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1-3-1: Starting with action, taste, and personal monopolies

What you can learn from a 1st century Roman poet

Welcome to 66,501 storytellers! Here are 1 tip, 3 ideas, and 1 resource to help you become a more effective, creative storyteller.

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1 Storytelling Tip

My first book got rejected by literary agents because (among other things) it started with a prologue. Turns out they hate that.

Instead, they look for stories that start with action. Many of the best openings in movie history start this way:

In Medias Res is a storytelling principle coined by the Roman poet Horace that says starting “in the midst of things” creates forward momentum, introduces conflict, and immediately grabs your audience’s attention.

But why’s it so effective? Why do people from producer Christopher Nolan to author James Clear use it?

Because they know backstory can wait, intrigue cannot.

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Five months ago, I made my first hire through Oceans. An executive assistant. I wasn’t sure if I needed full-time or not, but the service came highly recommended by Austin Rief, the CEO of Morning Brew. So I signed up for a trial period. About two weeks in, I had no idea how I operated before.

Today, my EA+ manages three email accounts (but if you reply to the newsletter it’s me replying back to you), tracks growth metrics, creates SOPs, and handles ad ops for this newsletter. She’s been a complete game-changer. I focus on my superpowers (content + writing), she lightens the load everywhere else.

Outside of the EA+ offering, Oceans also has fantastic folks from Sri Lanka specialized in Marketing and Finance. I tried (and failed with) a few similar services before finding Oceans. They’re not cheap, but they’re top quality.

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3 Ideas


On the Importance of Taste: Stan Lee, the creator of the Marvel universe, was told by a producer that Spiderman was a dumb idea. He told Stan “it’ll never sell.” In 2019, a first-edition Spiderman comic sold for $3.6 million. Stan says of the situation “If you have an idea you genuinely think is good, don’t let some idiot talk you out of it.”


On Personal Monopolies: “Your Personal Monopoly should reflect your innate interests, not what you think the world wants. There are two reasons why: (1) the Internet creates power law outcomes so if you’re not fascinated by what you’re writing about, you won’t be world-class at it, and (2) due to the immense scale of the Internet, the audience for almost every topic numbers in the thousands. If you’re chasing a trend, you’ve already lost.”

— David Perell


The False Idea of One Creative Routine: You don’t need to wake up at 5am, hit the cold plunge, then ‘deep work’ for 4 hours. If that works for you, do it. If not, don’t sweat it. Develop your own creative process. JK Rowling uses outlines. Stephen King doesn’t. Neil Gaiman writes every day. George RR Martin doesn’t. Brandon Sanderson writes best at 11pm. William Faulkner at 9am. The lesson? Do you, but be consistent.

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1 Resource

Nancy Duarte talks about storytelling in business in a way I really like. Last week, she went on Lenny Rachitsky’s podcast and dropped some knowledge. I especially recommend minutes 23 to 30:

  • The structure of great talks

  • Lessons from great historical speeches

  • Signs you’re doing a good job making the audience the hero of the story

You can listen to the ep here. There’s a lot in there that might surprise you.

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When you’re ready to go deeper on storytelling, here are three ways I can help:

1. If you want a practical way to improve your storywriting in less than 25 minutes a day, check out StoryWork (200+ students).

2. Grab time with me for a 1:1 session on newsletters, storytelling, audience building, or anything else.

3. To sponsor the newsletter, reply to this email for details.

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Hope you have a wonderful week,