Mastering Nonfiction

[00:00:00] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. So it’s been a while for me, but I’m excited to be back, and I’m really excited that you all enjoyed the Masterwork Experiment with Anne Hawley over the summer so much. We got a lot of great feedback on it, and it’s got me and Shawn pointing out some more experiments and ideas that we’re going to be doing with the podcast in the future. But for now, you’re stuck with me. As always, this is a show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. I am your host Tim Grahl, once again. I’m 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 Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid and an editor with over 25 years of experience. In this episode, we start diving deep into the nonfiction genre and how Story Grid applies to it. Also at the end of this episode, I have an exciting announcement. So make sure you stay tuned for that as well. But for now, let’s jump in with Shawn. 


[00:01:01] TG: So, Shawn, it’s good to be back after a few months. It was a nice break, but I thought that thing you do with the Masterwork thing with Anne was really, really cool. 

[00:01:10] SC: Yeah. I really like doing that, and Anne was just superior in her work ethics. So, yeah, I definitely want to do something like that again. 

[00:01:20] TG: Superior? Does that mean better than me?

[00:01:26] SC: Well, I don’t want to compare in contrast. 

[00:01:29] TG: Yes. So with the seminar coming up, we get a lot of questions around how Story Grid or if Story Grid works for nonfiction. A lot of times when you get into Story Grid, a lot of the examples are fiction. That’s about telling better stories. So a lot of people might assume, “Well, this is for fiction. Nonfiction is somehow different.” So what kind of things do you think about when you think about applying Story Grid to nonfiction?

[00:02:00] SC: Well, nonfiction, just to take a step back and just think about for a second, what problem are we trying to solve when we are attempting to write a nonfiction book. I think the answer to that is pretty obvious. 

Nonfiction is really about solving specific problems that we face in everyday life, exploring problems at a larger sort of metalevel so that we can navigate the world in a better way. So, for example, if I want to plant a garden, instead of just sort of going outside with a hoe and chopping up my backyard and throwing some seeds down, I probably want to see if somebody else has a method or a way to plant a garden that would be more efficient than just sort of that sporadic throwing and hoping something grows. 

So nonfiction is about solving problems. It’s about solving very specific problems. It’s about exploring the “real world.” So what’s important to think about in nonfiction and generally whenever you’re trying to create a method to help solve a problem is to sort of categorize things. Are there different kinds of nonfiction? Are there sort of big phylum of nonfiction that we can sort of break apart so that we’re not trying to solve every single nonfiction problem, but we sort of divide the problems into categories?

So nonfiction to me, I’ve written about this a lot and I’ve spoken about it a lot. I divide it into sort of four global categories of nonfiction. For each one of these categories, I have different sort of methods and tools to try and help solve the general problem associated with each. So those four categories I break down into academic, how-to, narrative nonfiction, and lastly what I call big idea nonfiction. So that’s nice to know. We have these four sort of categories of things that we can analyze. So what do you do once you sort of figure that out?

Well, the first thing you want to do is sort of create what makes one category different from another. Just the way of sort of categorize these, academic is pretty much what you would expect it to be. These are works of nonfiction that get directly to a specific problem. They don’t put in a lot of background about fundamental information in a particular area of expertise. They assume a certain level of craftsmanship for whatever academic discipline they’re trying to approach. 

So if you’re a biochemist, you don’t begin a paper about the latest discovery in the Krebs cycle with the background of organic chemistry. No. Simply you get directly to the point, and you assume that the audience that is coming to your academic paper has the background and the craft within them that they’ll be able to understand what you’re talking about very quickly. 

So it’s very much the scientific method in an academic report. You’re setting up what experiment you came up with to figure out a specific kind of problem, and then you walk the reader through the methods and materials that you used to try and solve this problem. Then you walk through the results, and then you come to a conclusion. So academic work is very straightforward, and it’s not easy for the layman to read by definition. 

So academic work is really for a very, very targeted audience, and it’s very specific to a specific question, and it uses the scientific method in order to explore that question. So that’s one big silo of nonfiction, and I doubt it’s one that many people are really concerned of when they’re talking about writing a nonfiction book. So let’s just sort of put that one aside. 

