Annie Proulx’s prologue (that wasn’t in the New Yorker)
Anne Hawley is the author of Restraint, a love story set in 19th Century London. She’s a Story Grid Certified Editor specializing in literary and historical fiction, and is the producer of the Story Grid Editor Roundtable podcast.
[0:00:00.5] AH: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Masterwork Experiment. Before we get started today, I want to remind listeners about Story Grid Live happening September 13th and 14th, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Story Grid has grown into a movement, followed by tens of thousands of writers from all over the globe who are serious about their craft. This live in-person weekend event will be full of information, inspiration and expertise, along with some food, fun and nerdery with your fellow Story Griders. Story Grid Live is the place to be for writers looking to deepen and grow their expertise in the craft of storytelling.
Step out of your routine to spend two days alongside other writers and storytellers like you. This is a chance not only to learn, but to connect with other amazing writers. Shawn Coyne and Tim Grahl will be presenting, along with special guest, Steven Pressfield. I’ll be there and I hope you will too. Find out more at storygrid.com/live. That’s storygrid.com/live.
Now on with our regular introduction.
My name is Anne Hawley and I’m an experienced novelist trying to ground my craft more solidly in Story Grid methodology. It’s working. I’ve agreed to be the lab rat in the masterwork experiment, which Shawn Coyne is conducting as a test of his latest writing and editing methods. In the masterwork experiment, Shawn and I have analyzed Annie Proulx’s novella, Brokeback Mountain, down to the beat level. I’ve taken on the challenge of constructing a new story using the same beats, but set in the England of Jane Austen, Lord Byron and Beau Brummell.
Last week, I established a new point of view narrative device and it gave me the momentum I needed to really get writing. This week, I turned in a new prologue, as well as several new scenes, including that all-important first intimate contact moment that’s required of every courtship love story.
My story is running long already and I don’t think I can bring it in at anywhere near Annie Proulx’s elegant, distilled 11,500 words. Shawn’s response to this conundrum is an inspiring discussion about the importance to a writer of living in the process and not living for the outcome. Also, there’s some talk of hobo signs.
Put on your white coat and safety goggles and step into the laboratory for episode 9 of the masterwork experiment.
[00:02:28] AH: I just saw your request to edit, so I just granted you editing, or at least commenting on the document. I just now saw it, so I’m sorry I didn’t get to that.
[00:02:37] SC: That’s okay. It was just praise. You can live with that there, right?
[00:02:42] AH: Well, yeah. Oh. I got to tell you, this has been the most interesting process, Shawn. I am learning so much about what it means to write something. I tell you, I’ve had a number of people comment. I’ve gotten some nice feedback from people who have taken the time to e-mail me about the podcast. One of the things that people have said is I’ve mentioned that what I’m turning in is really rough. They go, “Ha, ha, ha. Really rough. It’s beautiful,” which is nice to hear. What they’re talking about is my line writing is good. I have spent 57 years honing the language, right? The roughness is not in the line-by-line prose. The roughness is in the story structure.
The difference in perception about that is just amazing to me. I have never – even with four years of working with Story Grid, I have never quite gotten it into my body, right? The difference between being inspired and turning out beautiful pretty sentences and what a rough draft, first draft really is. It’s like shoveling sand into the sandbox. I mean, it’s just a big box full of sand. I haven’t done anything with it yet.
[00:04:01] SC: Well, yeah. I mean, I have to say that I don’t want to jinx us. In terms of an experiment, to get this early response, I just find myself reading your work. Even though I know where it’s going, because we’ve so fully delineated all these beats, the discovery of your – that 57 years was not for naught, you know what I’m saying?
[00:04:31] AH: God, I hope not.
[00:04:32] SC: No, no. Absolutely not. That was one of the reasons that attracted me to you was in just the facility that you have, understanding what your voice is really all about. You have a specific writing voice that you developed over that time that is an automatic for you. What you’ve been struggling with is the difficult place people associate with structure, function and just organizational stuff that make up stories, because what I was taught and I think probably what you were taught as I was matriculating through various levels of school was that writers write. The more you write, the closer you will get to an epiphany. Those epiphanies will add up over time, such that the structural functional organization of a story will become uniquely yours. As opposed to the idea that like a chair, there is a structural functional organization to stories too, and it can be learned through craft and then applied to everyone’s particular genius.
