It’s back-to-school time. For many of us, regardless of whether we have kids or are going to school ourselves, this means we’re both recovering from summertime and tuning into the back-to-school fall energy. Which is usually highly motivating and exciting.
It also means we’ve hit that moment where the end of the year is in sight.
If you take the time to think about it, this is the ideal come-to-Jesus moment for meeting your writing goals for 2017 — far better now than to try to pull out all the stops on December 15th. Maybe you didn’t get as much writing done this summer (or year so far) as you’d intended. Maybe you did. If you’re on track, more power to you! If not, this is a great time to adjust your course.
Goal setting at the beginning of the year is often a magical, inspired effort. And by magical, I mean, magical thinking. Somehow, in the thick of the holidays and year’s end, it seems as if the year ahead will not be filled with… anything! We’ll miraculously have oodles of time. We declare that we’ll finally focus and achieve things we haven’t achieved before. And then January happens. Then February. And March. And suddenly it’s end of summer and we feel like we have whiplash looking back trying to figure out where the time has gone.
I know I was unexpectedly affected by illnesses for much of the winter and spring, various challenges with my parents’ health, as well as all of the political happenings. I didn’t have space built into my writing plans for any of those things. I haven’t stopped writing, but I certainly haven’t been as efficient as I’d intended. I’m okay with that. Life happens. But I also still want to make a solid stab at reaching my goals for 2017.
My Deep Dive writing intensive is a big part of this plan for me. I’m looking forward to making a big boost of progress on the sci-fi script I’m working on to help me jump start a broader push through the end of the year. I’m also looking ahead, knowing the holidays are coming, along with my birthday, and my older son’s birthday (10!), plus flu and cold season, so I’m aiming to take action while the energy is here.
Here’s where I’m starting the process. I’m writing this “(You Can Still!) Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals” series to help all of us bring awareness to the fact that the year end is a heck of a lot closer than we think. (There are 80 working days between today and the end of the year, and that doesn’t factor in winter break vacations for those of us with kids.)
Today, we’ll talk about Clearing the Decks to help you meet your writing goals.
Part I: Clear the Decks for Your Writing
Clearing the decks for writing is a fascinating topic because it can be such a slippery slope — I don’t want anyone to decide they have to KonMari* their entire home before they can write — so it’s worth being mindful about how you approach this.
At the same time, when I’m looking at doing a two week stint of intensely focused writing, I know I’m going to have to make some extra space in my life to accommodate that. So I want to look to see, are there places in my life I can streamline, clean up, delegate, and clear out to make more room for my writing (and for me!)?
This is also a great time review any schedule creep that’s occurred — in other words, have I taken on any extra commitments that I perhaps should postpone or eliminate? Have I back-slid on scheduling my writing time or my resolve to meet it?
I recently led a free teleclass to go over all this in detail. (It was be recorded so you can still listen to the recording.) If you’d like to listen, click here to join my mailing list and get the recording details.
Here’s a preview of some of what we’ll be talking about — I’ll be sharing tips about each of these as well:
- Logistically: What adjustments do you need to make to your schedule to make space for your writing? What events, guests, responsibilities, and commitments do you have coming up that you’ll either want to reschedule or decide how to accommodate around your writing?
- Physically: What do you need to do to make your physical space more conducive to writing, if anything? Is there clutter? Are there distractions in your line of sight? How can you take great care of your physical needs with healthy food, snacks, beverages, sleep, and exercise?
- Mentally: How will you reward yourself for writing? Are there any open loops you need to close or resolve so you can focus? How will you handle new writing ideas that may come up during your writing time? How will you handle negative self-thoughts if they come up?
- Emotionally: How will you handle emotional challenges that may arise around your writing? How will you handle non-writing emotional challenges? What support systems can you put in place?
- Digitally: How can you minimize or eliminate digital distractions so you can focus on your writing?
- Financially: What bill paying and other financial tasks can you handle now or automate so you can prioritize your writing?
- Relationally: How can you guide your family, partners, friends, and colleagues to respect your writing time?