The second category would be how-to books. What how-to books are, you get a really nice introduction about the global arena that you want to explore. But the ultimate reason for a how-to book is to show you how to do something. So just to use the gardening example, there’s a classic book called Square Foot Gardening, and that book is really terrific because it really walks you through this new kind of methodology to use the minimal amount of earth in order to grow the maximal amount of food. They take you to this really cool process. I forgot the author, who’s terrific. They take you through this process of how to plant the seeds, how to divide your plot of earth, how to use raised beds so that you can actually really be specific about what kind of soil you’re using, all kinds of wonderful tools. 

The ultimate goal of that how-to book is to get you into your yard, build the planters, fill it with the right soil, mark off, plant the seeds, water them properly, etc., etc. until the payoff of the how-to book is the tomato at the end. 

So it’s a very purposeful kind of nonfiction project that people are going to love your book if it brings off the payoff. If they get more tomatoes than they anticipated, they’re going to tell their friends about this really great book. So the how-to book is a very practical approach to problems that are everyday problems. How to clean your windows properly, how to fix your sink, how to fix your dryer, etc. So that’s another category of nonfiction that a lot of people really have a general sense of how to create that kind of book. They don’t mess around and give deep philosophical discussions about earth. They just simply say, “Well, you chop up the earth, put it in these square boxes, and off you go.” So how-to isn’t really what people are racking their brains about solving that particular problem. 

So let’s move on to the third category, which I called narrative nonfiction. Now, narrative nonfiction is a class of nonfiction that is really story-driven, meaning the nonfiction writer uses the techniques of the fiction writer in order to tell a true story in the most dramatic way. So shall withhold specific facts until very specific times so that you can create the right kind of attention, so that there’s a really nice cathartic moment in the story of the nonfiction that will feel as if it’s abiding by fiction concepts. So books like The Perfect Storm or The Devil in the White City or any of these very big classic seafaring tales or things of that sort. The Hot Zone is another really good example of narrative nonfiction. 

So those are really using the techniques of fiction to map out and chart a journey from the inciting incident to the ending payoff of the global narrative story. 

[00:09:40] TG: Is this where memoir would go as well?

[00:09:42] SC: Well, that’s a really great question. I use these big, big massive categories. That’s my first division of nonfiction. So what I would say is memoir, it could be sort of any one of those categories. It could be a how-to. It could be narrative nonfiction. Or it could be academic or even could be big idea. Memoir itself is a category that I think falls underneath these big four silos. So memoir in and of itself, I don’t personally see it as one of the big four. 

For example, you could write a memoir that’s narrative nonfiction. So you would tell the story of, say, how you became the heavyweight champion of the world. So you would use the techniques of a fiction writer and you would drop in all of the moments in your particular career, climbing up through the ranks of professional boxing until you became heavyweight champion. You would tell that like a story. It’s something like Rocky if Rocky were nonfiction. Or you could do it as a how-to. 

So you could tell the memoir of how you became a boxer or, for example, Tiger Woods wrote an instructional book, and he called it How I Played Golf. So did Jack Nicklaus. So did all these great golfers. What publishers want from them is some stories about how they learned a particular technique, and then they tell the reader how to perform the technique, and it becomes a little mini memoir inside of a how-to sort of property. 

Someone who’s a scientist. There’s a classic story called The Double Helix, and that’s the story of these three scientists, Watson and Crick and Rosy – I forget. She’s like the integral player in the discovery of DNA, and I’m afraid I’m dropping her name right now. But she was an integral player in the story, and it’s a memoir. It’s an academic memoir about these scientists who actually figure out the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid. So that’s a memoir that would be sort of academic. 

Then lastly, there are memoirs/Big Idea Books. In fact, I just finished writing one with a brain surgeon where we together figured out that the best way to tell his big idea would be through telling his personal story of how he became a brain surgeon and sort of interweaving that brain surgeon, how I became a brain surgeon story with the big idea of how one is able to deal with unexpected events, how we deal with fear. So that book is all about how to outthink fear, but it’s also a memoir. So you can see how you can adapt the memoir to these four different global categories. So I would put – Go ahead.