This notion that you have to make it through this passage until you are touched by a mystical greatness that gives you these tools intuitively, as opposed to learning something explicitly, has been deeply ingrained in I think everyone who’s ever taken an English class in their life.
[00:06:11] AH: It certainly wasn’t ingrained in me.
[00:06:14] SC: Yeah. The difficult thing – you’re a very intelligent person. Intellectually, you could grasp, “You know what? Maybe that is BS. I’m willing to change my attitude and to explore this Story Grid methodology structural stuff and see if it’s useful to me.” Over a period of four years you’re like, “Yeah, yeah. This is working. Yeah, I’m not fully buying everything, but I’m going to keep going and we’ll see, we’ll see, we’ll see.” I think the experiment has actually made you procedurally demonstrate this new understanding very, very specifically.
Each of these beats that you analyzed yourself and you formalized yourself, and I will remind you and everyone else listening that all of the beats that you’re following were the beats that you determine not what I determine, which I think was really important. That was something that came organically through this process, because I initially believe like, “Oh, I will be the professor and I will show her the beats and then she will execute as exactly as I say,” right? Not that that wouldn’t have worked, but it was better, right?
Once I saw your beats, I’m like, “These beats are better. Go with her beats, because she’s locked in in a way that I never will be.” I think just reading the latest material that you’ve sent me, it’s a joy. It’s a joy to see that inherent execution of structural details that are workman-like crafty stuff that aren’t why you wanted to become a writer in the first place. Using that craft and adding to your line-by-line skill set, it’s created something in my estimation a sum greater than its parts.
That’s the goal of any editor is to help the writer apply their finest skill set and add a little bit more and a tweak more and maybe a little bit more clarity, so that that special sauce that only they have can actually come out in a way that has never come out before. I’m not going to presume that this is the greatest thing you’ve ever written, but I think you’ve gotten a lot further along in this story in the amount of time that we’ve worked on it, than perhaps you have on previous things that you’ve worked on.
[00:08:38] AH: Oh, absolutely. I will tell anyone who asks that I came to Story Grid in order to find a way to fix the novel that I had already written that I knew wasn’t working. I used it for that and it worked very well and I fixed the novel. Since then, I haven’t written anything. Using these techniques as the basis to actually start something and write something, going down to this level of looking at the master work and trying to copy it basically, I mean, that idea was so difficult for me to grasp, until we actually – I mean, sat down and started doing this and you hired me on to take on this experiment. I would not have done it otherwise.
I just couldn’t bring myself to look at something that I love, like Brokeback Mountain at that level of detail, break it down and ruin it. It ruins it when you break it down like this, you see all of its inner workings and guts and stuff and it loses all of its enchantment. That is what happens, right? Then a new level of incredible admiration and inspiration comes out of looking that closely at the inner workings of something that you love. It’s been really remarkable.
[00:09:49] SC: I was listening to one of those online professors that you can download. I mean, that’s the great thing about YouTube is that if you’re interested in any one particular thing, you can usually find an expert who has set up a camera and they filmed themselves giving a lecture. Unfortunately, I forget which lecturer was explaining this. I believe it was part of John Vervaeke’s Awakening from the Meaning Crisis, which I highly recommend.
Anyway, they were talking about the difference between idolatry and iconography. I found this fascinating. An icon is someone that you look up to, but you see them as a human being, right? They had the same problems we all do, but you look at their work and you say, “Well, if that person was capable of creating such great work, then the possibility that I could is it’s available. That’s actually a possibility, because that’s a flawed human being. I’m a flawed human being. That flawed human being created a work of art and maybe this flawed human being could too.” That’s an icon. You’ll get why I’m telling you this in a second.
Now an idol, an I-D-O-L, an idol is something that’s not transparent. It’s an opaque thing that we can never really grasp on to and understand it in any real function. An idol would be something that would be a magical totem, some person who came down from earth and was different than you, or I. They saw the world in a unique way, they were touched by greatness, they had a “talent” that you would never be able to approach. Oftentimes, I think what happens is that we get seriously confused between idols and icons. I don’t believe that there are really any genuine idols, so to speak. I don’t want to get into a controversy. Some people have them, okay.
