Why the StoryGrid Podcast makes for painful listening

Tim Grahl is being mentored to write his novel with expert editor Shawn Coyne – and it makes for painful listening.

Regular listeners of the show have been following Tim writing his novel, submitting it to Shawn, getting feedback, and going back to the drawing board.

This has been going on for years. Episode 1 aired in 2015 and has continued with a weekly schedule ever since. The die hard listener (like me) has been with them for the whole journey, and at times, I’m literally shouting what no-one else is telling them!

If you don’t know what StoryGrid Podcast is, it’s the accompanying podcast to Shawn’s excellent book, StoryGrid. Shawn has 25 years of editing experience at all the big publishing houses and has developed his own system for assessing manuscripts and turning them into something great.

That system became public in the StoryGrid book.

It lays out how to structure a novel, making sure it has all the necessary components for great story telling, and delivers the things which Editors, Agents, and Publishers want from an Author’s manuscript.

Enter new fiction author – Tim Grahl. Writing publicly, and receiving feedback live(ish) on the Podcast.

This process is slow. Don’t expect to zip through 6 months of episodes and catch up. They’re into their third year of production and it’s no-where near completed. Tim has written and trashed more words than I have in the same time period; has got completely stuck and lost and needed timeout or a bailout by Shawn multiple times.

This is the bravest thing I’ve ever seen an Author do.

As the episodes continue they start to mix up the Podcast with other formats (guest appearances; talking about non-fiction etc), and I know why: Tim is stuck. The show can’t continue in its original format if he can’t produce the word count. He’s struggling and not even Shawn is able to help him out. The only advice is to keep going (‘Do the work‘ to quote a title by one of Shawn’s own Authors, Stephen Pressfield) and he’ll figure it out.

The thing which I am continually screaming into my speakers is Tim needs to finish the draft. They working and working over each of the chapters, addressing errors as they go, which means going back and rewriting. Anyone who has sat and done the work themselves (for years without an editor guiding us) will know that there’s no getting around writing the entire story out all the way through – even if we know it’s broken. And sometimes, we have to write it out again, and again, to figure out all the knots. The other thing which keeps hitting me whilst listening to the show is Shawn is not reminding Tim that he might not have the creative capacity to produce great art. To (mis)quote the famous Ira Glass:

Our taste is great, even if our skills are not there yet

Tim needs to write more, accept that writing a work of genius first time is unlikely, even with the expertise of Shawn steering him.

What’s more: Tim is doing this in public, remember. The pressure to produce a bestseller or collapse under the banner of failure, must be a huge weight on his shoulders. I couldn’t do it (I’m sure I could start, but I’m certain I wouldn’t be able to continue).

We’re at the stage in the Podcast now, whereby Tim has had a few months off (over Christmas, I believe), and finally feels he’s got clarity over his story to make new progress. Hoo-ray! I have been tempted to reach out to Tim and say:

Fuck them all. Just keep going and don’t worry so much. We’re all stoked you’re going through this so we don’t have to. It doesn’t matter what state the book ends up being, the journey will be worth it, and your 6th book will be the bestseller. 


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