, because that’s a larger question as far as like how to find a mentor. And so let me speak to that because that’s one of the few things I do pretty well. I have a handful of people in my life that I go to, I climb up the little mountain and they’re sitting on top and I ask them my question. This is how I go about finding mentors. So the first thing I do is I identify the problem that I’m having, okay? So don’t take all of your problems to one person, take a specific problem.
What is the problem I’m having? I look out into the world and I find somebody who seems to have solved that problem before. I find them and then I consume everything they’ve ever created. I read every blog post, I will literally go on iTunes, search their name, download every single podcast they’ve ever been interviewed on and I’ll consume all of that. I’ll read all of their books, whatever. Consume everything. Because, if you approach somebody before you’ve read what they’ve already put out for free or eight bucks or whatever, it’s really rude. It just is rude.
So an example when it comes to bookmarking for myself is there’s somebody emails me and ask my opinion on what I think about social media. I get really frustrated because like the most read article on my website, it’s like on four different pages I tell people to read is this article I wrote about what I think about social media. So I immediately know they haven’t done their homework, and if you won’t invest your own time into this, why am I going to invest my time, okay? So I take that approach to people.
Before I reached out to Shawn, I’ve read pretty much everything on his blog, which was extensive. I bought the book and in my book, it was all tabbed up and noted, everything. I did my homework. When I got his time, I used it extremely wisely because I had answered as much of my questions as I possibly could on my own, okay? So that’s the second thing. Identify the problem and find somebody that seems to be good at solving that problem, consume everything they’ve ever written or created that is out there.
And then the third thing is to reach out to them and ask an extremely specific question, something that they can answer. So do not write a thousand word email with your life history that ends with, “What should I do.” Okay? Again, as somebody who now receives some of those, it honestly is a burden. Because I want to help you, but I don’t know what to do and I can’t get on the phone and be a therapist for everybody that’s out there. What you want to do is reach out and ask an extremely specific question that you think they’ll be able to answer pretty quickly. Okay? You want to ask them for what you should do next.
What you want is homework and this is why you want homework. This is extremely specific, but you want homework so you can go do the homework and report back that you did the homework. 49 out of 50 people that get advice from somebody don’t ever do it. They just kind of go off, I don’t know why they ask for advice, but they just don’t do it. So if you prove that you’re different, that will actually do that thing then you’re much more likely to answer your next question and your next question, and your next question and your next question.
I just paid a few weeks ago a thousand dollars to talk to this guy for one hour but my goal was I didn’t want that thousand dollars to buy one hour, I want it to buy unlimited advice. So I got on the phone with him and I got him to give me an exact action plan and I went off and I did every single thing he did and then I sent it back to him. I said, “Look, you don’t even have to respond, I’m just letting you know I’ve done what you told me to do.” He responded back and said, gave me some feedback on it. He’s like, “Anytime you want to get on the phone, just let me know.” So you have to be that person.
Now, I have one more rule when it comes to asking for advice from a professional; you do not get to argue with them! Okay? By arguing, you’re saying that you know more than them and it’s like, “Well then why are you asking me anyway?” Here’s the only questions you’re allowed to ask; clarifying questions. If you don’t know what they’re telling you to do, get it clear because you got to go do this homework. So if you don’t understand what you’re supposed to do next, ask clarifying questions. You do not get to argue.
You get to treat them as if this came down off of mount Sinai and you walk off and you do it and then you report back. If they’re wrong, that’s fine, you prove it by doing it and getting the results. That is how you get mentors. I have one of my mentors is Noah Kagen. I literally only talk to him once a year when I run into a specific problem and I go to him and I climb up the hill and I say, “Noah, I need help with this,” and I ask my question. Usually he explains to me why that is the wrong question to ask and he tells me, “This is the question you should have asked.”
Then he answers that question and I climb back down the mountain and I do exactly what he says and I make more money and I report back. That is why when I call Noah, he answers the phone. So, that was a long winded example of how you get a mentor, how do you find this person. Find them, and that is what I do with him, that’s what I do with Shawn is I don’t argue with him, I don’t assume I know more than him. I assume I don’t know more than him, which is why we’re having the conversation in the first place.
