The Six Word GPS

This is the next post in my series about Big Idea Nonfiction…and it’s a good one for fiction writers too.  When we hit a wall in our work (and we will) we need to settle ourselves so that we can outflank Resistance’s insistence that we’re wasting our time…that we’ll never finish…that we’re idiots for trying…  This post from a while back is a tool to get you back in the fight to complete your creation.

What actually happens when we take on a project and work it until completion? Is there a universal experience of sorts that anyone who strikes out to solve a problem faces?

I think there is.

As Steve Pressfield writes about in Do the Work, at first, we have a big rush of energy. We bang out page after page of copy or lay out a killer plan to start a new business…

And invariably there comes a time when we reach an “all is lost” moment. We stumble on a problem that seems unsolvable. We wish we’d never started the damn thing in the first place. We hit a wall.

And just when we find ourselves starting to recover, we discover that our stupor has slowed us down enough for a whole field of weeds to take root and grow around us. We may have a lead on getting over the big problem (the wall), but a whole slew of ancillary problems arise around it.

Should you hack down the weeds on a retreat back to safer ground? Or somehow claw your way over the wall?  Or beam yourself out of that predicament entirely?

When you hit this moment in your work (and I’ll admit right now that I have) it’s time to pull out your project’s map and get your bearings again.

This is exactly what I need to do with my Storygridding The Tipping Point project. Right now. I can literally feel Resistance coming at me from a whole slew of directions.   Things that I’d shrug off only weeks ago have me stymied.

For a nonfiction writer (and fiction too), the way to fight Resistance in this time of panic is by using six wonderful words (Who, What, Where, When, Why and How). These six words will serve you as an infallible global positioning system.

If you are seriously out of your element, answering these six questions will tell you to retreat, hack down some smallish problems and resume. Ninety-nine percent of the time, though, answering them will tell you how to climb over the wall and keep moving. But most importantly, they will keep you from pulling the pin on the whole thing.  They are your own private Obi Wan Kenobis.

Let’s break those six one-word questions down.

I always start with Why.

1. Why am I storygridding The Tipping Point?

I know that The Tipping Point is the contemporary category killer of Big Idea Nonfiction. A visual Story Grid that shows the ways in which Malcolm Gladwell masterfully holds the reader’s attention while satisfying the reader’s “want” from the book (prescriptive application of the idea) and the reader’s subconscious “need” from the book (wisdom) will prove that the Story Grid methodology can serve as valuable a tool for nonfiction writers as it does for fiction writers.

 That is why I’m doing it. To help Nonfiction Big Idea writers do their work.

 2. What the hell are Story Grids for anyway?

Infographic Story Grids are editorial and inspirational tools to show writers how classic works abide millennia old Story principles. By seeing how master storytellers solve story problems, writers can better identify and fix their own story problems.

Literally showing Big Idea Nonfiction writers how Malcolm Gladwell solved the very problems they face will inspire them and give them the tools necessary to find their problems and fix them. And to find their strengths and make them even better.

 3. Who do Story Grids benefit?

Story Grids benefit writers, readers, actors, directors, producers, advertising executives, entrepreneurs, CEOs, politicians, stay at home moms, teachers, bartenders, customer service reps, fast food franchise managers…anyone who recognizes that understanding and mastering Story is an essential skill in our ever-expanding global village.

It is the skill that will drive one’s ability to make a living in the not too distant future.

4. How will it change the way we see the Big Idea work of Nonfiction?

A Story Grid for The Tipping Point will show nonfiction writers how to build a convincing argument that has nuance and ambiguity, all the while telling a global action adventure story akin to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It will show writers how to create a longform work of art out of a single simple idea.

5. Where will I go from here?

In order to create a Story Grid for The Tipping Point, I must complete two documents—a MACRO analysis of the book (The Foolscap Global Story Grid for The Tipping Point) and a MICRO analysis of the book (The Story Grid Spreadsheet for The Tipping Point). Once I have those two documents, I can combine them to form the data points and curves of the final infographic.

6. When will I be finished?

Right now, I have the top quarter of the MACRO complete (Foolscap Global Story Grid for The Tipping Point) and I am half way through the MICRO (The Story Grid Spreadsheet for The Tipping Point. I cannot complete The Foolscap Global Story Grid for The Tipping Point until I’ve completed my Story Grid Spreadsheet for The Tipping Point.

The Macro needs a Micro analysis to support it, just as the Micro needs the Macro analysis to support it. It makes sense that I’ve hit a wall in the middle of working on both. Once the Micro is complete, the Macro will come into clear focus. And vice versa.

So what should I do now?

I need to focus on the MICRO Story Grid Spreadsheet for The Tipping Point. Once I’ve completed that document, I’ll be able to fill in the rest of my Foolscap Global Story Grid for The Tipping Point.  And then I can create the Story Grid for The Tipping Point.

And so back to the MIRCRO I go.

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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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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?"


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  1. Mary Doyle on September 15, 2017 at 7:16 am

    Thanks for posting this one Shawn! Although I read it over on Story Grid, rereading it here was a helpful reminder. I’ve learned that Resistance never gives up, so we can’t either.

  2. Cathy Perdue Ryan on September 15, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    Timely advice. Thank you.

  3. Mia Sherwood Landau on September 15, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Shawn, its insidiously satisfying to hear your process, even though you’ll never get a long letter from yourself, like the ones Steve gets from you. It probably goes on in your head though, right?

  4. Julie Murphy on September 15, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    Your post is a perfect compliment, and perfect timing, to Steven’s redux . . . is that the Black Irish one-two punch? Thank you so much, Shawn.

    See, this week I accomplished a feat of enormous proportion–I finally took my new iMac out of the box. It’d been a doorstop in my house for over two months since I bought it to finish my manuscript. Okay, start and finish my manuscript.

    It doesn’t matter how big or seemingly innocuous the steps we take to go beyond Resistance, it only matters that we keep going.

    “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth. –Marcus Aurelius

    • Rachelle Ramirez on September 15, 2017 at 8:14 pm

      I love the idea of the Black Irish one-two punch being the macro view and the micro view.

  5. Joe on October 1, 2017 at 8:08 am

    Here’s what I love: Yesterday, I’m sitting on the front porch with my friend Jeff, smoking a couple cigars and talking. We spent a good amount of time on Simon Sinek and his “start with why” (one of the most-viewed TED talks).

    Then today I’m catching up on my inbox and find this post. I like when things click together like that. Thanks for sharing what the struggle looks like for you.

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