[00:12:53] TG: Would you say it’s more of a narrative device then than anything?

[00:12:58] SC: That’s a good question. I think that’s how I would describe it, and thank you for bringing that up, Tim. You know some stuff about this Story Grid methodology than I have. Yeah, it’s sort of a narrative device within the global categories. So that’s a really good way of doing it. So a lot of people confuse memoir or, say, biography and they’ll say – Then they’ll start to sort of regurgitating facts on a piece of paper. 

I was born in X, Y, and Z. Then they really can’t get there their hands around the story, because they’re almost writing a book report from third grade as opposed to something that somebody would actually be engaged with when they’re reading it. They don’t limit the time. They don’t kind of think about what audience they’re trying to address, what’s the point, what’s the controlling idea of the story. 

So let’s really get down to brass tacks here. I mean, if you’re talking about nonfiction, you’ve got to have a controlling idea. You’ve got to have a purpose for actually telling the story. You’re trying to impart some sort of wisdom to your reader. So how to best impart that wisdom becomes a decision inside of these four big-box categories. Which is the best way to impart this kind of wisdom to the greatest number of people or to the most important people? So a really great scientist isn’t going to waste his time or her time writing a popular science narrative nonfiction story when they just want to get some information out to the scientific community about a specific phenomena. So the controlling idea of your nonfiction is a really important one to figure out before you start sort of trying to categorize and live within these nonfiction genres. 

[00:15:05] TG: Yeah. I would think the controlling idea – I mean, that applies to all of these because even a great cookbook has a theme and even your Square Foot Gardening thing. He has a point of view, a theme that he’s trying to get across even though it’s a very how-to heavy. There’s not a lot of narrative to it. It still has a theme.

[00:15:27] SC: That’s right. I think the theme is driven by the author’s desire to impart knowledge. So the author wishes to write a nonfiction book at its core to give and offer knowledge that they have acquired in their life or in their profession or whatever to an audience. So I think it would be a good idea now to just talk about knowledge for just a quick second, because there are four kinds of knowledge. These four kinds of knowledge sort of, you have to have all of them in really order to have wisdom. 

So the first kind of knowledge is what is called propositional knowledge, and propositional knowledge would be like telling your 15-year-old son, “The most important decision that you need to make in your life is who you choose to spend the rest of your life with. So when you are looking for someone to marry, you really need to do everything possible to get as large of an understanding about that person as possible before you marry them.” That’s propositional knowledge. But that kind of knowledge is absolutely useless for most people until they’re actually trying to find the person to spend the rest of their life with. 

That’s the second kind of knowledge. That’s the knowledge you learned through procedural trial and error. So just to sort of extend the metaphor a little bit, I can tell my son it’s really important who he chooses to spend the rest of his life with. But he’s going to be attracted to all sorts of people in his life, and he’s going to go on a million dates, and he’s going to make a lot of mistakes, and he’s going to be infatuated with people who probably won’t be very good for him, and he’s going to have to learn some very difficult hard lessons by himself. For me as his father, just say, when he comes to me later on in his life and say, “I know you told me it was really important to find the right partner and I’ve really done the best that I can. But I just really think this person is amazing, and I don’t really care that they’re $15 million in debt and they’ve X, Y, and Z.” 

So the procedural knowledge is something that we actually have to experience. So propositional knowledge is great and all, but until we actually enact those propositions and try them on, that knowledge isn’t really going to be very helpful to us. So that’s the second kind. There’s propositional and then there’s procedural. It’s actually the doing and the working through of the process. 

The third one is called perspectival knowledge, and that means it’s sort of your perspective, your worldview as you are moving through the world and testing out your knowledge. So someone who has a perspective of having gone on, say, 30 really bad dates is going to enjoy that really good date on the 31st try at a much higher level than someone who’s never gone on a bad date. So the perspective of the person is going to influence their knowledge. They’re going to be able to digest and metabolize the procedural knowledge and the propositional knowledge in a much deeper way. So that’s another thing that we have to think about when we’re thinking about imparting knowledge is what’s the perspective of the people that we are trying to reach. 