- Spiritually: How can you spiritually prepare to make the most of your writing time? What intentions and positive visions are you holding for yourself as you write?
And check out Part II, here: Reverse Engineer and Revise Your Goals, Part III, here: Boost Your Writing Progress (Or, How to Design a Writing Intensive), and Part IV, here: Setting Yourself Up For Success.
Make Massive Progress on Your Book (or Script!)
The upcoming two-week Deep Dive Writing Intensive starts on Wednesday, September 20th and the last day to join us is Tuesday, September 19th. Join us and get tons of support and accountability to make deep progress on your book or script. Find out more and register here.
* The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash
Coming up this month: The Project Deep Dive Writing Intensive!
*** REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN HERE ***
If you’ve been wanting to really focus on a writing project in a deep and concentrated way for a short burst of time, this is the program for you.
With your input I’ve been pulling together a collection of terrific support tools for you so you can make massive progress on your writing project in a short period of time, whether it’s a book, novel, script, short story collection, or anything else your heart has been longing to have more time to write.
This is also a great opportunity to prep for NaNoWriMo so you can make the most of the month of November if you’re planning to participate.
I’ll be posting a registration page later this week, but in the meantime, here are the important dates for the intensive so you can mark your calendar if you’re planning to join in the fun:
- Project Deep Dive Writing Intensive: Starts Friday, October 14 and runs through Friday, October 28 (fifteen days in total).
- Live Calls (all will be recorded & email questions may be submitted if you cannot attend the live session):
- Free Clear the Decks Call on Monday, October 10, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time (this call will be open to all the members of my community and people interested in the intensive, so if you’re not on my mailing list, now’s the time — see the sign up form in the upper right on my blog page.)
- Project Deep Dive Kick Off Call on Thursday, October 13, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time
- Weekly Coaching Calls:
- Monday, October 17, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time
- Monday, October 24, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time
- Weekly Ask the Coach Live Chats (in a chat room):
- Friday, October 14, 11 a.m. Pacific Time
- Friday, October 21, 11 a.m. Pacific Time
- Friday, October 28, 11 a.m. Pacific Time
- DAILY 60-Minute Writing Sprints at 9 a.m. Pacific Time including weekends, starting Friday, October 14 and running daily through Friday, October 28.
Special Circle member pricing will be available.
Your commitment: You’ll to commit to writing for a minimum of one hour per day, ideally between 90 minutes and 2 hours per day (more if you like). You’ll accrue that time on only ONE writing project, and you’ll do super-short check-ins twice a day on our site (we’ll be using a different platform than the one we use for the Circle… I’ll be announcing those details on the registration page) and briefly support and cheer on your fellow Deep Divees.
My commitment: To write furiously alongside you and support you relentlessly along the way. I’ll coach you through the challenges and the ups and downs. I’ll provide structure, containers for your writing, coaching for when you struggle, and accountability to help you see it through.
Stay tuned for more details and registration information this week!
If you have burning questions, feel free to post them the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them for you, if not here, then certainly on the registration page.
*** REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN HERE ***
Waaaayyyy back in 2011, we launched our first ‘beta test’ group for the Circle. Now we’re running five groups, with a talented coach at the helm of each one.
To celebrate, we’re offering an ongoing savings of 10% on ANY of our subscriptions, whether a single-session, a four-session, or our popular annual subscription when you sign up using the coupon code HAPPYANNIVERSARY.
You’ll love how good it feels to take action on your writing and make your writing life happen right now.
When you join us, you’ll have access to our coach-led group writing sprints to boost your writing energy, coaching calls to help you keep writing (led by yours truly), and daily, personalized coaching support from your small group writing coach.
You can find out more and register for the Called to Write Coaching Circle here. Just make sure you register by MONDAY, September 12 before 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time to join us and use coupon code HAPPYANNIVERSARY to save 10% on the subscription of your choice. Your rate will be locked in for the life of your subscription.
We can’t wait to write with you!
If you have any questions about the Circle, feel free to ask! The fastest way to get a response is to email us at email@example.com or use our online contact form here. We’ll get back to you ASAP.
