Old Dog, New Tricks

So in the past year, three of my contemporaries have died.

Michael O'Keefe and Ted Knight in "Caddyshack"

The usual suspects felled them—cancer, heart attack, and that never see it coming…sudden brain hemorrhage. When people you know well begin to meet their maker, you can’t help but look beyond today’s utility bills and tomorrow’s cocktail party at the Joneses.

I used to think that I’d build some sort of company that would carry on after I joined the great editorial board in the sky. But the one I thought would be my legacy crashed and burned, a gut punch that still makes me wince when I think about it. [Note to self: Stop thinking about it!]

Or better yet, I thought I’d create some work of art that would epitomize my singular brilliant vision of the world.

But rest assured my fantasies always required that these enterprises bring me lots of material comforts too.

You know, in the here and now. I mean a Vincent Van Gogh experience is all well and good, but a nice roof over your head with plenty of beans in the pantry isn’t too much to ask for, right?

Ideally, I’d be able to live the high life now and still be certain that when it’s my time to kick the bucket, I’d be guaranteed some after-life “that guy was awesome” remembrance years. Perhaps decades, dare I say a century…after my departure? At the very least, I could endow some professorship and some poor scientist would have to walk around being introduced as The Coyne Chair of Dyspepsia Science for the next hundred years.

You know what I’m talking about. We all have those Madison Avenue generated “dreams” pumped into us from childhood onward.

I don’t think that anymore. Those fantasies are silly really. As the character Judge Smails played by Ted Knight in Caddyshack so aptly put it, “The world needs ditch diggers too.” Seamus Heaney made an analogous point with his poem “Digging.” Check it out. Guaranteed tears…

Accepting the fact that you are a contributor to a larger community as opposed to being a Demi-God uberman is not just humbling…it’s a huge relief.


Time ain’t passing slowly and I’ve got a head full of ideas, plus lessons learned from hundreds of books and stories I’ve edited over my career. I’ve got business experience too and I’ve been yammering on and on about it all on Steve’s website for years.

There is nothing sexy about what I’ve learned. It won’t get me a Gulfstream G-IV and it won’t buy me immortality. But it could help artists struggling with Resistance. And having a little bit to do with a lot of other people’s work is far better than endowing a Chair at Punxsutawney State University.

So I’ve decided to stop talking and writing about how the things I complain about are things I could be changing…and just do it already. I’ve jumped into the permission/platform world, not to put up big numbers and tell everyone how easy it is to build your own private Idaho, but to learn something while downloading whatever is left of my editorial brain for those who find it interesting. I’m not going to make you rich, but I will show you just how wonderfully difficult and complicated, but ultimately simple Storytelling is.

Is now the best time? Am I going to discourage people from buying my book by sharing a lot of its content before I publish it? I honestly don’t know and I really don’t care.

Everything that you see at www.storygrid.com will have my thumbprints on it. From the choice of website theme, to the typos on the About Page. Thank you Jeff Goins and Tim Grahl for giving me the tools to use the TRIBE Theme for WordPress. With their inspiration and direct help, I actually built the website myself and fumbled around with adding pages and posts. To all of you pros out there, I’m sure it’s obviously the work of an amateur so give me some slack. And I signed up for the email service Mail Chimp to share my stuff.

So far, so good.

My goal is to make a whole bunch of mistakes (I’m well on my way!) and some progress pulling the curtain back from what “EDITING” actually is.

It’s been shadowed in secrecy for far too long.

While I’m sure I don’t know everything about it and that there will be times when I’ll be proven wrong about something, the principles I’ll write about are timeless. There is absolutely no harm that will be done to a writer by contemplating the stuff I’ll write about.

Bottom line is that it will help writers tell better stories. I’m sure of that.

Rest assured that the book The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know will be ready soon. Steve and I will bring it out on Black Irish as soon as it’s shipshape. If I had to estimate when that will actually be…I’d say the first quarter of 2015.

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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.

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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?"


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  1. Mary Doyle on October 3, 2014 at 6:00 am

    Shawn, a thousand thanks for giving us ring-side seats over at storygrid.com and here – looking forward to learning from both your mistakes and your progress. Trust me, you will be helping WAY more people via this journey than you could hope to with ten endowed chairs at Whatever State University (plus you’ll get the skip the annual Board of Regents rubber-chicken dinner).

    • Mary Doyle on October 3, 2014 at 6:34 am

      Can’t let the typo lie there…”plus you’ll get to skip…”

  2. Jeff on October 3, 2014 at 6:27 am

    So looking forward to your book, Shawn. Your new Website / Blog is awesome by the way. Congratulations on the launch. Thanks for doing this.

  3. Morgyn Star (@MorgynStar) on October 3, 2014 at 6:28 am

    Shawn,gnawing on the woodwork, waiting for the Girdwork to be up. Tweeting about you, forwarding your emails.