I think the people who are creating stories and the people who are creating art and the people are doing amazing things, they are icons. Icons are inherently human beings, which means that we ourselves can aspire to iconography. When we look at a masterwork, our tendency is to be like, “Oh, my God. There’s just no way I’m going to go near this thing. That person who wrote this masterwork has something that I will never have.”
What I love about the masterwork experiment and this global masterwork gestalt that’s part of the Story Grid methodology is that it converts, it looks at works as icons of virtue, as opposed to idols of we will never reach that arena. I wholly believe that if you don’t set your sights at astronomically incredibly difficult places, you’ll never even get near them. I don’t think it’s [inaudible 00:12:56] to say, “You know what? Let me take a look at this masterwork. Let me really analyze it beat by beat and see if I can’t model my story on that.” That’s actually I think a tribute to the work, as opposed to a copy/exploitation.
Because you hold your story up to Annie Proulx’s and they’re completely different things. They’re different characters, different time periods. Thematically and structurally, they share common things, but so does the Hobbit and Harry Potter, right?
[00:13:28] AH: Right.
[00:13:30] SC: I don’t think we’re committing blasphemy by really looking at the craft behind the masterworks. In fact, I think most people who write master works would be like, “Go to it, man.” Sometimes I don’t even know how I put it together. If you can tell me – I mean, Steve Pressfield always says that to me like, “Dude, I always love it when you analyze my stuff, because I had no idea a lot of the stuff I was doing.”
When I look at it I go, “Oh, my God. I didn’t know I was that smart.” I think it’s important to think about icons and idols and to steer away from idolizing human beings, to a place where you believe that you are so not near their skill set. Because it only holds you back and it will only serve as an excuse for you to not work.
[00:14:20] AH: Right. Yeah, I have turned out more words in the last week of actual fiction writing than in the last couple of years really.
[00:14:29] SC: Well, keep at it is all I can say, because you’re working through this in a way that is exactly how I envisioned and hoped. I think all those worries that you had a few weeks ago, or a week ago about this thing not having life inside of it were completely unwarranted. What you have done here is one of the things I always like to say to somebody is everyone knows when a story is working. The reason why we know intuitively, and you don’t have to be a Story Grid certified editor to know when a story is working. All you need to know is is the movie, or the film of the story clicking through your mind as you’re reading it? Are you imagining the scenarios and the cloppings of the horses and the rain coming down and the smell of the woolen blankets as they’re wet and the way the horses are neighing and afraid of the river. Is that running through your mind, or does it feel it’s a chore to start to picture it?
That’s testimony to not your structural knowledge. Your structural knowledge is inherent in you following the beats. That’s all you have to do. What its testimony to is that 57 years of blue-collar work that you did to paint pictures with words, so that someone like me can start reading it and immediately, the film starts to run in my mind. That is just testimony to your hard work and your love of language and your love of research and your love of a time period. You’re attracted to this very specific time period. From what I can see is that you have followed that interest, and so you have researched that time period. Yeah, you don’t have all the details yet, but you know, you’ve pictured in your mind over and over and over again what it must have been like to have lived at that time.
All of that fun and fantasy imagining in your mind is really – you’re taking dictation and you’re applying it to the page with words that you’ve learned how to manipulate. I don’t have any real commentary about the work that you sent me, other than to pick out some things that I was just – my heart melted when I read them, because I’m like, “Oh, my gosh. She gets it. She’s doing it.”
[00:17:03] AH: Well, I want to hear about those things.
[00:17:04] SC: Okay. Okay. Let me let me pull it up here. From the very start, the opening line and of course, you may or may not change this or whatever. What I loved is at the very first sentence, you say, “Josiah Reed drags himself from his palette in the loft of Salt Tire.” I don’t even know how to pronounce that.
[00:17:26] AH: I don’t know either. I just picked it out of that.
[00:17:28] SC: “Saltire Manors, vast stables and climbs down the ladder.” Okay, what I love about that very first sentence didn’t really register to me until I’d reached about midpoint of the work that you had sent me. Because what you had done in that very first sentence is very similar to what Annie Proulx does all the time; is she’s setting up the exposition that explains where he is in that very moment later on in the story. What I mean by that is that later on in the story, Mattie and Josiah have a conversation. It’s the, hey, what school did you go to, conversation, right? When you first meet someone, you’re getting acquainted. Like, “Well, I’m from Pittsburgh.” “Oh, I’m from Portland.” Oh, cool, two P towns, right? Youare hashing it back and forth.