Earlier this year, my writing pal and colleague Jeff Lyons and I put together a two-part article series called “Five Essential Steps to Crafting Your Premise Line.” It’s been such a popular post (we even did a Writer’s Chat session on it), that I decided to compile the article into a free guidebook for you, along with a workbook for helping you craft your own Premise Line.
For writers, whether you’re writing fiction, screenplays, or creative non-fiction, a premise line is an incredibly valuable tool that will help you both develop and test the basis of your story.
A premise line is more than just a logline or synopsis. They’re related, but different animals.
Using a premise line has become an integral part of my story development work. Not only do I use a premise line to develop my story, I use it to track my work, test the concept, and more. In the guidebook (or in the two-part article here and here), you’ll find out how to develop a premise line yourself. Then you can use the workbook to craft your own. The workbook comes in two formats: A PDF format for printing and handwriting your answers into and an RTF format for easy importing into Scrivener or Word, where you can type into it directly (my favorite!).
Download the Master Your Premise Line Guidebook here:
If you like the guide, be sure to let us know in the comments.
+ Here’s the Latest
- Give me your feedback on a new writing program idea! If you haven’t given me your input yet, I’d love to have it. I’m planning to run a writing intensive this fall and I’d love to hear what you think. You can participate in my online survey here. Thank you so much for your time (the system says it’ll take 3 minutes to fill out).
- It’s our 5th anniversary! My online Called to Write Coaching Circle has been active for five years now. We’re thrilled to have worked with hundreds of writers all over the globe. In honor of our anniversary, look for a special savings on the Circle in this space tomorrow. Our next session starts on Monday, September 12, so it’s the perfect time to join us, take advantage of our special anniversary rates, and make the most of the back to school energy the fall brings.
I’m planning to run a short-term Writing Intensive this fall (specific dates to be determined), and I’d love to get your input on it.
My vision is to create something along the lines of NaNoWriMo but with a smaller group, more support, and direct interaction with a writing coach. The purpose of the Writing Intensive would be to pick one specific project that you’ve been wanting to do a push on and focus on moving it forward significantly for the duration of the Intensive.
Unlike NaNoWriMo, we wouldn’t necessarily have a shared goal (in NaNo, everyone aims to write 50,000 words during the month of November), but rather start off at the beginning with a specific stretch goal that you personally want to meet, and have a structured timeline within which to meet it. We’ll have a collection of support tools to help you get there that may include things like: daily check-ins online, a special chat group for discussion and interaction, writing sprints, frequent teleconferences, and more (I’m refining the specifics about this on the basis of your feedback, hence this post).
I’m currently planning to use the platform I use to run my Called to Write Coaching Circle, but with a different focus (intensely focused on heightened productivity rather than daily writing habit building and ongoing productivity), additional tools, and even story coaching if warranted.
If you’re interested in this and you’d like to give me your input on it, I’d really appreciate it! I’ve set up a survey here.
You’re also more than welcome to leave comments here on the blog.
…When You Have Way Too Many Ideas to Choose From
As someone who used to struggle to come up with a single idea but then became overwhelmed and paralyzed by the sheer number of story ideas I came up with, I’ve had to find a way to navigate through the realm of choosing writing projects. Each one of my ideas seemed equally important and valuable, and I couldn’t stand the idea of trying to “just pick one and write it,” lest I make the wrong choice, betray one of them for another, or worst of all, let any one of them go.
I had to come up with a process to help me make decisions.
Luckily, as a coach and entrepreneur since 2002, I’ve had my fair share of decision making challenges and support in making those decisions over time. And thankfully, the processes I’ve learned translate brilliantly into choosing writing projects.
(And by “writing projects” I generally mean long form books or screenplays. :) )
In 2015 I wrote a three-part series of blog posts about these methods, called “Choosing Your Next Writing Project.” Writers all over used it to choose their next book or screenplay from among their many, many ideas and found great relief in knowing what to move ahead with next.
Rather than feeling stuck in the paralysis of not being able to choose or having to “give up” any of their ideas, these writers felt empowered to choose and run with that choice.
