089: How to Find the Story You Were Meant to Write: Interview with Robert Kurson [Podcast]

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?

—J.R.R. Tolkien

Books allow us to escape the confines of reality and explore the realms of imagination. Between the pages of a book, anything is possible, anything can happen. But sometimes, as Mark Twain said, “The truth is stranger than fiction.”

How to Find the Story You Were Meant to Write

Many writers spend their time not crafting stories but searching for them. Whether that means conjuring one out of thin air or through arduous research. Sometimes, though, the best stories are the ones that surprise us.

Robert Kurson, a writer who writes true stories that are almost too incredible to believe, found his story in the Dominican Republic’s historical archives. It was the unbelievable story of pirate ship. And as it turns out, real-life pirates are even bigger than they are portrayed in Hollywood.

This week on The Portfolio Life, Robert and I talk about what writers and pirates have in common, we uncover the truth behind popular treasure-hunting myths, and explore what it takes to find your own story. Listen in as we discuss all that and more.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (if you are reading this via email or RSS, please click here).

X does not mark the spot

Continuous innovation and advancing technology is shrinking the world. While we enjoy the intrigue and adventure of movies like National Treasure and Indiana Jones, it’s easy to think that everything has already been found, that there are no more pirate ships to discover or treasure chests to dig up.

But that’s just not true. As Robert Kurson shares in our interview, the truth tells a much different story. A lot of deep-seea treasure has been found, but there are still plenty of ships waiting to see the light of day.

But adventure doesn’t come cheap. There is no convenient “X” on the map telling you where to dig or dive. Professional treasure hunters often spend years and small fortunes looking for a valuable find. Becoming a writer requires the same kind of dedication. Great writers aren’t made overnight any more than a treasure chest will magically appear next to your bed.

While there are plenty of stories waiting to be written, you must look for a story with the same drive of a pirate looking for treasure. The trick is to keep your eyes open and know where to look.

Show highlights

In this episode, Robert and I discuss:

  • What to do when you realize you’re in the wrong career
  • Why it’s never too late to start writing
  • Two different ways to think about escape
  • Discovering incredible human stories
  • The unique power of true stories over fiction
  • How to know when you’ve found a good story
  • Why fiction writers have an advantage when writing the end of a story
  • Learning to tell a full story with very limited space
  • A secret to finding a master who will train you in your craft
  • How writing a story changes a writer

Quotes and takeaways

  • “A lot of people know a lot of interesting things if you ask them about it.” –Robert Kurson
  • “There are always adventures out there in the world if you’re bold enough to take a blind step forward.” –Robert Kurson
  • “The hardest part of telling a good story is finding one.” –Jeff Goins
  • “Great art is created through constraints.” –Jeff Goins


Interested in learning more about writing and publishing? Check out this new podcast I just launched with Pamela Wilson on the Rainmaker.fm podcasting network. Here’s the first episode: To Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish?

Do you look for a story like a pirate searches for treasure? What is unique about your writing journey? Share in the comments