He gives up a little bit about himself and he goes, “Oh, man. I grew up in a stable. Now, things are starting to turn around for me, but I really had humble origins. I was a foundling. I grew up in this hayloft.” It’s really terrific, because it tumbles all the way back to your very first sentence. Now this very first sentence, you’re presenting a man at the later years of his life. Where is he? He’s back where he started, isn’t he?
[00:18:52] AH: Yeah, yeah.
[00:18:52] SC: He’s come full circle. Just by that technique that you used that was inspired by Annie Proulx, you’ve successfully implied the nature of a heroic journey, so to speak, with the entire story just from that introduction. When a man’s living in a hayloft, when he’s older, we want to know, “Oh, my God. Well, how did he get there, right? What happened to this guy?” It’s a great expositional thing that’s loaded. It’s loaded with so much ammunition to generate narrative drive that I absolutely loved it.
The other thing I loved about this new prologue is that our initial reaction about this guy is boy, he’s got to be bitter, right? This is someone who’s got to be really not so pleased that they’re living in a hayloft. Instead, you play with it and this guy is feeding the birds, right? You’ve got Lord Black-feather, who he’s probably – he feeds him every day, he sees him every day and gets a little – some corn and that’s part of his life, right? It’s a beautiful life. He has a relationship to the natural world in a way that any of us would say, “Hey, that’s pretty cool.” Bird comes by every day. He has a relationship. He throws down a little corn, the bird eats. This guy is really important in the universe, even though he lives in a hayloft. If he’s not there to throw down that corn, that bird is going to miss them. That’s great.
Then lastly, one of the really difficult things that you had to solve was what’s the equivalent of the two shirts? What is the thing this guy – what’s his totem? What’s his temple? What’s the thing that Ennis Del Mar remembers Jack? He’s got his little shrine there. He’s got his two shirts, he’s got his picture of Brokeback Mountain, they’re on the nail, he touches that shirt, he looks at that picture and he can get through another day. You had to solve that problem, but you couldn’t use shirts, right? You couldn’t cheat.
[00:21:01] AH: More postcards. Yeah.
[00:21:03] SC: More postcards, right? You can use a letter. This is a barn guy, right? This guy lives his life in a barn. He lives with horses. He lives with hay. What this reminded me of is there’s this great moment ,the solution that you came up with which I’ll share in a second. It reminded me of this great episode in Mad Men, that series about 1960s advertising. The episode was called The Hobo Code. In The Hobo Code, there is this moment where it’s a flashback of the advertising executive, a guy named Don Draper in his childhood. He grew up on this falling apart farm somewhere in Indiana, or Illinois, or somewhere.
It’s during the Great Depression, and these hobos would walk by and they would offer to do some menial labor to sleep in the barn and maybe get a meal. The hobos as they would travel along the road, they would bring a little piece of chalk with them. On the gate that led up to these houses, they would put little messages for each other, so that when they would see these messages, they would know whether or not the people in there were friendly, or if they weren’t, or if they would run them off or whatever. The whole episode is based upon this hobo code, that this hobo, a traveling person who has no work puts on the gate of Don Draper’s family’s barn after his experiences there.
What you did to solve this problem reminded me of that beautiful decision in that television series, because what you’ve decided is to make a couple of notches in the side of the wood in the entry to the barn. Josiah, every time he walks in and out of that barn, he puts his two fingers and he rubs those two notches. That was beautiful to me, because it’s a very tiny little thing in the side at the beginning of your prologue. Again, it’s a setup. You pay off that setup far earlier than Annie Proulx did, which is testimony to you’re going with Anne’s flow, not Annie Proulx’s flow.
The way it works in your story is that those two notches represent these two guys as they’re getting to know each other. They’re having this friendly debate about who’s taller. What do men do? They got to get the data, right? They take the knife and they make the marks of who’s taller. That I loved, because I immediately got it. Those two marks are what gets this guy through the door every single day. If those two marks weren’t there, he would live in despair.
Before we even know this is a love story, right? Because you’re not really pinpointing this is a love story at the beginning of the story. It’s this fun, upstairs, downstairs Downton Abbey maybe thing. Those two things are part of the revelatory payoff. Oh, my God. This is a love story, that we find later on.