Lastly, there is what’s called participatory knowledge. What participatory knowledge is is the knowledge that you gain when you are working with another person on a particular problem. So, for example, right now when we’re doing the podcast and I was trying to explain what memoir was, because we’re in this participatory relationship, you said, “Oh! So that’s sort of like a narrative device.” So I would’ve come to that idea without you participating with me in the podcast. Does that make sense?

[00:19:45] TG: Mm-hmm. Yeah. 

[00:19:46] SC: So that is really, really important too because if you can engage with other people and you have a shared fascination about a particular phenomena, they can start lobbing in ideas that you would have never come up with, which shapes your ability to gain knowledge and their ability to gain knowledge. So participatory knowledge is actually wonderful. It’s the thing that we all enjoy. It’s like when we had the Story Grid live conference. Everybody in that conference was participating in exploring story, and we all gained far more than we would have if we were all just sitting alone in our writer’s room trying to figure this stuff out by ourselves.

So those four kinds of knowledge are really important to think about before you start writing your nonfiction book. Those are the propositions, the procedures that you’re trying to get your reader to take on to learn, the perspective that you want them to sort of come to the exploration with, and then ultimately you want them to explore and share the ideas that you want to impart to them with other people. 

So that would be sort of like the grand slam of a nonfiction book. The propositions that you offer to people are super appealing to them so much so that they enact them, meaning they try them out. They test them, see the things that you’re trying to impart, see how they work. They test them in the real world. Then that testing changes their perspective of the world. “Oh! I’m not the kind of guy who could ever start my own garden.” That guy becomes, “Oh, wow! This gardening thing is actually pretty fun. And look, I’ve got my own tomatoes that I grew myself. Wow! My perspective about my ability as a gardener has completely shifted.”

Lastly, then I’m talking to you and you go, “Hey, Shawn! Where’d you get these really great tomatoes?” You go, “Oh, my god! Let me tell you about this great thing called square foot gardening. You go, “Oh, my gosh! I’ve done that too. Have you tried this?” “Oh, no. I haven’t. How about you?” So the two of us then begin to create even more participatory knowledge from this single unit of this book. This book becomes far more powerful than just a single reading experience if it has and it addresses these four kinds of knowledge and imparts them to readers in ways in which it changes their lives. 

So nonfiction is really a wonderful way of sort of posing some problems. Then through a series of stories and actions in the actual nonfiction itself, you can impart the ways in which people can gain these four kinds of knowledge. When you add up all four kinds of these knowledge, it’s something called wisdom. That’s kind of the big — That’s where you want to go. You want to move from .0 which is, “Hey! I have this idea for this nonfiction book that could be really helpful to people,” to the end of that point would be your book is in the marketplace, and it’s passing on these four kinds of knowledge to your reader from person to person, and it grows as each person reads the book and shares it with a friend. 

[00:23:11] TG: You would say all four of these apply to all four different types of nonfiction. 

[00:23:15] SC: Yes, I would. Yeah, because that’s – I mean, if you look at academic nonfiction, what are they trying to do? Well, let’s say it’s a psychologist, and they’ve done this research, and they’ve written a paper. What they are trying to do is to get, A, other people to repeat the experiment. They want other people to test to see if it’s reproducible. Are the results reproducible? Because if they’re not, then maybe the phenomena that they figured out isn’t really real. Maybe it was just a fluke, and they need to do more experiments. So they want other people to proceduralize something that they’ve already started. 

Then once they do that, the perspectives of the other psychologist will start to change, and they will start to align with the person who published the paper. Then maybe those people will reach out and say, “Hey, man! I read that article you did in psychology today. I have a few questions.” Then the two of them start to participate and start to work together on a new project. 

So, yeah, that’s – Those four kinds definitely are adaptable for academic. I just went through sort of the square gardening how-to element. Narrative nonfiction is a way in which we get people to consider global changes in a particular time and space like, say, for The Perfect Storm, the story that Sebastian Junger wrote about a ship that was lost at sea in the fall. It’s a very classic story. Now, why would he write that and what four parts of knowledge is he trying to impart in that? 