I’ve now put together a “reprint” of my original blog posts, edited, updated, and assembled in one place for your ease of reading, along with a step-by-step workbook that will walk you through the process I describe for choosing your next book, or screenplay, which you can download below. (If you prefer, you can read the posts in the original series online here, here, and here.)
Here’s what you’ll want to know about it:
- This process assumes that you have some number of possible book or screenplay ideas that you’re trying to choose between. If you’re instead in the place of needing to come up with ideas, this particular process won’t be helpful to you yet, though you may want to read it to see if it sparks ideas for you start with. I expect to create a book brainstorming guidebook at some point down the line, so stay tuned if that’s something you need help with. (In the meantime, you might like this post.)
- This process is also specifically designed for choosing among long form writing projects (novels, feature scripts, books, etc.). This is because long form projects tend to trigger a different kind of stuckness than short form projects do (usually because they require less commitment, though there are certainly plenty of ways we can get stuck with short projects too).
- You can read all the posts online without getting the download but you might prefer to have the new guidebook I’ve put together since I’ve updated the content and also included a workbook version (both in a PDF you can print out and write on by hand and in an RTF format you can import into Word or Scrivener and work on digitally).
If you’re wondering how this works, check out this comment from Naomi Dunford of ittybiz.com, who used the process to choose her next novel project:
“OK, I have more project drama than anybody else on earth. I really don’t think I’m exaggerating here. You see, I always wanted to be a writer. The dream was always so big, so real, so important. But sometimes with dreams that visceral, the detail gets lost in the shuffle. In this case, the detail was ‘for God’s sake, woman, you know you’re going to have to pick something and start, right?’
That one critical element always felled me.
There was nothing I couldn’t use as an excuse to avoid picking a project and getting started. Resistance! Procrastination! Yeah-buts! Fear of failure! Fear of success! I’ve got the whole gamut. It’s driven my parents crazy, my kids crazy, and two husbands crazy, too.
But! I went through your exercises and I’m happy to say… I have selected my project, and I feel SO confident about moving forward.
To anybody reading this, if this can work for me, it can work for ANYBODY. I am the Resistance queen of the world, and it even got ME going. That’s saying something. Highly recommended.”
Want it for yourself?
Download The Guidebook Here
The Guidebook includes an overview of the process in a PDF format, along with a workbook in a PDF and RTF format. You can import the RTF into Word or Scrivener and work with it there.
Click the image below to download the Guidebook now.
Something I tackled in my most recent screenwriting assignment was getting clear on who the characters are and what motivates them, especially since they weren’t my original characters. This project was a rewrite of a writer-producer’s script so the characters were his, though they now feel like “ours.”
Part of the process of getting there was working through the characters’ GMC (goals, motivation, and conflict) to understand them more deeply.
Cathy Yardley first introduced me to GMC. I’ve done some plot work with her on other projects, and loved her book series where she describes the concept of GMC. The book series is offered collectively in print as Rock Your Writing, also available in a six-part Kindle series, including Rock Your Plot and Rock Your Revisions. She recommends another book called GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, The Building Blocks of Good Fiction that I found helpful as well. (Amazon links for all of these books are in the References section, below.)
What I find most useful about GMC is that it gives me a way into my character’s head.
The jury is still out on whether or not I’m more of an intuitive writer (one who excels in character and dialogue but has a hard time with plot and structure) or a conceptual writer (one who does well with plot and structure but struggles with the character and dialogue). So far, my take is that I’m more of a conceptual writer.
In any case, it helps me to have a character profile for each character I’m working with, and adding GMC to my character profiles has been exceedingly helpful, so I’m sharing it with you. (This would be a useful tool for creative non-fiction writers too!)
Note: If you’re interested in seeing my entire character profile template, you can download a copy of it at the end of this post.
How GMC Works
We break goals, motivation, and conflict down into both external and internal GMC. This helps us understand both what’s driving the character externally and internally. This syncs up nicely with Shawn Coyne’s External Content Genre and his Internal Content Genre, though they are different tools (I’ll write about this more in a future post — The Story Grid* methodology has completely rewired my brain for story in an incredibly useful way).
