If the goal is too big, make it smaller

7 ways to beat procrastination

Ugh. Procrastination.

We’re all familiar with that simultaneous desire to write and the repulsion from writing that leads us into the nether realm of procrastination. We’re doing something else — ANYTHING else — and it can range from feeling like we’re doing something vitally important to just plain old digging our heels in and resisting.

Sometimes we tell ourselves we need to “warm up” first before we can write, with a little email, Facebook, or even a treat of some kind.

Or we decide we simply cannot tolerate the state of our physical space for a single minute longer — how many offices, bathrooms, and kitchens have seen the plus side of procrastination on a day when writing feels oh-so-hard to do?

Other things come up too, right? All those urgent deadlines, other people’s problems, our kids’ needs, that bit of online research you just can’t wait to do (you know, that one that snowballs into two hours of online nothingness — and yes, I speak from experience), or even bigger things, like that college degree you suddenly have to have.

Understanding procrastination

There are a few of key things to understand about procrastination:

1. It’s (usually) driven by fear. There’s some kind of fear coming up that’s stopping you from writing. You may not be clear on what it is, but trust me, it’s there. Fears of success, failure, commitment, overwhelm, rejection, praise, inability to deliver, etc. are most likely to come up. (When it’s not fear-driven, there’s usually something significant going on, like healing from a traumatic creative wound or recovering from creative burnout, but I would call that a block, a subject for a future post.)

2. Not taking action on your writing will keep you in a low grade state of anxiety, guilt, and shame. I say “low” but it can skyrocket into a full-on painful squirming-in-shame. So even if you’re pretending you are just watching your favorite TV show for a little treat before you get started and that it will help you relax into writing — check in with yourself — are you really, truly, in your heart-of-heart’s feeling relaxed? Or are you twitching with unrest and discomfort inside?

3. It’s a lot easier to fix than you think it is. There are some days when it simply isn’t possible to sit down and power through tons of writing. That’s okay. There are days when you can’t face your draft. That’s okay. But you CAN write, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

And ultimately, making small moves will help you beat procrastination in the big picture.

Beating procrastination

Here are seven ways you can beat procrastination and get back in the writing saddle:

1. Have a short but honest talk with yourself about what’s really going on. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. But it’s worth acknowledging in the privacy of your own mind, “Yes, I’m procrastinating, and it feels crummy. I’m going to do something about it.”

2. Tell someone what you’re doing. Find an accountability partner, a writing buddy, or a writing group (like my online Writer’s Circle) that will help you commit to doing the writing and seeing it through. It helps tremendously to say to another person (even if it’s your spouse or best friend!), “I’m going to write today no matter what.”

3. Make a deal with yourself to write ANYTHING for 15 minutes. I don’t care if you write morning pages, a list of all the reasons you hate writing, or actually work on your current writing project. Just get out a piece of paper or open your Scrivener file or Word document (I’m a Pages girl myself), and put words on the page, even if they are crap. (Using a timer for your 15 minutes is a special bonus tip – it’s like pressing the “GO” button. Try it!)

4. If 15 minutes feels like too much, make it smaller. The goal should be small enough that you find yourself saying, “Well, heck, I can at least do THAT much.” So if 15 minutes sounds daunting, do five. Or write ONE sentence (I’m not kidding). The key here is to get yourself into action WRITING. Period.

5. If you’ve racked up a lot of frequent procrastinator miles, STOP when you meet your goal. There are a LOT of writers I talk to who commit to write for 15 minutes, do it, and then find it so easy they keep on going. That’s great, if you’re just jump-starting yourself after a day or two away. But if you’ve been in the writing desert and the words have been few and far between, when you meet your writing goal for the day, stop and celebrate. Don’t break trust with yourself and keep on writing — you’ll only set yourself up for a bigger challenge tomorrow when you feel like you have to “do better” and suddenly have too daunting a goal to face. 

6. Reward yourself for writing. One of my favorite writers, writer-director Joss Whedon (Firefly, Buffy, The Avengers), rewards himself just for having an idea. Don’t be stingy here. Writing each day is the equivalent of beating back the forces of darkness. You deserve to whoop it up a little once you pull it off. Give yourself a piece of chocolate, a stretch in the sunshine, or even those things you’d normally be procrastinating with. Remember the email, Facebook, and favorite TV shows? Make those your cool downs instead of your warm ups and you’ll be good to go.

7. Do it again tomorrow! You’ve beaten procrastination today, great work!! Now, when you wake up tomorrow, use these tools to make a shorter path to writing. It’ll feel great. Then once you get on a roll, start building up to more over time.

Thanks for reading!

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.





There’s no right time to write

Join the Writer's CircleWe often trick ourselves into thinking there’s a “right” time to write. We plan special writing days. We dream of far-off futures where we’ll have plenty of time to write. But there really isn’t a “right” time — there’s only now. Join the next Writer’s Circle session (new sessions start every 28 days) and get help to beat procrastination and write every day.

Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com

How to finally make it as a writer, part four (plus, an announcement)

Today we’re finishing our four-part series designed to get you on track for the writing career and life you want.

If you haven’t seen the earlier parts of this series, you can read through exercises on how to write more easily, how to overcome resistance, and how to quickly build self-confidence as a writer.

In today’s exercise, we’re going to tie it all together and get you moving towards “going pro” – whatever that specifically means for you.

Whether you want writing to be your full time career or you just want to consistently finish your own personal projects, this exercise will move you forward.

A quick announcement before the exercise

If you like what you’ve been seeing in these exercises, there’s even more in store for you inside Design Your Writing Life – my complete guide to custom-creating the writing life and writing career you’ve always wanted.

For the next few days (through Tuesday, May 13th), the Design Your Writing Life home-study course will be available at a special launch discount of 40% off – and you can find all the details about what’s inside right here.

Now, on to the exercise!

Exercise #4 – Write down your “next steps” for making your writing life a reality

You already have a vision in your head about what your “writing life” looks like – what kinds of events, activities, and environments will be present in your life when you’re working on and completing your creative works.

However, as long as it’s just a vision, it can’t become real. And what can so often hold you back is when that picture in your mind is just blurry enough that you don’t have a sense of how to create it.

After all, you can only hit a target you can see.

So today we’re going to sharpen your focus so you can clearly identify some of the next steps that have to happen to take your writing life from vision to reality.

Here’s what we’ll have you do:

  • First, think of the next creative project you want to complete and define its closest concrete milestone. If you already have a project in the works, what’s the next checkpoint you have to get to? Is it a completed outline, or a list of major characters, or just getting to the end of the next chapter? Is it hitting a particularly meaningful word count? We’re looking for the closest, most easily attainable thing you can check off the proverbial checklist.
  • Next, write down what it will take to reach that milestone as quickly and efficiently as possible. Maybe it’s to guesstimate how long the task will take. Maybe it’s to make a list of the steps remaining to reach that completion point. Maybe it’s creating a folder on your computer with a blank document for each character in your book, or a folder for each chapter so you can keep them organized and separate. Maybe it’s getting a tool like Dropbox to allow you to do your writing from multiple devices.
  • Finally, carve out time to reach your milestone by putting it on your calendar. It’s so easy to get distracted from writing – whether it’s by doing “research” on the internet, clicking around on inspirational blogs, or thinking about all the decisions you might have to make for future milestones that you aren’t in a position to act on today. But your next step is the milestone closest to you now. So be 100% clear on what it will take to get there, and put it on your calendar, even if you’re “just” blocking out 15 minute increments of time every day for the next week. Bit by bit, you WILL get there.

Don’t overcomplicate this – just think of your next milestone, the very simple things you’ll need to do to get there, and set those as the “next steps” you put onto your calendar.

Here’s why this works so well at making your writing dreams become your daily reality

Writing gets done – and done consistently – when you put one foot in front of the other and you have a concrete goal to work towards.

If you don’t have that “next” concrete goal, you’ll be pulled in a hundred different directions and you won’t make the forward progress that builds your writing life from the ground up.

Remember what we said in the other exercises – every time you start with a small step, it lets you fly in under the radar of resistance, and that small step grows organically until it becomes a larger and larger force.

Just taking those first small steps is what gets you taking larger and larger ones, and soon you’ll be writing more each day, writing more easily, and getting more of your writing projects done.

If you’ve enjoyed these exercises so far, take a look at what else you’ll find in Design Your Writing Life!

From now until Tuesday, May 13th, you can get Design Your Writing Life at a 40% discount by clicking here.

What you’ve seen in this series are just a small sample of the steps, planning exercises, and activities that will help you make the shift from “trying to write” to “becoming a writer.” There’s so much more on the inside, and I’d love you to see all the details while it’s available at this special savings.

Everything you need to know is here – and I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned over the years (and what I’ve taught others over my career) with you today.

Author Insights: It’s Never Too Late to Finish Your Book Now

TerriMany people have unfinished writing projects that linger for years, but it’s never too late to finish your book. And the time to get restarted might just be now.

I reached out to Terri Fedonczak, a long time Writer’s Circle member, to talk to us about her experience finishing a long-time writing project after 15 years of dreaming and what that’s been like for her. Terri has been such a great participant and gotten so much out of the Writer’s Circle that I recently invited her to join us as a coach for one of our coaching groups on the site.

Read on to find out about Terri’s extremely inspiring project for parents (I’ve seen a preview and it’s terrific!) and how she conquered her writer’s isolation and resistance with the help of the Circle and saw her book all the way through to done.


Terri, welcome and thanks for being here. First, let’s talk about your accomplishment — finishing your parenting book! What was that like for you?