Well, the first thing is he’s trying to explain a culture. He’s trying to explain the seafaring culture in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The way he does that is through his storytelling techniques. He actually makes the reader feel as if he’s in those bars. He’s hanging out with those guys you’re going to see. So he makes his ideas actually proceduralize in the minds of his readers. It’s like a novel. 

This is why we love fiction is that we actually place our own sort of being. We sympathize and empathize with the characters so much that it feels as if we are experiencing what those characters are experiencing. At the end of reading the perfect storm, the perspectives of how we feel about the people who have the courage to go out fishing are completely changed. Then we participate with that knowledge and we say, “Hey! You should really read this book about these fishermen in Gloucester, Massachusetts.” Somebody’s like, “I don’t care about fishermen.” Well, it’s not really about that. It’s really about how these people contend with the elements of nature, and they go, “Ah, I’ll give it a try.” So then people’s worldviews begin to shift, because they are experiencing third-party through these stories how other people survive and thrive in the world. So that’s an imparting of knowledge that’s very similar to fiction, but people can actually say, “Well, it’s a very specific place in the world.” 

Lastly, the Big Idea Book is something about what it actually the point of a Big Idea Book is to teach people how to mechanize a psycho technology. That sounds like a big pile of spaghetti, but all a psycho technology is is using your mind and thinking in a different way and using that thought process in order to better the world or to better one’s life in some way. So psycho technology is simply something like language or a currency. It’s an idea of the mind. Currency really doesn’t have any value. It’s a sort of paper, but we all agree like, “Let’s place value on this stuff.” That’s actually a psycho technology that has a physical manifestation. 

Now, a Big Idea Book, for example, like your friend who wrote Drive. What’s his name again? 

[00:27:28] TG: Dan Pink. 

[00:27:28] SC: Dan Pink. Right. So Dan Pink was interested in exploring what motivates people on the job. So what he did in his book Drive was to sort of analyze, “Well, let me go ask a lot of people and read a lot of articles and do a lot of research to find out what actually makes people interested in doing things. What is their motivational stuff behind and is there a hierarchy of motivation? Do some things motivate more people to do more work than others? How does that work?” 

So the way he sort of approached his book Drive was to analyze a lot of stuff. Then he formalized an idea. He said, “Well. Actually, I think in order for companies or employers to motivate people who work for them best, they should do it the following way based upon all this analysis.” So that formalization sort of becomes the meat in the middle of his Big Idea Book. 

So the early part of his idea book is the analysis. It’s sort of like, “We would expect that if you paid somebody more money, they would work harder.” Well. Actually, that’s not true. Let me show you because I’ve done a lot of analysis about this, and here’s all of my data. So that’s how it sort of sucks you into the book, because you expect, “Well, if you just give people more money, then they’ll work harder, and all of your problems are solved.” He’s debunking a fallacy. It’s unexpected. We don’t think that people won’t work hard if you give more money, and it kind of is true. 

So he starts with the analysis, and then he comes up with a formulization. He goes, “Well, I think the ideal situation would be to give them some meaning. Their work has to be meaningful. The more meaning you can sort of attach to the work that they do, the more motivated they will be to do that work.” So if your company doesn’t really have any meaning behind it, you’re going to have trouble with your employees, because they’re just sort of punching the clock. But if you can think of your company as something that’s meaningful that is helping people, that is helping the greater good, that will make your employees more interested in showing up on time and doing a better job.” 

So that’s sort of his formalization process, and then he sort it ends it up with the mechanization. Well, how would you do this? How would you be able to create a place, a working environment so that your employees find more meaning in the work? Well, you could actually think about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Simon Sinek wrote an entire Big Idea Book called Why, the big – What was it called again? The Big Why or?

[00:30:28] TG: Find Your Why or What is Your Why

[00:30:31] SC: That was another Big Idea Book that actually helped people who are running companies, startups, instead of sort of thinking about, “Well, let me think of some invention and then I’ll just sell it to people,” which isn’t a very meaningful. Well, what do people need? Then you can sort of get around to a place where you’re beginning with the meaning.