Here’s an explanation of External and Internal GMC.
- The character’s EXTERNAL GOAL is the WHAT they are trying to achieve or accomplish by the story’s end. This cannot be vague in any way. Cathy Yardley once told me that an external goal has to be something that you can easily check off in a box when it’s done. For example, disable the bomb, check. Or, catch the bad guy, check. It can’t be something like “get my mom to approve of me,” because it can be too unclear about whether or not that has actually occurred (although I suppose it could be verbally said, “I approve of you” but there’s still room for interpretation — does she actually mean it, etc.).
- The character’s EXTERNAL MOTIVATION is WHY they are trying to achieve that goal. What reason do they have for trying to reach their goal? What’s at stake, what are the consequences if they don’t make whatever it is happen? That’s their why. For example, everyone in the building will die (if the protag doesn’t disable the bomb). Or, the bad guy may kill again. This can be considered the “Because” clause.
- The character’s EXTERNAL CONFLICT is the OPPOSITION to achieving the goal. What or who gets in the way? Usually this is the antagonist but it could also be the establishment, the environment, etc., if it’s a human against the state or human against the world kind of story. This could also be considered the “But” clause if you think of these as a sentence.
For example: Carly wants to disable the bomb because otherwise hundreds of people will die, but the antagonist has hidden the bomb and is taunting Carly with killing people one by one as clues until she finds it.
- The character’s INTERNAL GOAL is about HOW the character is trying to feel or hoping to feel. It may or may not be tied to the external goal. And it probably isn’t something that can be ticked off in a check box. It’s more of a feeling state, such as happiness or independence, or vengeance. It can also be a spiritual goal. The internal and external goals CAN be in alignment but they can also not match up — which can create excellent internal conflict for your character. (Don’t forget, we want them to suffer — our readers and viewers want to worry about our characters, that’s why they’re there!)
- The character’s INTERNAL MOTIVATION is WHY they want to feel that way. Often this is tied to their backstory, or personal goals outside the story. The internal motivation is the emotion that drives the character. For example, a character may have been overly controlled for her entire life by her parents, so she’s trying to create an independent life for herself.
- The character’s INTERNAL CONFLICT is WHAT might be stopping her from reaching that state of being. This could be caused by the character themselves, but it can also be tied to the external GMC and cause problems for in achieving it. With our example, our character might suffer from insecurity, and keep turning back to her parents for help.
I like to put these together in a chart, like the one below (spreadsheets are handy here), though I also just make bullet point lists when I’m writing in Scrivener since it doesn’t play that well with tables.
Here’s an example:
|Goal||Carly’s external goal is to disable the bomb…||Carly’s internal goal is to forge out on her own…|
|Motivation||Because otherwise hundreds of people will die…||Because her psychologist parents have been holding her back for years with their oppressive personalities…|
|Conflict||But the antagonist has hidden the bomb and is taunting Carly with killing people one by one as clues until she finds it.||But she struggles with insecurity so keeps turning to her parents for support and encouragement, and even worse, now needs their help her track down the bomber.|
It’s useful to see how the internal and external can work together here.
I often rework these multiple times until I feel that I’ve landed on something that works. And then I’ll often rework it again, once I’ve finished a script, because I tend to pick up more nuance and information as I interact with the character over the course of the story.
It’s an ever-evolving process.
Want to Check Out My Character Profile Template?
It includes the GMC points I outlined above along with a handful of other useful and streamlined items I assemble for each character. It comes in a PDF and RTF format, along with a Quick Start Guide. You can import the RTF into Word or Scrivener for easy customization and editing.
Click the image below to download it now.
* All book links are Amazon affiliate links:
- Rock Your Plot: A Simple System for Plotting Your Novel by Cathy Yardley
- Rock Your Revisions: A Simple System for Revising Your Novel by Cathy Yardley
- GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon
If you haven’t seen the news yet, Steven Pressfield has a new book out called Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is and What To Do About It.
You can download a copy of the ebook for free for the next week or so (click this link to go to the download page). There’s no email opt-in required.
