Probably the greatest book title of 2016: Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield. It’s a very practical book.
Pressfield describes how over the years he learned how to write. He goes through his lengthy career and shares what he has learned in all these jobs leading to success as a writer. He explains how he has learned from his job as a copywriter to cut down his messages to the core.
- Streamline your message. Focus it and pare it down to its simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form.
- 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.
- Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce.
He goes with his main theme for this book, which is you have to seduce your readers to read your stuff because they are not sitting around, waiting for your genius.
Have you reckoned the two principles in these first few pages? 1) Nobody wants to read your shit. 2) If you want to write and be recognized, you have to do it yourself. From these twain, all else proceeds.
Pressfield finds having a concept in your writings of key importance. He is coming from a copywriting perspective, a product perspective. See your book as a product.
A concept takes a conventional claim and puts a spin on it. A concept establishes a frame of reference that is greater than the product itself. A concept sets the product in a context that makes the viewer behold the product with fresh eyes—and perceive it in a positive, compelling light. A concept frames (or, more frequently, re-frames) the issue entirely.
During his years as a copywriter and writer for movies and series, he has learned that being authentic, being yourself, is very important. You can only speak to the heart by being authentic. If it is not meant, people simply will not believe you.
I said to myself, “It’s okay to be the kind of person I am.” It’s okay to be anxious. It’s okay to be unable to sleep. It’s okay to lack self-esteem. It’s okay to be an introvert, to seek out the quiet corners at a cocktail party, to care about quality, and to have your mood be affected by your surroundings.
Stealing is ok. Stealing is almost mandatory. You learn from others. But it should not be copying. Stealing should be done well. Austin Kleon has dedicated his book Steal Like An Artist to it.
“Kid, it ain’t stealing if you put a spin on it.”
Besides the concept, you need a theme. Nobody want to read your shit if the theme is not clear. it is what is in it for the reader.
Ask not, “What is the solution?” Ask, “What is the problem?” The problem in fiction, from the thrashing writer’s point of view, is almost always, “What is this damn thing about?” In other words, what’s the theme? What’s the theme of our book, our play, our movie script? What’s the theme of our new restaurant, our start-up, our video game? When we don’t
Pressfield shares how to structure stories. Discusses practical advice like having a clear Inciting Incident – in a movie – and that is something to repeat in your writing. He learned in during one of the formal classes Pressfield took.
About an hour into Friday evening’s class, he introduced the concept of the Inciting Incident. What was revolutionary for me was not so much that specific idea (though indeed it changed everything about the way I worked) as the mind-blowing thought that this stuff could actually be taught. … The Inciting Incident is the event that makes the story start. It may come anywhere between Minute One and Minute Twenty-Five. But it must happen somewhere within Act One. … How can you tell when you’ve got a good Inciting Incident? When the movie’s climax is embedded within it.
He shares a useful complete set of non-technical skill he acquired over the years.
I had learned these storytelling skills. But other capacities that I had also acquired over the preceding twenty-seven years were even more important. These were the skills necessary to conduct oneself as a professional—the inner capacities for managing your emotions, your expectations (of yourself and of the world), and your time. 1) How to start a project. 2) How to keep going through the horrible middle. 3) How to finish. 4) How to handle rejection. 5) How to handle success. 6) How to receive editorial notes. 7) How to fail and keep going. 8) How to fail again and keep going. 9) How to self-motivate, self-validate, self-reinforce. 10) How to believe in yourself when no one else on the planet shares that belief.
The aspiring writer is challenged by Pressfield not to be constrained about the things to write about. It does not matter if you do not know about a subject or situation. Just let it go and it will bring unexpected results.
The conventional truism is “Write what you know.” But something mysterious and wonderful happens when we write what we don’t know. The Muse enters the arena. Stuff comes out of us from a very deep source.
All nice about his storytelling and structuring skills developed writing stories for television and plays. But the world of a novel is different.
A novel is too long to be organized efficiently like a screenplay. There aren’t enough 3X5 cards in the world. Too much shit happens. New characters appear. New ideas show up. The whole story can get hijacked by the apparition of Mr. Micawber or Hamlet’s ghost or Winnie the Pooh.
So you are on your own there. And in the end, Pressfield comes back to the eternal enemy, which he wrote about extensively in his book Do The Work: Resistance.
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.
Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with A Thousand Faces, C.G. Jung’s Two Essays on Analytical Psychology and Symbols of Transformation, and, for the real Movieland nitty-gritty, Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.
And Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder.
If you haven’t read Save the Cat! and Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies, get them right away. One of Blake’s principles is Keep It Primal. A great movie, he believes, should be so basic, so soul-grounded, that it could be understood by a caveman. In other words, without language. Without dialogue.