Then if the meaning is baked into your idea, then people will become more motivated. So this is the process of writing a big idea. You sort of analyze a particular phenomena that’s sort of unexpected. You didn’t think that’s really the way the world work, and then you formalized kind of an idea around why that analysis is the way it is. Then lastly, you want to mechanize, give the reader a way in which to create a system that can take advantage of that. All of that is the process by which we come up with a psycho technology. 

[00:31:33] TG: Okay. So the biggest difference you would say between a how-to and a big idea is a how-to is a more kind of real-world, how to do something externally like garden or cook or program. Then the big idea is this psycho technology side. It’s more – That’s what separates those two. 

[00:31:55] SC: Yeah. I think that’s a pretty good representation. I think how-to are for problems that have been solved before. So they are learning a craft that somebody else has already dedicated their life to figuring out and has written down the procedures by which you can get good at something. A Big Idea Book is more about very complex problems, things that are meta. They’re like we don’t really know why when we fix broken windows on an abandoned building, the crime rate goes down. That’s sort of a complex question. 

It’s weird, and that’s sort of like the genesis of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is he put together all of these sort of unexpected phenomena and tried to figure out, “Well, what’s the complex thing behind all of these specific phenomena?” Why did Hush Puppies become so popular so quickly? Why did the crime rate fall in New York, etc.? 

So there are these big complex problems or phenomena that we don’t quite understand why it’s happening. So the Big Idea Books are about taking these very complex phenomena and boiling them down into a theoretical idea. This is really important, because I know – I’ve just been reading some recent reviews of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest work, and I haven’t read it yet. But I think it’s called Talking to Strangers, and he starting to take a lot of heat now for his methodology and the things that he puts forth in his Big Idea Books. My point is just that it’s the exploration of a complex phenomena that’s really the important part. 

Now, it doesn’t mean that you want to in your Big Idea Book put forth things that aren’t true. But it does mean that as long as you are sincere and working to the best of your ability and you’re putting forth very interesting pieces of information, the necessity of it being a perfect representation of a specific kind of phenomena, I don’t think that’s the important part. 

The important part is to really explore a complex phenomena. Of course, no one is going to be 100% correct on everything they put forth. So, for example, one of my favorite books is The Tipping Point, and the reason why isn’t because I think that he got everything perfectly right in his formalization of this tipping point phenomena. It’s because of his storytelling and his ability to walk you through an adventure, an intellectual adventure. Gladwell’s voice is so good because he cares. He’s working his way through things that interest him.

So, for me, it’s the adventure story of coming to a formal sort of representation of a particular phenomena after analyzing it in depth and then trying to impart wisdom to the reader so that it’s helpful to the reader. I think that’s really the most important part in a Big Idea Book, because if we all waited around until we were certain about everything, nobody would ever publisher have the courage to publish anything that isn’t 100% verifiable in the moment. Does that make sense?

[00:35:51] TG: Yeah, because I’ve had this – I’ve heard and read criticisms of not just Malcolm Gladwell but other books like this where they take this really complicated research from all these different academics and try to spin a narrative around it. So it’s actually, one, interesting and, two, actually gets the ideas out there. So much of it is like on outliers the whole 10,000-hour rule. There is this criticism of like, “Well, that’s not really what it meant, and it meant this over here, and there’s all this nuance to it.” But I’m like if it wasn’t for Malcolm Gladwell, nobody would even know this research ever existed, because it was buried away in an academic paper somewhere. 

So I really enjoy these books. I mean, I think if you go into any kind of reading, thinking somehow you’re going to get the definitive answer on X, Y, or Z, that’s a dangerous way to live your life in general. Where what I enjoy about these books, I think one of the first –Well, I can’t member the timeline now. But I know one of the early big successes in this space was Freakonomics with Levitt and Dubner. It was this great – It was the first time that I know of really that you took this journalist, so this great storyteller, and then a scientist that is super boring and then like put them together. Now, you had something really interesting. 

So they tell these crazy stories about sumo fighting. It’s still one of my favorite books, and I like them because they do. They take these super complicated ideas that have all kinds of nuance to them. That’s what academic papers are for. They try to distill them down into do something interesting and helpful, knowing you’re going to lose some of the nuance in the process. 

