The Six Word GPS

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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.


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Shawn Coyne

SHAWN COYNE created, developed, and expanded the story analysis and problem-solving methodology The Story Grid throughout his quarter-century-plus book publishing career. A seasoned story editor, book publisher and ghostwriter, Coyne has also co-authored The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, The Cowboys, the ’70s and the Fight For America’s Soul with Chad Millman and Cognitive Dominance: A Brain Surgeon’s Quest to Out-Think Fear with Mark McLaughlin, M.D. With his friend and editorial client Steven Pressfield, Coyne runs Black Irish Entertainment LLC, publisher of the cult classic book The War of Art. With his friend and editorial client Tim Grahl, Coyne oversees the Story Grid Universe, LLC, which includes Story Grid University and Story Grid Publishing.