What’s the other thing that I found? Well, the other thing that I just loved at the very end of your work was like Annie Proulx, the sex is almost incidental. It’s two guys who find each other attractive at the end of the chunk that you sent me. Yeah, they get together, so what? You’re not afraid of saying, “They’re naked in front of each other.” That image does flash in the reader’s mind, but not in a gratuitous, or pornographic way, just natural to human beings. Then you cut. Like, enough. That’s it. We’re not here for that. We’re here for something much deeper, much more meaningful.
Geez, Anne. I don’t know what to say, other than keep going. Do you have any questions for me?
[00:25:06] AH: I do. There’s a back and forth working process here that I’m – it’s new to me, because I have this list of beats, right, that I’m supposed to be meeting. When I’m writing, like working on a scene, I’ve got to get the first sexual contact scene; I’m going to write it. Then I realize, “Oh, I should go back and look at my list of beats and see if I’ve missed one.” I have. I missed a bunch of them. I know that there’s no real strong exact correlation anymore on the crosswalk between this beat happens at this point in Brokeback Mountain and it hasn’t happened yet in my story. That type of back-and-forth stuff. My sense is I should just keep going and then go back and see if I need to line up more beats, or – but what do you think?
[00:25:51] SC: Okay, that’s a great question. I had a call earlier with our mutual friend, Valerie, about this very thing. Generally, here’s what I think the beats are for; the beats are for inspiration. Therefore, clear directives to prime the pump of your imagination. Okay, so should you follow these beats religiously? My answer would be, if you don’t need to, then don’t.
The key thing about the beats is what they’re saying to you are the moments in the story that you’ll need to have in your story, whether or not they come at the specific time that Annie Proul put them in is not important. What’s important is that these patterns, these beautiful patterns that Annie Proulx created in Brokeback Mountain, you want to have those patterns in your story too. Whether or not you’re following the structural organization of those patterns to the tee isn’t the important thing. The important thing is at the end of your draft, yeah, you’re going to want to go back and go, “Did I hit that pattern? Did I nail that little beat? Is that in there somewhere? Have I put in the bit about there’s a third party, sort of that character who catches them in the act? Joe Aguirre. Do I have a Joe Aguirre figure? Is it clear that he’s probably holding this information for purposes of his own, that will later screw something up, or hurt these guys, or something?” That’s what you want to look for. You have a really nice moment, a bunch of moments in there where you’re like, “The gun guy.”
[00:27:42] AH: You’re right. The gun guy, whose name I haven’t figured out yet.
[00:27:44] SC: That’s great. The gun guy. That’s all you need to know. There’s the guy who takes care of the guns, the guy who takes care of the logistical details, that’s Mattie, and there’s the guy who takes care of the horses, that’s Josiah, right? That’s what you need. You need the gun guy, the logistical guy and the horse guy, all to get this package from here to there. That’s the other great thing is that you put them on the road, which mirrors all of our movements through the universe.
They’re on the road and you’ve got this gun guy who’s this wild card. You’re not really sure how to use him yet, but you’re not letting that stop you writing. You’re setting up possible all kinds of things. If you did not have the gun guy, then you lose the triangle of relationship exponential possibilities.
In a one-on-one relationship, one person can like one person, the other person could like the other person, they could both like each other. I’m talking very generally and generically. When you have a triangle, it adds so much more nuance. Person one could like person two. Person two could like person three. Person three could like person one. Person one could then like – right? You can really fiddle around with the relationships when you have three in the pot, as opposed to two.
That’s why you always have the love triangle, because it adds complications and all kinds of nuance to a story that could get really, “I love you. I love you not. I love you. I love you not.” That just doesn’t really go very far. The gun guy is a great idea. Just to get back to your central question, no. Go as directed and then later on, what you’re going to do is you’re going to just review, review what Annie Proulx did. Say she did this, this, that and this. Okay, did I do that? Yeah, it’s here. Yeah, this one’s over here. That’s okay, because it works. Does that work? Yeah, that works. I missed that one. Is it crucial? I don’t think it’s crucial, so I’m going to I’m going to give myself the liberty not to do that beat.
You see, that’s where your editor comes in. Your editor head is going to be far better at telling you whether or not a beat that you may have missed should be in or not be in. You might say, “You know what? I’m forcing this. I don’t need it.” While you’re doing your writing, I always say this, just keep that writer’s hat on. Keep momentum. Keep the TKs. Use TKs until you – to your heart’s content. Gun guy TK is great. Keep doing it.