Thanks for having me, Jenna! When I finished my first draft, it was the culmination of a dream I have had for fifteen years. I remember telling my niece about how I wanted to write a parenting book and discussing topics with her; this was in 1996. When I actually finished my first draft, I thought there would be angels singing . . . not so much! What I didn’t realize was the time involved in the editing process — there’s always more!

How long had you been working on the book prior to joining the Circle?

I spent fifteen years working on the first draft, but I had been jotting down ideas in my journal for ten years before that. In the ensuing years, I wrote little snippets in journals and spoke ideas into my portable tape recorder.

You actually finished a rough draft of the book after you first joined the Circle in 2011, is that right?

Yes, my first session of the Writer’s Circle was spent culling all the bits and recordings into a little 60 page book.

Then what happened that led you to completing this new draft?

I interviewed three different editors, and picked Darla Bruno. She read through my first draft and suggested that the book wanted to be more. I hadn’t put my life into the book or any coaching tools. So, I took the challenge and spent the next year or so rewriting it. The completed book is 214 pages, and it’s everything I envisioned back in 1996!

What can you tell us about yourself and about the focus of the book?

I’m the mother of four daughters: three biological and one bonus girl that came to live with us in 2010. I’m a breast cancer survivor; I mention it, because it changed the course of my life. I left my fifteen-year commercial real estate practice to become a Certified Martha Beck Life Coach, writer, and speaker. Breast cancer changed my priorities completely; the threat of losing my life awakened me to the importance of living my right life.

The title of the book is Field Guide to Plugged-in Parenting, Even if You Were Raised by Wolves. It answers the question of how to be a good parent if you have no role models — you know you don’t want to replay your childhood, but you are lost as to an alternative. It’s a compilation of all the parenting and coaching tools I have used successfully with my kids, with some humor thrown in to lighten the load. I walk you through a process to create your own parenting plan, so that your kids will be starting with an infinitely better foundation, thereby ending the wolf-baby cycle forever. Wolf babies is a term I coined to describe those of us who were raised by wolves and suffer from lack-based thinking as a result.

How did you find out about the Circle and what inspired you to join us?

Jill Winski was in my life coach training class, and she put out an ad for the Circle on our Facebook page. I saw it and knew that I needed help with making my book a reality. It felt like divine guidance . . . and it was.

What have you learned about your writing process from participating in the Writer’s Circle?

I’ve learned that there is no magic pill, place, or instrument that delivers a quality product. All it takes is complete honesty, utter vulnerability, and a daily practice of showing up to the page . . . no big whoop!

What were the biggest challenges you faced before joining the Circle? Have they changed? What’s different now about your writing habit?

I think the biggest challenge I faced was the feeling that I was all alone in my desire to write a book. I knew I had an important message, I just didn’t understand how to deliver it. With the Circle for support and accountability, my biggest challenge now is the acceptance that I am a writer. It’s not a fluke or a pipe-dream; I wrote a book, ipso facto, I’m a writer! The biggest difference in my writing habit is that I’m no longer plagued with resistance, so I write every day. Some days it’s just 20 minutes of morning pages in my journal, and some days it’s three hours working on a blog post or outline for the new book . . . but I write every day.

What advice do you have for other writers?

First of all, join the Writer’s Circle! It’s the best way to incorporate writing into your daily life. Secondly, write every day, even if it’s just 15 minutes in your journal. While your logical mind is busy watching your hand move across the paper, the most delightful tidbits will rise up from your creative mind. When one pops up that excites you, expand it . . . like you’re telling your favorite friend a story. You don’t need anything other than a pen, paper, and a bit of quiet time to awaken your creative side . . . and then you’re off to the races!

What’s next for you and your writing?

I’m developing a program that I will be delivering to incoming 9th grade girls called, “Field Guide to the Wilds of High School.” I developed the program while on safari in Africa (jeesh, that sounds so hoity-toity), and it’s based on the power of the pride. I watched the way the lionesses took care of the pride, and how their raw feminine power ran their world. It reminded me of what’s missing in Girl World. So I’m taking the program into schools this summer, and then I will turn the results into a book for teens and a corresponding book for parents on how to survive high school.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

I believe that everyone has a creative person living within them, and that creative energy can turn drudgery into joy. Find some way to nurture your creative side, and your life will blossom in endless and unexpected ways…or at least that’s what happened to me.

About Terri

Terri2Terri Fedonczak has 22 years of parenting experience and is a certified life coach, specializing in parent and teen coaching. After 16 years as a commercial real estate agent, a bout with breast cancer transformed Terri’s life in 2010, making her realize that time with her four girls and patient husband was a much better deal than money and status. It was time to put her mission into action. She left sales and embarked on a journey of spreading the message of girl power for good. When Terri is not writing books, speaking, coaching, or blogging, you can find her paddle boarding on the sparkling waters of Boggy Bayou, knitting to the consternation of her children, who are buried in scarves and hats, or dancing in her kitchen to Motown.