I love this for so many reasons. Among them:
1. I adore Steven Pressfield’s books about writing. He says this one picks up where The War of Art takes off, which is one of my all time favorite books about writing and always gets me to sit up a little straighter when I read it. My other all time favorite is one of his other books Turning Pro. So you can imagine that I’m thrilled to read the next one.
2. It’s a very cool marketing strategy. Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne, the co-founders of Black Irish Books, take the long view when it comes to publishing and marketing. They believe in building a loyal audience and spreading by word of mouth. They believe in the value of what they publish and know that getting it out there is a huge part of the process.
3. They’re taking a casual approach to their offer. They’re not forcing an opt-in (though there is certainly a time and place for that when building a list and a platform). And they’re leaving the decision as to how long the offer stays open up in the air a bit. This speaks to their confidence and experience in a powerful way. These guys are comfortable about what they are doing, and it shows.
4. It’s got a great title. I’m reminded of the oft-shared article, “I Will Not Read Your F*cking Script”, which had me in stitches when I read it. This title speaks to the angst we writers experience over trying to get our stuff looked at … and WHY people may not want to, something we all could use a little education about, I’m sure. I can’t wait to read it.
5. Because I’m a lifer when it comes to being a Pressfield fan, it’s fun to get to share this with you. Ordinarily I wouldn’t share a book with my audience without reading it first. But because I know, like, and trust Steven Pressfield and his work, I’m happy to put it out there. When we think about this from a marketing perspective regarding our own work, there are lessons to be learned in spades here.
Enjoy. And let me know what you think when you read it. I’ll be diving into it soon myself.
The next session of the Called to Write Coaching Circle starts on Monday, June 20th and the last day to register and join us is TODAY, June 16 by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time.
Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com. Join us!
I’m leading a one-week intensive called “Fitting Writing Into Your Life: Becoming a Productive Screenwriter ” at Screenwriter’s University starting on August 11th and running for 7 days. It’s a three-part online recorded video presentation from me and plus online discussions, interaction, and support from me. Find out more and register here. *
* This is an affiliate link, which means I’ll earn an extra commission in addition to my teacher’s pay, if you register through me.
The fourth and final class in my free Master Your Creative Productivity series was last night and the recording is now available!
If you missed the series, you can still sign up to get the recordings, which will only be available for another week, through Friday, April 8. You’ll get instant access to the recording archives when you register.
Here’s what we’ve covered in the class series:
Part I: Powerful Tools to Help You Write Productively
- Defining what being productive means.
- 3 writing productivity principles.
- 5 time principles to help you be more effective with EVERYTHING you do.
- 7 writing productivity power tools you can put to use right away.
Part II: The Anti-Creativity Cycle and How to Break It
- Defining perfectionism and 5 thoughts about the role perfectionism plays in our writing lives.
- The Anti-Creativity Cycle of perfectionism, procrastination, and paralysis and a laundry list of ways it shows up.
- Other creative blocks and obstacles like impostor syndrome, fear of success and fear of failure, and more.
- 15 solutions and antidotes for the Anti-Creativity Cycle and other creative blocks.
Part III: Keeping Your Creative Energy Vibrant for Optimal Writing Productivity
- The trick to managing the emotional ups and downs of a long-form writing project.
- Simple but important ways to take care of your physical body AND your creative mind.
- 3 energy boosting strategies.
- 3 nifty techniques to balance and recharge your energy.
- 5 creative recovery skills for whenever (or if ever!) you get off track.
Part IV: Setting Motivating Writing Goals & Intentions
- 5 ways to set yourself up for success with your goals in advance.
- Smart goal setting that works.
- Reverse engineering your writing timelines.
- The power of a plan for revisions.
- Using intentions to supercharge your writing sessions.
- How to set motivating rewards and celebrations.
- BONUS: Managing distractions.
I’ve been getting terrific feedback from the writers who have participated and I’d love to have you take advantage of this opportunity too. You’ll find that the series is packed with practical tools and strategies you can put into place right away to help you boost your productivity as a writer.
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