Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Nobody wants to read your shit

Earlier I wrote about how much I liked the "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield. This newly released book by Pressfield takes on where "The War of Art" has left. While the former focused on the psychological aspects of the writing process, this book focuses on the structural/mechanical aspects of writing. The book was freely distributed as pdf and ebook for a limited time for promotion purposes. (It looks like the promotion ended.) I read it in one sitting and found it interesting. This book can benefit anyone who needs to communicate in writing. (Of course, if you are a novice writer, start with the Elements of Style.)

The book gives a very interesting account of what Steven learned from a 50+ years career performing all forms of writing, including ad writing, Hollywood script-writing, novels, and nonfiction. The first chapter lays down the most important lesson Steven has learned: "Nobody wants to read your shit", and the rest of the book talks about what you can do about it. In a nutshell, you must streamline your message (staying on theme), and make its expression fun (organizing around an interesting concept).

Steven lists these as the universal principles of story telling:
  1. Every story must have a concept. It must put a unique and original spin, twist or framing device upon the material.
  2. Every story must be about something. It must have a theme.
  3. Every story must have a beginning (that grabs the listener), a middle (that escalates in tension, suspense, stakes, and excitement), and an end (that brings it all home with a bang). Act One, Act Two, Act Three.
  4. Every story must have a hero.
  5. Every story must have a villain.
  6. Every story must start with an Inciting Incident, embedded within which is the story's climax.
  7. Every story must escalate through Act Two in terms of energy, stakes, complication and significance/meaning as it progresses.
  8. Every story must build to a climax centered around a clash between the hero and the villain that pays off everything that came before and that pays it off on-theme.
He says that these rules for writing applies to writing nonfiction as well. That includes your whitepapers, blog posts, and theses. You should definitely have a theme and an interesting concept. The hero and villain can be abstract. They can be useful for building some tension when motivating your problem.

The book is an easy and fun read. It feels like Steven is having a heart-to-heart conversation with you and coaching you about how you can become a better writer. While there were many gems, I was particularly intrigued by this passage:
I will do between 10 and 15 drafts of every book I write. Most writers do.
This is a positive, not a negative.
If I screw up in Draft #1, I'll attack it again in Draft #2.
"You can't fix everything in one draft."
Thinking in multiple drafts takes the pressure off. 

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