    Think of us as the kids peeking around the door, looking to see if Santa came. Can. Not. Wait!

  4. Joe on October 3, 2014 at 6:29 am

    You had me at Caddyshack. So often I convince myself I am too busy and I save interesting inbox items for later. The Caddyshack pic, sucked me in and the content made me stay

    From a young age, when the local garbage man was one of the wealthiest and yet, maligned people in my neighborhood; I recognized that wealth, satisfaction and freedom, were very different from what my parents watched on Friday nights when they tuned into episodes of Dallas. It didn’t stop my rock star fantasies. But as I got older, I began to realize that simply “doing what I do,” sharing what I know and being a good husband and dad to my little girls was infinitely closer to the success I was looking.

    Getting out of the pleasing others in the hopes of fame, wealth and freedom was the best way to lift the veil of false hope. I loved your share of Heaney’s Digging. The two stories that have always inspired me towards acceptance of one’s own gift our, A WONDERFUL LIFE and The Story of the Mexican Fisherman and the businessman. I was about to post a link to the PDF of the story when I came across this wonderful short animation by a woman named Hong Guo – http://bit.ly/ah-fisherman who summed it up in a creative and beautiful way in just over 2 minutes. Perhaps it will carry on the inspiration that your post has brought to so many people.

    Best of luck with the StoryGrid. I look forward to watching it progress and being inspired further!

  5. Eric on October 3, 2014 at 6:34 am

    Loved this post. Thank you.

  6. Kent Faver on October 3, 2014 at 6:53 am

    You inspire me Shawn. Can’t say a lot beyond that. And thanks for your time here – I will never forget it. Now I am off to your new site.

  7. Christine on October 3, 2014 at 7:03 am

    I am looking forward to your book. I review books and would love something tangible to point to when I’m reviewing. Especially for self published authors. I think it’s starting to change, but for some reason many SP authors don’t find it necessary to pay for an editor. Or at least it doesn’t seem so. I’ll hawk your book, for sure. 😉

  8. nancy bouwens on October 3, 2014 at 7:06 am

    wise, beautiful inspiring, freeing, .. thank you Shawn ! looking forward to a visit to storygrid blessings

  9. Lea Page on October 3, 2014 at 7:17 am

    I already have a list of folks to tell about your book. Looking forward to it.

  10. Alex Cespedes on October 3, 2014 at 7:32 am

    The world DOES need ditchdiggers! This always reminds me of the MLK quote “If a man is called to be a street sweeper…. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

    That passionate streetsweeper probably cheered up a million people walking past him on their way to work throughout his lifetime. A small part of their success that day is due to him, he doesn’t need a monument to feel accomplished.

  11. Golfo on October 3, 2014 at 7:48 am

    Wonderful post, Sean! I’m so looking forward to your book. But please don’t give up on endowing the Coyne Chair of Dyspepsia Science.

  12. Erika Viktor on October 3, 2014 at 7:59 am

    Shawn, don’t worry. I just went outside and carved “Shawn is awesome” into a tree. Congrats, you are now immortal. You’re welcome!

    Awesomely written post. I’ll be ditch digging all day today. Glad to know it’s important to someone: whoever needs a ditch.

  13. Barbara on October 3, 2014 at 9:20 am

    Thanks, Shawn, for this reminder of what life’s about and your previews to The Story Grid. So looking forward to it!

  14. Jen Greyson on October 3, 2014 at 9:32 am

    I am really looking forward to your book, and the blog posts have been wonderfully insightful so far (great job on the website, it looks great!). I’ve already learned SO SO much from Steven.

    I turned 40 last year and am really coming to see what your talking about, that life is so much more than jets and diamonds. As a mom, I have the double duty of raising good men, and teaching them to leave their own legacy. I do still really want to write an earth-shatteringly brilliant novel that will impact millions, but I’m also finding great joy in each super fan, one at a time, instead of counting them up like notches on my keyboard.

  15. Dick Yaeger on October 3, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    An epiphany most men struggle with later (whenever that is) in life. My father once told me that every man should plant a tree, have a son, and write a book, all legacy items. Sounds easy from that POV, huh? But it works!

  16. Ulla Lauridsen on October 5, 2014 at 7:46 am

    I’m SO looking forward to hearing more about how the grid works. Already, your words about scenes have been very helpful.
    I miss an RSS-feed for your blog entries, though – not those here, but those on your own site. I do receive the mails, but I’d like a feed for my feedly account also.

  17. Donn on October 6, 2014 at 8:19 am

    “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not by the mighty shoves of heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.”

    Helen Keller

    Thanks, Shawn. Keep up the good work. You are a huge help.

  18. Brad Hankinson on October 7, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    I’m excited for your new book. Steve’s “The War of Art” is on my perennial-buy list–I’ve bought it a dozen times over for friends and family. I hope I can add your book for my writer friends.

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