[00:30:23] AH: TK village. TK name of in. I got a lot of TKs in here. I will admit, I did spend a little bit of time with maps and street view, trying to get a feel for the scenery, but I’m trying not to get too deep into that.
[00:30:38] SC: Yeah, it’s working.
[00:30:40] AH: I don’t want to write myself into a corner that then historically, or geographically I can’t write my way back out of if I find out that it’s wrong. I’m trying to walk that line a little bit. I do have some concerns about the word count. I just can’t see myself bringing this story in at 11,000 words.
[00:30:59] SC: Well, who cares? Don’t worry about it.
[00:31:02] AH: Okay. That’s all I need to hear, because this thing could become a full-length novel.
[00:31:07] SC: Well, yeah. If it works 16 – if it works at 16, great. I mean, one of the things that you have to remember about your story versus Annie Proulx’s story is that the American West is a hardscrabble sensibility. It’s a world in which the average American and even international readers who are familiar with the American West, there’s a whole universe attached to it. It allowed her to use shorthand and not really have to get into the eloquence of the details of sunsets. I mean, she does it very well. She does it in one sentence, what most of us would take three sentences to do.
My only point is that you’re writing a historical. Now hers was historical, but it was within the realm of modern-day life. It was the turn between – it was really the death of the Old West that she was talking about. You’re taking us into a whole other area, which is going to require more description. It’s going to require more stuff, more the taproom. I love the taproom. Who wouldn’t love the taproom?
To not include fun taproom moments because of a word count would be a mistake, because you’re not satisfying the core readership that’s going to want to read this story. This story is a historical. What do readers of historical fiction usually want? They want that detail. They want that resolution. They want to know what bridle the guy uses, or whatever.
[00:32:48] AH: Right. A little bit more about horses, a little bit more about the clothes, things like that, or what historical readers read for.
[00:32:56] SC: Yeah. Never worry about going too long. You can really through levels of editing and line editing, you can – I’m in the middle of writing some back cover copy for some books, right? My first drafts are always about 500 words. I’m like, “God. Man, I can’t put 500 words on the back cover of a book. I got to bring it down to 200.” Then I’m like, “There’s no way I can cut this.” Then I let it sit overnight. Then I come in the next morning and I realize I have three sentences saying the same thing. Those are going and let me put that in there. That’s what editing is for. If I didn’t have those 500 words, I wouldn’t have been editing anything. Yeah. Short answer is don’t worry about word count.
[00:33:40] AH: Okay, good. Thank you. That relieves my mind. I have to say just for people listening who may know my other writing, writing this with the awareness of the brevity that Annie Proulx uses, it’s not the American West, but this condensed, distilled way that she has writing. Trying to keep that in mind has been really interesting. I mean, it has stopped me from putting so many things on the page that I would have put on a page before. It’s been a wonderful education in getting to better brevity in my work. Anything you want to bring up about the process?
[00:34:18] SC: Yeah. One of the things that people I think get confused about when they’re writing something is they’re results-oriented. What that means is that they’re concentrating on the end point far too much. It’s almost like they’re fixated on it. The end point being something like, “Oh, I’ve got to do this in 10,000 words. Therefore, that’s my result that I need to deliver.” Or, “My second novel has to sell at least as well as my first novel. My first novel sold 10,000, so that my goal is I need the second novel to sell 11,000 and my first novels inciting incident was this inciting incident, so I better just make that inciting incident a little bit better, so that I can sell a little bit more number of copies.”
That’s like a results-oriented mindset. It’s what I call the having mode. I think I’ve talked about Erich Fromm before, but he was a psychologist in the 1970s who clearly identified these two ways of looking at the world. It’s we go after haves and we choose to be, right? Having is about getting that 11,000 copy sell for my second novel. If I could have that 11 copy sell for my second novel, then I will feel better.
Okay, now to be is more about, I am working on creating something and I’m not really sure where it’s going to go, but I’m going to trust the process. I’m going to trust the things that I’ve done before, because they’ve brought me through the forest before and they will this time too. In fact, when I trust the process, I actually learned a whole bunch of new tricks. Those are processed-driven people and those are people who are living in the be mode. They’re being writers who are trusting their process, which they have developed over say, 57 years.
