Advice from the Masters: Steven Johnson

Jan 18, 2012 | Better Writing

Steven Johnson is one of my favorite authors because he does such a splendid job of bringing history and science and personal experience together in his books. You can get a good sense of what his work is like with a brief exposure to his TED talk on “Where good ideas come from,” also the title of a book. I think the odds are pretty good that you won’t stop with the brief exposure and that you’ll listen to the whole 17 minutes.

The quote below comes from an interview with him by Dave at Powell’s Books on Johnson’s book, The Ghost Map.

“I felt a little bit stupid, actually. This is my fifth book. About halfway through, I suddenly thought, I think people really like stories. What a surprise. I’d discovered this fascinating insight: people like narrative. I had deliberately tried to write an idea book wrapped around a story, but I didn’t realize how much fun it was going to be until I sat down to do it. And now I don’t want to go back.”

“People really like stories.” If you’re writing a book, you may want to tattoo that on your forearm so you can have it just a glance away when you write.

It’s actually more powerful than that. Stories are the way human beings have made sense of complex situations since we crawled out of the primordial ooze and made up language. Your book will be better if you use stories as your main medium.

Want more? Check out the complete list of Advice from the Masters posts.