Welcome to My New Books Tracking Page
I have been toying with the idea of a new book for a while now. My only problem is getting off my ar$e and making it happen. That’s why I decided to get serious and chart my progress.
I came across a great podcast called Story Grid Podcast hosted by Shawn Coyne and Tim Grahl. It talks about the nuts and bolts on how to become a better writer. One technique that Shawn uses is The Story Grid, which is a godsend for those of us that like to track things.
The Book’s Premise
For the last 400 years, the number of entrepreneurs has declined as the rise of the corporation consolidated workers into companies. Thankfully, this trend has now started to reverse because of one of the most important inventions — the Internet.
In 2000, the Internet started to make the means of production and marketing available to everyone. The Internet has led to the decline of the corporation (along with stricter corporate rules) and has ushered in the age of the entrepreneur.
That’s why it’s important to put forth The Entrepreneur Ethos to capture the traits, values, and beliefs of the entrepreneur community as well as the triumphs, struggles and challenges that all entrepreneurs face, no matter where they are from or what they are building.
The Entrepreneur Ethos will dispel some of the myths and stereotypes of entrepreneurs that were humorously captured in this Medium piece.It’s precisely this type of critique of the origins of the modern entrepreneurial culture that I feel warrants a discussion on the ethos that entrepreneurs should follow.
My Inner Nerd Loves This
The Story Grid is a methodology that details specific aspects of each scene (or chapter) and how it all fits together. The primary tool of The Story Grid is a spreadsheet with rows for each scene where you document certain aspects of how the story is flowing. These annotations attempt to get the mood of the book. In essence, the story grid is the signature or signal of how the book is flowing. I know it’s a bit hard to get your head around. I still don’t totally understand it as well.
The best way to explain it with words, at least for me, is that The Story Grid visualizes the beat of the book. Its all the ups and downs. Its all the twists and turns that, hopefully, keep your story interesting. Visually, it looks like the cover of Shawn’s book shown below and my adaptation looks like the graphs above.
Why Go to All the Trouble
One of the main reasons I’m going to use The Story Grid is because it’s a great way to track my progress. It’s also a great way to figure out if the overall flow of the book is working. I also love spreadsheets and graphs :).
I’ll be updating this page weekly with my progress on The Entrepreneurs Ethos. Throughout this process, I’ll be tracking three metics: Word Count (WC), Readability Level (RL), and Happiness Score (HS). All three of these metrics will be graphed each week on my Story Grid and I’ll also update summary stats as well.
What The Heck is Readability Level & Happiness Score?
Readability Level (RL) is the minimum reading grade level that someone has to read at in order to understand the text. There are so many different ways to measure this. For my RL, I decided to use Automated Readability Level from the python package textstat, which is derived from ratios representing word difficulty (number of letters per word) and sentence difficulty (number of words per sentence). Basically, the code spits out a reading grade level so you get an idea how hard or easy your chapters are to read. My goal is an average reading level of 8th grade. More on why picked that later.
The Happiness Score or Hedonmeter comes from a research group over at The University of Vermont Complex Systems Center where they are figuring out the happiness of words as well as the happiness on Twitter. It’s pretty darn cool. They actually call it Valance in the code but I decided to just call it level.
What the Hedonmeter does is grade words and text to see how happy or sad it is. I cloned the package labMTsimple so I could use it, along with the textstat package, to automate my stats compiling. Yes, in true hacker fashion, I created a python script, book_score.py, to do all this for me.
Ninja nerd level 8 achieved!
Tying This All Into The Story Grid
So you may be asking yourself, again, why go to all the trouble to find python packages and build a script just to track your new book. Well, it turns out that there are some conventions when it comes to books. Kinda like a formula. Using all of this is a great way to not only track your progress but to see if things are meeting general story conventions.
Most books. Actually all books, follow a genre. Each genre has conventions that must be met or the book just won’t work. What The Story Grid does is give you a systematic way to evaluate your manuscript to see if it’s working according to genre and if it’s following one of the 6 types of stories according to Kurt Vonnegut’s story mapping in Palm Sunday: rages to riches (rise), riches to rages (fall), man in a hole (fall then rise), Icraus (rise then fall), Cinderella (rise then fall then rise), and Oedipus (fall then rise then fall).
What I’m going to do is score the chapters in my book, using the Hedonmeter code, to see how they map to these 6 story types since the rise represents a high happiness score and the fall represents a sad happiness score. Once you know all this, you can then map it out in your Story Grid Spreadsheet and voilà, the beat of your book.
I added a bit of a twist by adding the reading level since I found this great post on how much reading level matters and it opened my eyes as to why it’s important to write for maximum readability. I also realized that the simpler you write, the easier the message gets across. Shane’s data shows that non fiction best sellers have an average reading level of 8th grade. So that’s my goal.
Another tool I’m going to use is Hemingway which is an online tool that both grades your prose and shows you where it’s more complicated or unclear. They also have an app but the online version is free.
Composing the book is being done in Scrivener, a fantastic text editor that also allows me to export all my chapters into .txt files simply. That’s how I get the chapter text so I can run the script.
Tracking my Progress
Each week, I’m going to update the graphs and tables above to show my progress on the book and how I’m conforming to the model I have chosen for the book. I’ll also update this page (or do a periodic blog post) with notes and some insights into how it’s going and to explain some of the changes in the graphs. I’m also toying with the idea of publishing or Podcasting the book to get feedback. I’ll update you when that happens.
The plan is to update the graphs every Sunday.
Feel free to send me a note if you have any comments or questions.