Then when he tells me to do something, I go off and do it and I report back. He only agreed to do 10 episodes with me and we were getting close to the end and I’m like, “What do you want to do?” He’s like, “Well let’s keep going, I’m having fun.” He could have just pushed this off to the side. So anyway, we can move on to something else, that was really long.
[0:40:48.2] Veronica: Okay, back here, I almost like forgot what I was going to ask you. I’m right here. Hi everybody. I’m Veronica. They call me Vern or Pinky but I was, when you, Shawn, said — talked about lies, I don’t know if anybody else in the room that kind of hit you? And no matter how confident you can be, there’s still ages and stages in your life where the lies come in and, you know, you struggle and you press through but speak to us, was there a time — and I know you all have shared some different testimonies, obstacles that have come your way. But when you have been whether you were younger or older, when you have been in a stage where there were lies that were speaking to you that were kind of bringing some of that defeat or delay and speak to us, or specifically speak to me, something like that that would encourage.
[0:41:39.4] SC: I’m glad you mentioned that because I was having lunch with somebody yesterday and she was telling me her story and the story was, “I’m worried about what’s going to happen next because I’m afraid that people were going to think that I’m not worthy because I haven’t been published by a major publisher.” I looked at her and I said, you’ve had three books published by a major publisher. That’s a lie. You’re lying to yourself right now with this.
This is the thing we have to remember about the stories we tell ourselves; they’re not true. They’re not true. And the reason why we love stories is because we look to story to change ourselves. Stories are about change and Ray was talking earlier this morning about the Hero’s Journey. The reason why we love the hero’s journey is because it’s a process of change. Somebody starts somewhere, they’re supposed to go on a calling, they don’t want to go on it. None of us wants to go into the wilderness but they somehow are forced to go. They get help from a mentor and slowly they change and by the end of that journey, as Odysseus comes back to Ithaca, he has a gift to give the people after that.
So when we lie to ourselves, we have to understand that it’s our job to defeat the lie. I never thought that anybody would care about story structure in the obsessive compulsive way that I do. I really didn’t. I thought, “Ah, I’m never going to write that book, who’s going to buy it? Who cares? Who wants to do a spreadsheet and plot points? People who are creative, they don’t want to do analytical work like some mathematician. This is a waste of time, I should become a bigger agent. I should get bigger clients. This is what I should do.”
Until finally I reached a point where I said, “That’s a lie. Who knows? Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not but why not answer the question?” You have questions inside of yourself that you need answers to. When you run away from those questions, you’re running away from the gifts that each one of you are destined to share with everyone else. The hero’s journey is each of our stories and it’s an important story. There’s a reason why there’s a mono myth. This is a story in every culture, every culture. It doesn’t matter. There is a person who has to go on a calling, who has to return with a gift. That is our journey on earth. To leave this earth without sharing our knowledge with other people to make the world better is a tragedy. That’s why you’re here today. So, that’s my point.
[0:44:30.8] TG: So we’ve got to wrap this up. As a final thing, again I’ve gotten to know Shawn over the last year and through some of the behind the scenes, I’ve gotten to talk to Steve Pressfield a few times too. And one of the things that’s just really neat about them is that they just really do this work to help people. They put this books out, they do this things because they want people to reach those callings and to not live a life that ends in a tragedy.
So as part of that, they’ve decided to give everybody here a copy of The Story Grid and The War of Art. I think we have them here. Where are they? They’re coming out. They’re in the back, looks like people are moving.
[0:45:16.2] SC: It’s in boxes in the back. So enjoy.
[0:45:18.8] TG: Everybody gets to take that home. So thank you Shawn for doing that and thank you.
[0:45:29.3] JG: Yeah. All right, love it.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:45:32.3] TG: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Story Grid Podcast. For everything Story Grid related, check out storygrid.com. Make sure you pick up a copy of the book and sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss anything happening in the Story Grid universe. If you’d like to check out the show notes for this episode or any past episodes, all of that can be found at storygrid.com/podcast.
And for this particular episode, if you want to see the video of this talk — so same audio, just actually watch me and Shawn do the talk — I put that up for the show notes of this episode of the podcast as well at storygrid.com/podcast. If you would like to reach out to us, you can find us on Twitter @storygrid. Lastly, if you would like to support the show, you can do that by telling another author about the show and by visiting us on iTunes and leaving a rating and review. Thanks for subscribing and being a part of our work here at Story Grid, and we will see you next week.