The Six Word GPS

While I’m in the lab finishing up and testing my Story Grid Spreadsheet for The Tipping Point over the next couple of weeks, it’s a good time to focus on process.

What actually happens when we take on a project and work it until completion? Is there a universal experience of sorts that anyone who strikes out to solve a problem faces?

I think there is.

As Steve Pressfield writes about in Do the Work, at first, we have a big rush of energy. We bang out page after page of copy or lay out a killer plan to start a new business…

And invariably there comes a time when we reach an “all is lost” moment. We stumble on a problem that seems unsolvable. We wish we’d never started the damn thing in the first place. We hit a wall.

And just when we find ourselves starting to recover, we discover that our stupor has slowed us down enough for a whole field of weeds to take root and grow around us. We may have a lead on getting over the big problem (the wall), but a whole slew of ancillary problems arise around it.

Should you hack down the weeds on a retreat back to safer ground? Or somehow claw your way over the wall?  Or beam yourself out of that predicament entirely?

When you hit this moment in your work (and I’ll admit right now that I have) it’s time to pull out your project’s map and get your bearings again.

This is exactly what I need to do with my Storygridding The Tipping Point project. Right now. I can literally feel Resistance coming at me from a whole slew of directions.   Things that I’d shrug off only weeks ago have me stymied.

For a nonfiction writer (and fiction too), the way to fight Resistance in this time of panic is by using six wonderful words (Who, What, Where, When, Why and How). These six words will serve you as an infallible global positioning system.

If you are seriously out of your element, they will tell you to retreat, hack down some smallish problems and resume. Ninety-nine percent of the time, though, they will tell you how to climb over the wall and keep moving. But most importantly, they will keep you from pulling the pin on the whole thing.  They are your own private Obi Wan Kenobis.

Let’s break those six one-word questions down.

I always start with Why.

1. Why am I storygridding The Tipping Point?

I know that The Tipping Point is the contemporary category killer of Big Idea Nonfiction. A visual Story Grid that shows the ways in which Malcolm Gladwell masterfully holds the reader’s attention while satisfying the reader’s “want” from the book (prescriptive application of the idea) and the reader’s subconscious “need” from the book (wisdom) will prove that the Story Grid methodology can serve as valuable a tool for nonfiction writers as it does for fiction writers.

 That is why I’m doing it. To help Nonfiction Big Idea writers do their work.

 2. What the hell are Story Grids for anyway?

Infographic Story Grids are editorial and inspirational tools to show writers how classic works abide millennia old Story principles. By seeing how master storytellers solve story problems, writers can better identify and fix their own story problems.

Literally showing Big Idea Nonfiction writers how Malcolm Gladwell solved the very problems they face will inspire them and give them the tools necessary to find their problems and fix them. And to find their strengths and make them even better.

 3. Who do Story Grids benefit?

Story Grids benefit writers, readers, actors, directors, producers, advertising executives, entrepreneurs, CEOs, politicians, stay at home moms, teachers, bartenders, customer service reps, fast food franchise managers…anyone who recognizes that understanding and mastering Story is an essential skill in our ever-expanding global village.

It is the skill that will drive one’s ability to make a living in the not too distant future.

4. How will it change the way we see the Big Idea work of Nonfiction?

A Story Grid for The Tipping Point will show nonfiction writers how to build a convincing argument that has nuance and ambiguity, all the while telling a global action adventure story akin to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It will show writers how to create a longform work of art out of a single simple idea.

5. Where will I go from here?

In order to create a Story Grid for The Tipping Point, I must complete two documents—a MACRO analysis of the book (The Foolscap Global Story Grid for The Tipping Point) and a MICRO analysis of the book (The Story Grid Spreadsheet for The Tipping Point). Once I have those two documents, I can combine them to form the data points and curves of the final infographic.

6. When will I be finished?

Right now, I have the top quarter of the MACRO complete (Foolscap Global Story Grid for The Tipping Point) and I am half way through the MICRO (The Story Grid Spreadsheet for The Tipping Point. I cannot complete The Foolscap Global Story Grid for The Tipping Point until I’ve completed my Story Grid Spreadsheet for The Tipping Point.

The Macro needs a Micro analysis to support it, just as the Micro needs the Macro analysis to support it. It makes sense that I’ve hit a wall in the middle of working on both. Once the Micro is complete, the Macro will come into clear focus. And vice versa.