You can follow Terri online at http://alifeinbalance.com and on Facebook here. Look for Terri’s Field Guide to be published in January 2014!

Thanks for reading!

As always, we love to hear your thoughts in the comments.





Find your character’s moral problem with the Enneagram

Lyons Fin 018Today’s article is a guest post by story and Enneagram expert Jeff Lyons of StoryGeeks.com. His article touches on a often overlooked aspect of story development that many writers miss and their story structure suffers as a result: their main character’s “moral problem”.

Jeff will be teaching us more about how to identify a character’s moral problem in his upcoming workshop here in Berkeley, California (I’m co-hosting) on October 26 and 27 on his method of Rapid Story Development. We’d love to have you join us if you’d like to learn more.

Now here’s Jeff’s article:


The problem is moral

Hands down, the most important and most overlooked story structure element all writers either miss altogether or bungle is the moral problem. This pesky problem is not just a nice perk — it is a make-it-or-break-it story structure component of any good story.

The moral problem is the hole in the heart of your protagonist. He or she starts off the story in some pickle, some predicament of their own making, ideally brought about by the very moral problem to which they are oblivious. This problem is making them act badly in the world. They are hurting people emotionally, mentally, and maybe even physically due to this lack. It’s the hurting of others that make it a moral issue, and not just a psychological one (the distinction is about hurting others versus hurting oneself). The character needs to learn some lesson about how to live in the world so that they no longer hurt others; some lesson that elevates them (hopefully, but not always) to be a better person. They learn that life lesson that makes them moral again.

Good stories have protagonists with this hole in their heart. And the best stories rip out the protagonist’s heart and then somehow heal it again, before the heart gets put back inside (I’m speaking metaphorically, of course — unless this is a Clive Barker horror story).

How to find the moral problem

So, the question becomes: how does a writer figure out how to find one of these heart-holes? How do you assure that your protagonist has a meaningful moral problem and an equally meaningful growth-moment at the end of the story where they see the error of their evil ways? Some writers have a natural gift for this and flawed and tortured protagonists come to them as gracefully as flight to an eagle. For others (i.e., most of us) the process of finding a good moral problem is more like trying to find a taxi on a rainy night.

The good news, however, is that there is a tool that any writer can use to help them crack this problem, regardless of their natural gifts. That tool is called the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a powerful archetypal system that describes the nine core personality drives underlying all human behavior. Each of the nine drives is rooted in thoughts, feelings and actions that largely determine how we interact with the world, for good or ill. Everyone has an Enneagram type — including fictional characters and stories themselves. Writers have used this tool for many decades to develop multi-dimensional characters, but it can also be used as a story development too, when coupled with story structure principles. It is this relationship between the Enneagram and story structure that gives writers a doorway to finding the most dramatically powerful moral problem for their protagonist.

What’s your character’s poison?

Let’s take an example and walk through the problem as a point of illustration:

You just wrote the movie The Verdict. Frank, the protagonist, is a ambulance-chasing, alcoholic lawyer who is constantly looking for the next sucker to scam into hiring him. You know he’s a drunk. You know he’s in pain. But what’s his moral problem? Is his alcoholism the moral problem? Alcohol hurts lots of people. Is his pain the moral problem? If so, what’s the pain? How do you figure out which it is? Writers spend lots of time caught up in this maze of questions and confusion.

Enneagram to the rescue. Each of the nine Enneagram personality styles has something called a “poison”. This poison is the hole in the heart. It is the thing that poisons everything they do, everything they feel, everything they think. So, what’s poisoning Frank? Certainly alcohol is, but that’s mostly just hurting him. It’s not hurting other people. What he’s doing that’s hurting others is that he is using them. He sees people as targets, not people. So, we have the answer, right? He’s using people. That’s the moral problem, right? No, not quite. That’s what he’s doing; that’s not why he’s doing it. The moral problem is the motivation, the thing causing the using.

The Enneagram poison can help you quickly answer this question and find the real moral problem. Of the nine personality styles, the 3rd style (“The Achiever”) is the one who has the poison of secretly feeling that they have no personal worth or value. This fits Frank’s actions to a tee. For him, people have no value; they’re things to be used. He ultimately feels this because deep down he believes he has no value or worth himself and therefore no one else has value either. Over the course of the movie he learns that, indeed, not only do people matter, but that he himself matters and he can make a difference in the world.

And so not only does the Enneagram technique of looking for the poison explain the motivation behind the protagonist’s immoral behavior, it also points to the final self-revelation at the end of the story, where the hero or heroine realizes how to heal the hole in their heart. In this case, Frank realizes he has value and so do other people. He is able to make a new choice as a result.

Moral problem and story structure

As a writer, having this key piece of information — a clear moral problem — is critical for you to not only address your main character’s development and arc, but also to guide you on how best to structure your story so that key story beats, like the inciting incident, low point, and final climax, are all driven by the engine of the protagonist’s moral problem.

