Return of the Foolscap Method

My apologies to everyone who got psyched up, a few weeks ago, to learn more about the Foolscap Method (which I wrote about then in this space and promised to write about again), only to have me drop the ball completely. Sorry!

"Foolscap" is yellow, lined, legal-size notepad paper

There’s a reason. We’ve been working feverishly over the past few weeks to re-jigger this site to handle some new long-form material that we want to make available to our regular readers. That’s what the FIRST LOOK ACCESS box is all about, above and to the right.

Bottom line: the Wednesday after next, we’ll be ready. We’ll start with one ten-minute video from me about the Foolscap Method, then another ten-minute video the next week—all building to a new long-form piece about Writing A First Novel.  In other words, what it takes to go from unpublishable to publishable.

The piece is by me, from my own experience with my own first published novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Trust me, the Foolscap Method played a huge part in that breakthrough, and it can be invaluable for any writer (or artist or entrepreneur) struggling to get over that same hump.

The photo above is the Foolscap I used to write Bagger Vance. It’s not the actual one. I lost that in a flood. But it’s a reconstituted version that’s probably a lot clearer.

In the first ten-minute video, I’ll talk about the overall concept of the Foolscap Method. In the second, I’ll get into this specific piece of Foolscap, line-by-line.

What is the Foolscap Method about? Basically, it’s a way to kick your own ass, either at the very start of a project or when you’re six months into something and you’re so lost you can’t remember where you started or where you’re trying to go.

Shawn, who is my editor and one of the best in the business, has a system of narrative organization he calls the “Story Grid.” He invented it himself. He’s been using it on my stuff for years. I bring him a sprawling, shapeless mass of goo. He puts the Grid on it. Out comes a real book. A book with a beginning, a middle, and an end. A book that works. A book that sells.

It’s amazing.

Shawn’s Story Grid is the Einstein version of the Foolscap Method. Or, put another way, the Foolscap Method is the village-idiot version of the Story Grid. But they are both indispensable (they or some system like them) for anyone who aspires to move from unpublishable to publishable—or from published-already to really-really-good published—and whose name is not James Joyce.

Oh, P.S. In a few months we’ll also be bringing out Shawn’s Story Grid (with many extra goodies) here on this site in full-length format for everyone who has signed up for First Look Access above. More news as the date approaches.

Again, my apologies for the delay getting the Foolscap/First Novel pieces out sooner. I shoulda foolscapped ’em. But they’re on their way. Wednesday after next, I promise.


Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

do the work book banner 1


A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.



Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.



Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"



  1. Basilis on August 21, 2013 at 4:17 am

    This is a great idea!
    An “aggressive”, technical series of posts how to write your own novel.
    By the way, I see in the picture a nice writing style and well shaped structures.
    (Mine are usually a little sloppy. 🙄 )

  2. Lee on August 21, 2013 at 7:26 am

    Nicely done. I’m a fan. Now I’m very much interested in how you proceed.

  3. Martha Brettschneider on August 21, 2013 at 8:07 am

    Thanks for this — I actually searched yesterday for the follow-up! Does the method apply as well to non-fiction (memoir)?

  4. Marc on August 21, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Very excited to see the new content coming soon. These posts have been invaluable already. Thanks!

  5. S. J. Crown on August 21, 2013 at 8:59 am

    This sounds terrific! Very much looking forward to learning about the process that created Rannulph Junah’s story. It’s one of my favorites, as visitors to my sports fiction blog can attest.

  6. David Gillaspie on August 21, 2013 at 10:50 am

    The first time I read about Thomas Wolfe delivering huge manuscripts to Maxwell Perkins to shape, I knew there was more to it.

    The story grid and Foolscap Method sound perfect. You’ve got a good guy working with you. And we’ve got you. What could be better?

  7. elizabeth on August 21, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Thank you. I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting. Here’s looking forward to next Wednesday 🙂

  8. Pamela Hodges on August 21, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Thank you, I look forward to reading more. So does Pooh. He is writing his memoir.

  9. Joel D Canfield on August 21, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    sprawling shapeless goo, village idiots, and Einstein, all on a grid?

    count me in!

  10. Mary on August 21, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    Wow, you’re going to hand us a method to organize our work with a grid – count me in too, and please, stop apologizing that it’s “late” – we’re lucky to have you and Shawn. Can’t wait to see the videos!

  11. Kari Wolfe on August 21, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Signed up for the First Look Access, never received a confirmation. No biggie to me — I’ll be here, just wanted to let you know.

    Can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store for us — definitely excited to see a new method of preparation 🙂

    • Kari Wolfe on August 21, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      Ok, yeah, got it — must have entered my email in wrong. Still excited though 🙂

  12. David Y.B. Kaufmann on August 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    As always, thanks. I appreciate what you and Shawn share, and for allowing us to be part of the conversation. Looking forward to all of it.

  13. Victoria on August 21, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Yeah! I’d looked several times, worried I’d missed something. The good news is, the wait gave me time to study “Bagger,” and I’m so glad I did. The book itself gave me lots of insights, so I’m already ahead of where I was in that I’ve been reminding myself to have more fun. There’s not much point without that, is there?

  14. Beth Barany on August 21, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    Awesome! Can’t wait! Signed up for your goodies.

  15. Sonja on August 22, 2013 at 11:54 am

    As always, we appreciate all you do for us, especially those on the other side (of unpublished). No apologies necessary. Thank you in advance!

  16. Tova on August 22, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    Yay 🙂 I’ve signed up, and I’m super excited. I’ll tell you that your books have already kicked my ass every time. I’d read a few words from “Do the Work” and it was enough to make me put down your book and Get to Work :))) Thank You…I’ve completed my first book, and just got the proof in the mail the other day. I’m almost there.. 🙂

  17. Cheryl Hardacre on August 25, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    Well put Mary, no need to apologise, it is simply wonderful to have Steven offering his guidance in the first place!

    And timely for me, two thirds through my second book with my brain turning to goo (as opposed to the word mass itself), trying to go back over my 60,000 so-far words and dig out that strong story thread from the slime!

    Thank you a million times over Steve, for your wonderful, wise, straightforward, kick-ass guidance. This is a case of a truly giving back to the creative field where your soul resides. Cheryl

  18. Michele on August 26, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Thank you so much – have been waiting for the follow-up! Looking forward to the videos.

  19. Faith Watson on August 27, 2013 at 5:06 am

    Oh goody, great timing for me, I was just analyzing what my brain looked like on paper. I keep mind in spiral-bound form though. Maybe I should go back to legal pads…but I think I’m attached to the feeling of ripping or not ripping pages out of the notebook. Can’t wait for more here.

  20. coupons on October 7, 2013 at 8:37 am

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