So, yeah, I think, of course, you’re free to criticize anybody’s work. But that kind of criticism drives me crazy when they’re like, “Well, they missed this one thing.” It’s like, “Okay. Didn’t you write something about it?” You know what I mean? Especially when academics get angry that they wrote about their papers and didn’t get it 100% correct, it’s like nobody knew you existed before this. So maybe a little respect that somebody’s actually trying to help get this research that you think is so important actually out to the world. Obviously, this is one of my soapboxes. But I think it’s great. 

[00:38:24] SC: No. I I think the fact that they’re in the arena and they’re shining a light into a dark corner, of course, they’re not going to get every speck of dust perfectly illuminated in that corner with their writing. But the 10,000-hour rule generally means keep working. It’s a hard road. I don’t necessarily care if it’s specifically not perfect as an analogy. But as a metaphor, it’s really, really important to just let people know it’s going to take a while. That’s basically the way I took it. I wasn’t really looking for the specificity of that – Like, “Oh, boy! Once I get that 10,000 hours, everything is going to be great.” It’s just like, “Give it some time.” That’s all it needs. 

That’s really what the Big Idea Book is it’s a way of making an academic paper digestible to a large audience. I think that’s a really – It’s like on the spectrum of intensity and difficulty of reading experience. The academic paper is going to be quite difficult, and the Big Idea Book is going to be super entertaining. It’s also going to live inside of the realm of a big complex world. It’s going to shine light on it in a way that you hadn’t seen before. 

[00:39:45] TG: But you wouldn’t at the same time say a big idea – Because a lot of what we’ve talked about in this episode has been Big Idea Books are like tipping point and like the book, the cognitive dominance that you’ve written. But it’s bigger than that, because you would put The War of Art in the big idea category. 

[00:40:04] SC: Well, yes. I mean, I think The War of Art is a big idea, because it’s in sort of the how-to arena. But it also has a memoir to it. The big idea is identifying a complex phenomena that we all sort of think is around, but we’re not quite sure. For me, The War of Art is a big idea, because it’s all about resistance. So if there’s one thing people walk away from The War of Art is, “Oh, my gosh! There’s a thing, and it’s called resistance. And I experience it, and everybody else does too.” So that’s not to be to flip but a big idea. You come away with a big idea. You come away with just a simple notion that explains a complex world in a very specific way that’s helpful. It’s like the concept of resistance is a psycho technology that helps creative people get in their chair. That’s it, and it’s really powerful. 

That’s what a really great big idea can do for you is that it reminds you quickly, “Oh, right. Outliers means it’s just going to take me a lot of work and some luck. I can’t control luck, so let me work hard. 10,000 hours, great. Let me get down to work.” That’s a really powerful message. So that’s what I think the big idea does is it makes a complex phenomena simple and actionable for a lot of people. 


[00:41:44] TG: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Story Grid Podcast. As I mentioned at the beginning of the show, we have an exciting announcement. So it’s been almost three years since we did the live love story seminar. That was the first live seminar Shawn ever taught, and it’s also the last one that he ever taught. So we’re going to do two more of these. So I want to let you know that we are hosting our second one, and it’s all about big idea nonfiction. It will be three days together, diving deep into the big idea nonfiction genre and how you can write a book that changes the way people think. There are only 35 spots available, and we’ve already filled a bunch of them. So if you’re interested, make sure you check out all of the information that we have up, and that’s at storygrid.com/nonfiction. 

Again, if you’re interested in coming to this seminar and joining me and Shawn for this, you’re really not going to want to miss this. I’m excited about it. As you know, I write nonfiction as well. So he’s going to be sharing a lot of stuff that he’s never shared before. So if you’re interested in that, make sure you go check out more information at storygrid.com/nonfiction. 

For everything else Story Grid related, you can just go to 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 like to check out the show notes for this episode or any past episodes, all of that can found at storygrid.com/podcast. If you 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 Apple podcasts and leaving a rating and review. Thanks for subscribing and being a part of our work here at Story Grid. We will see you next week.



The Book

Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.

First Time Writer

Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.


Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.