This is a deep subject, but a critical one for any writer. The moral problem can make or break your story, and the Enneagram can help you rapidly navigate the difficult questions that might otherwise hang you up and drag out the development process.

If you’d like to learn more, join us in Berkeley on October 26 & 27. Early registration ends TOMORROW, Thursday, October 10. Find more and register here: http://RapidStoryDevelopment.com

Your turn

As always, we love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



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Thanks for reading.


Using the Enneagram to move from character to story

Lyons Fin 018In the third and final session of my interview series with Enneagram and story development expert Jeff Lyons (recordings no longer available), we talked about “Bridging the Gap from Motivation to Structure With the Enneagram.” Today’s post is a recap of what we discussed.

His process for “bridging the gap” from premise line to character to story is quite fascinating, and he illustrated it using a breakdown of The Great Gatsby according to the Enneagram.

Bridging the gap

Here’s an overview of the process:

  • Step 1. Write out your premise line and log line.
    (See the last post for more on premise line development.)
  • Step 2. Define the moral problem that best illustrates the story’s premise line.
    (In Gatsby, Nick focuses on trying to fit in and be liked, he isn’t being his truest self, which is a form of lying.)
  • Step 3. Look for the Enneagram type that best represents the motivations (not behaviors) of someone with that moral shortfall.
    (Nick most aligns with the Enneagram type 9.)
  • Step 4. Study the integration and disintegration points for that type to identify what the character is capable of and what they’re greatest opponent might be.
    (Points 3 and 6, respectively.)
  • Step 5. Explore the entertaining moral argument possibilities between those two types.
    (Can you succeed and achieve without giving up your soul?)
  • Step 6. Brainstorm about the communication styles, “pinches”, and blind spots of each of those two types.
    (Nick has various challenges that Gatsby can poke at and wreak havoc with.)
  • Step 7. Map your story using these Enneagram components and correlate them with the visible structure components we discussed last time.
    (This includes the protagonist, moral problem, chain of desire, focal relationship, opposition, plot & momentum (midpoint complication, low point, and final conflict), and evolution/de-evolution and is the more complex step where the story is broken down into a greater level of detail).


Your turn

Have you considered using the Enneagram in your story development? Will you consider using it in the future? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



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Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Constructing a powerful premise line as a framework for story structure

Lyons Fin 018In the second class of my interview series with Enneagram and story development expert Jeff Lyons (recordings no longer available), we talked about “The Critical Importance of Premise Line Development.” Today’s post is a recap of what we learned.

Jeff started off by talking about the importance of being clear about what you’re writing is about a situation or a story:

  • A story is about a person on a journey of change, where they are trying to achieve a goal or attain a desire and have a revelation about themselves at the end. Stories include relationships, because, as Jeff says, “Stories are conversations, not monologues.”
  • A situation, on the other hand, is usually some kind of problem or predicament with a solution that tests a protagonist’s problem-solving skills but doesn’t reveal character. Few, if any, subplots, twists, or complications are required to solve the problem, and it ends in the same emotional emotional space it began in. Standard genre beats may still evident but not the deeper underpinnings of story structure.

While Jeff doesn’t suggest that story is better than situation or vice versa, he says that they require different building blocks to successfully deliver them. A story will rely on deeper story structure components, while a situation will rely on entertainment value, great set pieces, and good dialogue, but won’t reveal character or be driven by a moral problem or theme.

And what is story structure?

Jeff defines story structure differently than the way most of us have learned to think of it. Most of us think of things like inciting incidents, turning points, mid-points, climaxes, and resolutions as story structure. Jeff describes these as “story beats” and says that most writing systems that purport to be about structure are actually focused on these typical beats and are missing the deeper, natural structure implied by both premise development and character motivation.

Getting from idea to premise line

When a story idea first arrives, it often comes as an “undifferentiated mass”. It’s a collection of swirling notions and intuitive instincts that don’t translate yet into a clear organized story structure.

Jeff uses premise line development as a tool to begin to decipher the fuzzy, abstract ideas into a more concrete, contained story — the nascent beginnings of story structure. He compares it to stepping down electricity from the power plant into a useable form in a residential setting. It has to go through transformers to make it available at a functional level. The premise line is the first step in translating from that vague mass of ideas into something resembling a story.

The way that he does this is by using seven core elements to begin to tease out the components of the story and shape them, including:

  • Character — do you have a sense of a character who will be central to the story?
  • Constriction — what happens that pushes the character off the line they’re on at the beginning of the story?
  • Desire — what does this character want? At this point, we’re not talking about something specific or tangible, that comes later, but rather a sense of a core desire or motivating force.
  • Relationship — who is this character in relationship with? (Again, stories are conversations.)
  • Resistance — what is the push back or opposition that stops the main character from getting what they want?
  • Adventure and/or Chaos — what is the adventure or chaotic experience the character has that leads them to the epiphany at the end?
  • Change — this is the dramatic epiphany the end — how the character changes as a result of their experiences.