So what should I do now?

I need to focus on the MICRO Story Grid Spreadsheet for The Tipping Point. Once I’ve completed that document, I’ll be able to fill in the rest of my Foolscap Global Story Grid for The Tipping Point.  And then I can create the Story Grid for The Tipping Point.

And so back to the MIRCRO I go.

More to come.

For new subscribers and OCD Story nerds like myself, all of the Storygridding The Tipping Point posts and The Story Grid posts are now in order on the right hand side column of the home page beneath the subscription shout-outs.

13 comments on “The Six Word GPS

  1. Jack Price says:

    I so look forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays: we-e-e-e-e’re . . . roff to see the wizard. Always something valuable.

    1. Regina Holt says:

      Because, because, because!

  2. Watching you do this in public is a bit like watching a Hitchcock movie; that combination of excitement and fear.

    Fun stuff.

  3. Mary Doyle says:

    The Six Word GPS is incredibly valuable…onward and upward…see you Thursday. As always Shawn thanks so much!

    1. Mary Doyle says:

      Oops – see you Tuesday…I’d better go and figure out what day it is before I try to operate any heavy machinery.

  4. Tony Levelle says:

    The analysis of the five “W’s” is refreshing. This is the first time I’ve seen the reasons for understanding and mastering Story articulated to clearly.

    The candor and immediacy of this thread is extremely useful. One of the things it shows me is that I need to re-read Story Grid. Again. And do more story grids.

    Good stuff. Keep it coming.

    1. Tony Levelle says:

      Five W’s and an H…

  5. Patrick Maher says:

    Hi Shawn, if you are setting out to “Literally show Big Idea Nonfiction writers how Malcolm Gladwell solved the very problems he faced” Why not just phone Malcolm Gladwell and ask him Who, What, Where, When, Why and How he brought The Tipping Point into being – before committing to print. If only for confirmation, verification and clarification of The Story Grid to “prove that the Story Grid methodology can serve as valuable a tool for nonfiction writers as it does for fiction writers.”

    So the next question to ask is, is this about the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of The Story Grid or The Tipping Point or the Exercise in hand. There seem to be at least three hares set running here. Will they all find their burrows?

    Oh! And don’t even think of throwing in the towel on this one. It is important – the finishing, I mean. This Micro-Macro thing is one big idea and it’s a goodie.

  6. Jeff Goins says:

    This is great stuff, Shawn. I’m in… all in.

  7. Marvin Waschke says:

    The Macro-Micro problem resembles a dilemma I frequently blunder into when writing fiction: I can’t complete a plan for the book until I’ve written the book and I can’t write the book until I have a plan. Writing non-fiction is easier on that front because I don’t have any trouble putting together the macro plan and proceeding to write the pieces in. Writing fiction, I have to muddle through, adding to text until I feel like I am wandering, then as much as I can to the plan.
    It’s interesting that the same problem appears when analysing as well as writing.

    1. Doug Walsh says:

      I am sooo happy to read this comment, as I often struggle with this chicken-and-egg dilemma too. My NF mind says plan, plan, plan and my F desires say write, write, write!

  8. Shawn wrote: “Story Grids benefit writers, readers, actors, directors, producers, advertising executives, entrepreneurs, CEOs, politicians, stay at home moms, teachers, bartenders, customer service reps, fast food franchise managers…anyone who recognizes that understanding and mastering Story is an essential skill in our ever-expanding global village.

    It is the skill that will drive one’s ability to make a living in the not too distant future.”

    Daniel H. Pink said the same thing in “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.” He says not just argument but also Story is essential in the Conceptual Age. He wrote: “When our lives are brimming with information and data, it’s not enough to marshal an effective argument. Someone somewhere will inevitably track down a counterpart to rebut your point. The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability also to fashion a compelling narrative.”

    Great work as always, Shawn.

  9. “(Story telling) is the skill that will drive one’s ability to make a living in the not too distant future.”

    This is true on so many levels it’s scary. Thank you for laying out the GPS coordinates for long-form non-fiction. I’m currently in the weeds in my project, and Story Grid is helping me out.

    Shawn, this work you’re doing is of immense value.

    Keep it up.

    Lee

Leave a Comment