That way of thinking, in my estimation I can only speak from personal experience, is far more satisfying and far more interesting a way to pursue the thing that you’re most obsessed about, than it is to say, “I will feel better about myself if I get a bigger house. Therefore, if I have a bigger house, I will have more respect from other people, which will increase my self-esteem, which will make me feel better.” That can be a very slippery slope. It’s not to say that we don’t need to attain things. Of course, we do. We need to be very clear about what our goal is. If I have to make breakfast, I make my breakfast, right? Having breakfast at the four seasons isn’t so important to me.
When we are working on our projects and we’re saying, “Well, I’m not at that 15,000-word level yet, or I’m not hitting my page count, or I’m not going – this doesn’t seem to be that thing that’s going to sell a lot of copies,” it’s a trap. Because we’re living in a have mode when we’re trying to apply our being in a process.
That’s why I think the Story Grid experiment for you has been interesting, because we are so concentrated on the process, not the have at the end, right? I’m sure in your mind you’re like, “Geez, I hope I can have this published in a way that will be interesting and that people who are e-mailing me about how much they’re enjoying the story will be able to buy it. Then maybe I can get that new coffee table if it does well enough.” Now that’s perfectly reasonable, but it’s not something that you should be focusing on when you’re doing the creation.
That’s what my magic wand, my magic thing that I would want for Story Grid is it’s process-driven as opposed to results-driven. Many times in my career, it’s all about results. Shawn, can you take this thing and turn it into a best-seller, right? If I do do that, it’s satisfying, but not really, because it’s all about that end-result. Guess what happens when I do take that thing in and it doesn’t become a best-seller? Then people are upset. It’s the same process that brought both results.
As long as I focus on the process of learning more about story and applying the global principles that I can call from examining multiple stories, then that’s all I need. That’s living in the process. It’s been my experience that the more I live in the process, the less I have to worry about having. The haves almost start to take care of themselves. I think it’s important for everyone listening that if you’re listening to Story Grid Podcast, or you’re listening to the Story Grid Editors Roundtable with the goal of learning some secret sauce that’s going to get you what you want, as opposed to listening to enjoy the process of the examination, you’re going to be disappointed. You’re going to say, “Yeah, I wish Shawn would shut up and just tell me the secret sauce.”
[00:39:48] AH: Hand me the magic key.
[00:39:49] SC: If he could boil everything down into seven paragraphs and really spit it out, so that I can make notes and then apply that formula to my stuff and then I can get a best-seller, that would be much more preferable than listening to him talk about process for the end. My point is the process is all that matters. It’s the work. It’s the work that frees us from worrying so much about whether or not somebody thinks we’re cool or not. Because when we’re doing the work, we find ourselves getting more and more insights, having more and more flow, enjoying the process more.
It doesn’t mean that every time we do the process, we’re going to get a good result. It just means that we’re doing what we should be doing. That if we keep doing that thing and keep trying to challenge ourselves to get a little bit better at doing it, each and every time we do it, the probability is that eventually, eventually the results will be commercially successful and we can get our new coffee table.
[END OF EPISODE]
[00:40:57] AH: That’s a wrap for episode 9 of the masterwork experiment. Once again, we ran into a technical problem that cut us off a little short. In a follow-up e-mail, Shawn asked me to share that the goal for this episode was just to encourage me and all of us to keep our writing hat on, to trust the process and let it bring us to shore. Leave the results until it’s time to edit.
In the show notes, you’ll find links to all my working documents, John Vervaeke’s lecture on Awakening from the Meaning Crisis, which Shawn referred to in this episode, and an article on hobo signs just for fun.
For everything Story Grid related, visit storygrid.com. If you’d like to learn more about me and my writing and editing work, you’ll find me at annehawley.net. That’s A-N-N-E-H-A-W-L-E-Y.net, where I’m posting my draft scenes complete with TKs and temporary character names, like gun guy. You can check all that out on my blog.
You’ll also find me every Wednesday on the Editor Roundtable Podcast, where I team up with four of my fellow certified Story Grid editors to analyze the story structure of a movie, or a novel each week.
To support the podcast, tell other authors about us and leave us a rating and review. Join us again next week for the final episode of the masterwork experiment when I bang out all my remaining scenes and we discuss the editing steps that are going to have to take place between that point and eventual publication.
Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.