Moving from premise line to visible structure

Once you’ve identified your premise line, you can then move to a more “visible structure” for the story. This is a process of taking what you’ve started with and beginning to develop and flesh out the pieces of the story more deliberately. At this stage of the process, you’ll make the following shifts:

  • The character becomes the protagonist.
  • The constriction becomes the moral problem of the protagonist. (This informs the inciting incident.)
  • The character’s desire becomes a chain of desire (a sequence of goals or desires all related back to the character’s core desire).
  • The relationship becomes the focal relationship for the story, the person the protagonist experiences the journey with.
  • The resistance becomes the central opposition. At the outset and premise level, you may just have a sense of an opposing force. At this stage it would become personal, dramatic, and/or personified.
  • The adventure/chaos becomes the plot and momentum of the story through the second act. (This is the part of the story that includes the typical story beats, like midpoint, low point, and climax).
  • The change is the evolution or de-evolution of the protagonist.

Bridging the gap using the Enneagram

In order to make the transition from that undifferentiated mass of the original idea to the more visible structure of the premise line all the way into a visible, clear structure, Jeff uses the Enneagram to help identify the specifics for each one of these elements, such as:

  • The best protagonist for the story, based on the personal change the story is designed to illustrate.
  • The best opposition or antagonist for the story, designed to help provoke the protagonist into that change.
  • Brainstorming and understanding the protagonist’s core desire based on their Enneagram type, to design a chain of desires that the character seeks that drives the story forward.
  • The best allies or focal relationships for the protagonist.
  • The best likely inciting incidents, turning points, midpoints, low points, and battles/climaxes that will stimulate your specific character and/or be driven by him/her to the final outcome of the story.

The Enneagram doesn’t tell us the ONLY options for each of these, but rather suggests the best form for each of these elements. Then as the writer, it’s up to you to begin to craft the specific story details to deliver that. (Form follow function, after all.)

For instance, at the broadest level, an Enneagram Three seeks approval from the outside as a way of validating themselves, but what they really need is to have their own sense of value and sense of self. So a story about a Three would be designed to play out that journey in a visual, visible metaphor organized around the ideas of approval-seeking as the constriction, taking an action that would cause a loss or challenge based on that approval-seeking as an inciting incident, to a low point where the Three finally realizes they are sacrificing themselves on the altar of approval and giving up everything to do so, all the way to a climactic moment where the Three stops looking outside themselves for approval and decides to find it within.

At a more specific level of story detail, those ideas could play out with a businessman who will never say no to a contract, trying to please everyone and perform by juggling and obfuscation, but he finally says yes to too many projects and the house of cards he’s built around himself comes crashing down. He would then realize he needs to choose projects and work that HE values, and by so doing, recognize his OWN inherent value. It’s HIM that makes the projects successful, not the game he’s playing.

And of course, we can get even more specific from there, as well as fleshing out the details of his supporting relationships and opposition.

Your turn

Do you develop a premise line for your work? Tell us about it! We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



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Graphic courtesy of http://www.fitzel.ca/enneagram/graphics.html

Using the Enneagram for Story Development

Lyons Fin 018In the first class of my interview series with Enneagram and story development expert Jeff Lyons (recordings no longer available), we talked about “The Secrets of the Enneagram Most Writers Are Overlooking.” We had a mix of participants on the line, it seemed to be about 50-50 on who had prior experience or knowledge of the Enneagram and who did not, and Jeff did a great job of making the material accessible to everyone. Today’s post is a recap of what we learned.

Jeff talked about how powerful the Enneagram can be for writers because of its archetypal patterning of human drives and behaviors that transcend cultural boundaries.

He walked us through a quick overview of each of the nine Enneagram types, or styles, as he calls them. He describes the styles as being nine basic strategies for living, including showing us how we behave when we feel successful, weak, vulnerable, and strong. His descriptions of the types quickly demonstrated how powerfully the Enneagram types can be used for character development and why so many writers have used the Enneagram that way for so long. He also described several ways writers can use the Enneagram beyond simple character development, which I’ll give you the highlights of in a moment.

The Nine Core Enneagram Styles

To start, though, let’s take a look at the nine core Enneagram styles:

  • The One is the “do the right thing” person who derives their sense of safety, security, and love in the world by following the rules and doing things perfectly.
  • The Two is the “to be loved” style, sometimes called “the caretaker”. Twos look for the person with the most power in their environment and make themselves indispensable to that person in order to feel loved. They manipulate in order to get the love they want. Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction is an example of an extremely unhealthy or “disintegrated” Two.
  • The Three is the “performer or achiever” and focuses on getting EVERYONE’s approval (not just one person in power, like the Two). Jeff described the Three as a “therapist’s nightmare”, because they tend to perform emotion rather than feel it (though they do have and feel emotions deeper down).
  • The Four is the “to be special” style. This type has a negative side, feeling that something is missing. They can be melancholy, depressed, and always looking for someone to help them solve the problem of “what’s missing”. They “long to long” and are often overly self-oriented.
  • The Five is the “thinker” type who controls their environment by controlling information. They don’t like intense emotions and control the people around them by controlling (sometimes withholding) information. Keanu Reeve’s character “Neo” in The Matrix is a great example of a Five who controls his world through data, at the beginning of the story in particular.
  • The Six is the “safety-security” style. Sixes always have a plan, they know where the pot holes and the landmines are. They tend to have a problem with trust, but if you win their loyalty, they’ll be a friend forever. If their lives are working, they tend to be happy, but they will also dismantle their entire lives in order to have a problem to solve. There are also “counter-phobic” sixes who tend to strike first if they think you might be a threat to them.
  • The Seven is the “to have fun” style. “Why have one friend when you can have 100 friends?”, as Jeff said. Sevens are great at having fun and enjoying life, but they also have a tendency to be addictive types and their fast-paced, highly-active lifestyles are designed to help them avoid their inner pain.
  • The Eight is the “self-reliant / leader” style. They control people by making the rules. They are the most projected on than any other Enneagram type, because they have such a strong presence that can feel confronting. They can be very protective of the downtrodden and provide leadership or can become dictators at an extreme. They avoid relying on other people.
  • The Nine is the “peacemaker”, the one who finds safety by finding common ground. Nines make sure that everyone is heard except themselves — they are self-abandoning. They don’t get in trouble, but they are also not seen.

Character Development & Beyond

Here are some story development applications Jeff described for the Enneagram:

  • Determining your characters’ core personality types — this has been done by writers for years.
  • Determining your protagonist’s growth arc — Each of the nine types has a specific drive toward “disintegration” and a higher place within them for “integration”. Studying those paths of disintegration and integration can help writers get clearer about their characters’ growth arcs in their stories. This has also been done for years by writers.
  • Choosing the best protagonist for your story, depending on the moral problem you want your character to solve in the story and the type of story you are telling. For example, love stories are often Two-driven stories, and pure sci-fi stories are often Five-driven stories.
  • Selecting the best opponent for your protagonist, based on your protagonist’s Enneagram type and growth arc, so they are designed for maximum conflict that will provoke the protagonist’s growth.
  • Choosing the best allies for your protagonist, so your characters interplay with each other for best effect.
  • Designing and structuring your story to naturally take your protagonist through exactly the right crucible that forces them to move from their moral problem into their point of integration, or revelation, by the end of the story.
  • Understanding the types of stories we will be innately drawn to tell, based on our own Enneagram styles, which can make us more conscious writers.

All of these help us “pre-structure” our stories BEFORE we go into story beat development, which is what so many of us are familiar with already and tend to think of as story structure (like Blake Synder’s Save The Cat method, for instance).

Next week, in the second class of our series, Jeff will be talking to us about:

  1. Premise line development and its critical importance in story development.
  2. Story structure components.
  3. How to tell the difference between whether or not you have a story or a situation.

Your turn

Are you familiar with the Enneagram? What has it helped you shift or change in your own life? If you’re a writer, do you use it in your writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



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Graphic courtesy of http://www.fitzel.ca/enneagram/graphics.html

Reward yourself for writing

In my Writer’s Circle, one of the things members commonly bring up as a question is how to reward themselves for meeting their writing goals.

We have a list of questions we answer on our site, once we’ve completed our writing for the day (or not, as the case may be). This is one of the stickiest questions for many of us:

  • How will you acknowledge or celebrate what you’ve accomplished today?

The question tends to trigger a lot of resistance and debate and discussion. Sometimes writers even avoid answering it or fulfilling it. I know it’s a hard one for me to remember too!

But here’s the thing, it’s incredibly important to both celebrate and acknowledge the work you do as a writer both on an ongoing daily basis and at the end of a significant project phase, like finishing a first draft or a rewrite. 

Here’s why:

  1. You’ve fought resistance to show up, put your butt in your seat, and do the writing. As small as that may seem from the outside, you know deep down that every day it is an accomplishment. We’re talking about a daily battle that you’re winning.
  2. By creating a positive association with your writing, you are more likely to show up and do it again the next day. Bottom line? It reinforces your writing habit.
  3. Writing is a long term endeavor. It’s all too easy to walk around feeling like you’ve never done enough when the draft isn’t finished. Stop that right now. Instead, celebrate what you have done. It’ll make it easier to keep going all the way through to the end.
  4. Too many writers significantly undervalue themselves and their writing, especially if the day’s writing session was particularly hard. Stop that too. Take the time to recognize the value and importance of what you’re doing. It’s important to you, right? For most of us, writing is a true calling. If that isn’t important to feed, honor, and sustain, I don’t know what is.

