Steven Pressfield is a weird kind of writer. He is capable of writing a great book, like "Gates of Fire". But he also publishes numerous self-help books, like "The War of Art" or "Turning Pro".
While I really like "Gates of Fire", I can't make myself like any of his other books. I think I'll stop trying. "Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t" is not an exception here. It's predominantly just a collection of platitudes in one-page chapters, rehashed and repeated over and over.
There is some value in those chapters but it's surrounded by passages like these:
Like the monk and the mystic, the artist enters a mental space. He becomes a child. She becomes a vessel.
They tune in to the Cosmic Radio Station and listen to whatever song is being broadcast specifically to them.
We're believing that the universe has a gift that it is holding __specifically for us__ and that, if we can learn to make ourselves available to it, it will deliver this gift into our hands.
Believe me, this is true.
That's some Coelho-level stuff that I don't really want to find in a book where I want to actually learn something.
I admire the author's productivity—he's written a lot and in multiple genres. But one good book is not enough to warrant reading all the other ones.
Some notes I've highlighted while reading the book.
Nobody wants to read anything.
It isn't that people are mean or cruel. They're just busy.
What's the answer?
1) Streamline your message. Focus it and pare it down to it simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form.
2) Make its expression fun. Or sexy or interesting or scary or informative. Make it so compelling that a person would have to be crazy NOT to read it.
3) Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce.
When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer must give him something worthy of his gift to you.
When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy.
You acquire the skill that is indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs—the ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer. You learn to ask yourself with every sentence and every phrase: Is this interesting? Is it fun or challenging or inventive? Am I giving the reader enough? Is she bored? Is she following where I want to lead her?
Next morning, I went over to my writer friend Paul's for coffee and told him I had finished.
"Good for you," he said without looking up. "Start the next one today."
First figure out where you want to finish.
Then work backward to set up everything you need to get you there.
Principles learned in twenty-sever years working as a writer in other fields, i.e., writing ads, writing movies, writing unpublishable fiction.
1) Every work must be about something. It must have a theme.
2) Every work must have a concept, that is, a unique twist or slant or framing device.
3) Every work must start with an Inciting Incident.
4) Every work must be divided into three acts (or seven or eight or nine David Lean sequences).
5) Every character must represent something greater than himself/herself.
6) The protagonist embodies the theme.
7) The antagonist personifies the counter-theme.
8) The protagonist and antagonist clash in the climax around the issue of the theme.
9) The climax resolves the clash between the theme and the counter-theme.
Can you do a first draft in three months?
Too daunting? How about a rough sketch in three weeks?
Still too scary? Maybe a rough-rough in seven days?
Remember, the enemy in an endurance enterprise is not time.
The enemy is Resistance.
Resistance will use time against you. It will try to overawe you with the magnitude of the task and the mass of days, weeks, and months necessary to complete it.
Because nobody wants to ready your sh*t.
We cannot give our readers ore. We must give them gold.
If you want your factual history or memoir, your grant proposal or dissertation or TED talk to be powerful and engaging and to hold the reader and audience's attention, you must organize your material (even though it's technically not a story and not a fiction) as if it were a story and as if it were fiction.
Let's start by reviewing the universal principles of storytelling. (This is really a distillation of everything we’ve learned so far from advertising, fiction, and filmmaking.)
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, a middle, and an end. 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.
There is nothing about any of these principles that cannot be applied to nonfiction, including your presentation on geraniums to the Master Gardening class.
What are the universal structural elements of all stories?
This is the shape any story must take.
1) A beginning that grabs the listener.
2) A middle that escalates in tension, suspense, stakes, and excitement.
3) An ending that brings it all home with a bang.
That’s a novel, that’s a play, that’s a movie, that’s a joke, that’s a seduction, that’s a military campaign.
It’s also your TED talk, your sales pitch, your Master’s thesis, and the 890-page true saga of your great-great-grandmother’s life.
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