Guest Post: Tomas Pueyo—The Star Wars Rings

23 Aug

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Launching Books

 

 

I was 21. An introvert since I could remember, my two years studying in Paris had changed everything. I went from not eating the first few days, scared of asking people where to buy food, to witnessing never-ending parties with thousands of people. I had discovered the World.

Back in Madrid, I felt it was my duty and my pride to show my old college friends how you really party. I rented a space. Bought food and alcohol. Emailed all my friends and acquaintances. Prepared the mattresses for crashers. Promised an unforgivable night.

My birthday came. Seven friends showed up.

My best friends were kind enough to limit the derision to a few taunts, hop from bar to bar to drink the night away with me, and welcome the sun from a rooftop. But I never forgot the feeling of rejection, of not fitting in, of failure. I would never expose myself to that again.

And yet, ten years later, I ended up leading the product and marketing of a startup in Silicon Valley. I gathered millions of customers, but I always hid behind my products. It was safe. If they failed, it was them, not me. It was easy: look at data, optimize your channels, tweak the product, test how people react, iterate, spend on advertising, rinse and repeat.

The introvert side never left me. That’s probably what pushed me to moonlight writing a book. It was comfortable to retire from the world and spend a few hours with myself, filling pages with ideas. Yet something was bugging me. Every word I wrote brought me closer to the dreaded moment: publishing the book and finding out if people liked it or not, if they liked me or not.

I needed to get away from my daily job to move the book forward—and escape that looming fear. I took a week off to focus on my book. The days passed, pages piled up. Friday arrived; I opened my work email for the first time that week. Scrolling down the unread emails from my marketing team, it dawned on me: I know how to make and market things. I had to apply the same approach to my book, or else face another failure: one book, zero buyers.

x

 

I decided I would apply to my book the same principles from my job as a marketer, to make sure it wouldn’t end up growing spider webs in the dark corners of Amazon. That meant writing another book.

It sounds a bit silly. Why would I write a second book to publish my first one? It comes from a deeply rooted belief in Silicon Valley: you never go all in with your first bet. You iterate. You try things fast, see what people like and dislike, change your approach and try again and again and again until you understand what people want and give that to them. I couldn’t just write a book and put it on sale. It would end up like my party a decade earlier: lonely, supported only by friends.

“Here’s my plan: I’m going to write a second book. It will be something I’d love to read, about a topic I enjoy and know well, so I can publish it and learn everything I need to know about publishing before I publish my initial book.”

At that time, Serendipity hit. Star Wars launched the trailer for its new movie, The Last Jedi. As a son of a TV commercials director, a fanatic of storytelling, a student of scriptwriting at Stanford, and a fan of Star Wars, I didn’t just see in it a bunch of cool scenes. I saw a repeating storytelling pattern that went back to the first Star Wars movie in 1977, all the way through each Star Wars movie ever since. And it struck me: many of the scenes of the trailer were actually quite predictable, once you understand the patterns in the movies.

I wrote a quick blog post about the topic to cheaply validate the potential of the idea, and it worked: people loved the post and dozens of comments flocked to my Facebook. I knew I had a good idea in my hands. I decided to write a book about the story structure of Star Wars. I moved my initial book aside and jumped knee-deep into my new project.

Fast forward five months.

The book is called The Star Wars Rings in honor of the Ring Structure, an ancient storytelling method followed by books such as the Bible, Beowulf, or Harry Potter. George Lucas fell in love with exotic story structures while he worked on the first Star Wars movie, and ever since, all Star Wars movies follow the same pattern. The book describes this hidden pattern, shows how it’s applied to many stories in the past, how Star Wars movies follow it tightly, and how we can use that information to predict what happens in the next installments of the saga.

Writing it made me reflect on our job as authors. I used to think that writing was about inspiration, letting my imagination travel, and capturing those images on paper. But after studying Star Wars, reading about other authors’ processes, and enduring the writing process myself, I realize that it’s not the case at all.

All stories follow innate patterns. That means stories can—and should be—designed. If Star Wars has done it to such acclaim, why wouldn’t we all? Isn’t it easier to understand the patterns of storytelling before we start writing?

In my mind, I imagine writing a book like walking in the most absolute darkness. One option is to start walking. You will stumble on uneven ground, hurt yourself, get stuck against rock, walls, and rivers, walk back. Another option is to look at a map. As you walk in the dark, you will still stumble on uneven ground, but at least you broadly know where you’re going.

An even better option is to also bring a torch light with you. For me, the equivalent is to share what I write as I write it, so people give me instant feedback and I incorporate it in real time. Iterate. Armed with a map and a torch light, you know broadly where you’re going and you can avoid any immediate pitfall. I will try this for my next book.

Writing books is like a journey. The first step is always the hardest. Writing this one has freed me from my mental cage of anxiety. I went from panic of failure to excitement: excitement about writing a fun book, about learning everything I can about publishing, and about being ok with failure.

–Tomas Pueyo

 

You can read more about Star Wars’ structure, how it helps us predict the next movies, and much more in the book The Star Wars Rings, from Tomas Pueyo, on presale now, launching Sep 19, 2017. If you’re interested in following Tomas’s learnings as he writes and publishes new books, you can sign up for his mailing list here.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: