People like me need structure.  Even if I did write my entire NaNoWriMo project by the seat of my pants, I like to know that the overall story spine is there, and that everything works.  Listening to the Story Grid podcast all year and working through the book, The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know has been enormously helpful because it explains what is missing.

When Shawn and Tim announced the first workshop, I knew I was hopping on a plane and going to this workshop.  Shawn really broke down the five commandments of story telling, all the way down to a beat (smallest unit of story).  He used Pride and Prejudice, a book he has broken down with his Story Grid format, as a teaching tool to explain why the story works, and what the conventions and tropes of the courtship love story are.

The bonus of the workshop was meeting Steve Pressfield.  He was so low key and congenial and the interaction between Shawn and Steve was very funny.

Shawn would say, “the theme in Gates of Fire is about brotherhood and the greater good” and I would ask Steve if he knew that before he wrote his first draft, and his response, “Not really.  Shawn told me what my theme was.”

Of course, for the 35 attendees in the room, the big reason most of us so admire Steve Pressfield is for his book, the War of Art.  That was the book that gave a name to that thing writers experience when we stare at the blank screen – Resistance.

(If you have not read this book, I cannot recommend it enough.  It is short, and extremely powerful. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.)

On the last day, after all our brains were fried from working the Story Grid backwards and forwards, Steve and Shawn sat up in the front of the room, and a special guest showed up.  Seth Godin.  Yes, that Seth Godin, author of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.)  They had such a nice dynamic and discussed the history and future of publication, the ethos of creativity and many more such engaging topics.

Seth wrote the foreword for Do the Work: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way, the follow up to Steve’s book the War of Art.  Basically Seth expressed the feeling that most of us no doubt had when we first read War of Art, that sense of revelation “so that’s what that is!”

Steve shared an anecdote of a discussion he had with a rabbi, and he related Jewish mysticism and the concept of Neshama, that man is trying to reach enlightment and touch this level of higher consciousness.  His analogy is that the resistance is what stops creatives from reaching that level and only deliberate practice can help break through.

What a great afternoon, and the plane ride home was a good time to reflect and process on the application of the Story Grid to my NaNoWriMo work, something that I knew was missing bits and pieces to make it whole.  Specifically, the issue I previously had trying to fill in the Foolscap Analysis.  I had struggled to do it on my own (just by following the book).  After attending the workshop, I whipped through the Foolscap Analysis in 20 minutes.

If they do this workshop again in the future, I recommend it for the most committed of story nerd folks. As Seth stated when he began his talk, “People like us do things like this.”

Seth Godin, Steve Pressfield and Shawn Coyne


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