Ideas for rewards

Here are some super simple ideas to get you started with rewards, celebrations, and acknowledgments:

  • Do a happy dance.
  • Dance to music for a minute.
  • Shout, “I did it!”
  • Throw your fists up in the air and say, “YES!”
  • Say, “I declare myself satisfied!”
  • Hug yourself.
  • Pat yourself on the back.
  • Play an inspiring song.
  • Make yourself a cup of tea.
  • Take a moment to stretch.
  • Stand in the sunshine for a moment, look at the sky and appreciate the world and the gift of writing.
  • Do the things you’d normally be doing while procrastinating about your writing (like checking in on Facebook or Twitter, or playing games on your iPad).
  • Tell your writing community about your progress and be proud of yourself (the Writer’s Circle is a great place to do this).

You might also like this slideshow from B.J. Fogg on “Ways To Celebrate Tiny Successes”. (The slideshow has the line, “Hey now, you’re a rock star,” as one idea for a celebration. Love it! That’s from “All Star” by Smashmouth)

Two tips for getting the most out of rewards

  • Tip #1: Fogg recommends celebrating within a second of completing the task as being critical for reinforcing small successes. So even if you give yourself a bigger reward at the end of the day’s work, do mini-celebrations each time you hit a milestone (e.g. a page done, a hour of writing, 15 minutes of writing, whatever you’re aiming for). I have a sound effect for a cheering crowd set up on my iPhone that goes off whenever I finish an hour-long writing sprint. It always reminds me to notice and acknowledge what I’ve accomplished.
  • Tip #2: Gina Hiatt, the founder of the system my Writer’s Circle runs on, also points out the importance of not “pre-celebrating”. Pre-celebrating means doing something fun — celebrating or rewarding yourself — BEFORE you do the writing. That doesn’t work, because it only perpetuates procrastination AND triggers a guilty conscience. The whole idea here is to eliminate your guilt and anxiety around your writing.

But what about the major milestones?

What happens when you finish your draft, put the final polish on your rewrite, turn in your script to a contest, or your box of books arrives in the mail — in other words, hit a major writing milestone?

Please — and you may take this as a request from your writing coach if you like — REALLY celebrate!

Do something like this:

  • Take yourself out to a fantastic lunch or dinner.
  • Go to the spa for the day.
  • Take a day off and watch movies and eat your favorite foods.
  • Open a bottle of something yummy.
  • Tell your friends.
  • Have a party!

This is a MAJOR accomplishment and deserves to be celebrated.

Particularly if you’re someone who tends to undervalue and underrate and always have more to do and feel like you have to move on to the next thing, STOP, and congratulate yourself on finishing.

Then dive back in the next day. :)

Your turn

What do you do to reward yourself for writing? Tell us in the comments.



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Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis


This Writer’s Life: How 5 Minutes of Daily Writing Can Change Your Life

Writers who tend to join the Called to Write Coaching Circle — and get the most out of it — often have both a deep call to write (whether they’re doing it consistently or not) and a specific project they want to work on, perhaps one half-completed, languishing on a shelf for a couple of years. And when they find out about the Circle, they’re eager to move past the dreaming or stuck stage into action.

This is the story of a man who has done just that.

Rikard-BergquistWhen he joined the Circle all the way from Sweden, Rikard Bergquist had been working on his novel intermittently, struggling to find enough time to write and to move past the outlining and preparation stage into writing actual New Words. And he had a little two-year-old daughter at the time too! (She’s three now.)

After being in the Circle for a session or two, continuing to write intermittently, and listening to me (harp on about :) ) advocate for early morning writing and small writing sessions as a powerful way to jump-start a writing habit, one of our other members “threw down the gauntlet” and challenged him to try writing for 5 minutes every day and logging in every day on the site to report about how it went for him. He took her up on the challenge. It changed his life.

In less than four months, after building from 5 minutes a day to a solid writing habit of 60 minutes a day, he knocked out 75,000 words and completed his first draft. He’s still with us in the Circle now, working on revisions. He is one of our most dedicated and consistent members, showing up to write and log in on the site even while traveling — he even met me for coffee in Berkeley here the other day to talk shop while on a trip to the U.S. from Sweden. It was great fun. :)

I asked “Rick” (as we affectionately call him in the Circle) to talk to us today about his experience with finishing his novel, how he got there, and what’s he’s learned about his writing process along the way. You may be surprised to find some ideas and inspiration you can adopt for yourself.

1. Rick, first, welcome and thanks for being here. Let’s start off by having you tell about your recent major milestone — finishing the first draft of your first novel. What was that like for you?

It was one of the most empowering and surprising experiences I’ve had. Empowering because finally this dream of a novel I’ve had for a couple of years was becoming a reality. I escaped the terror of the first draft and actually produced 75,000 words. Instead of laboring and trying to make early parts of the story perfect, writing and rewriting, outlining and rearranging the order of scenes, as well as reading the latest book on craft and thinking I finally got it, I did the work and now have a substantial number of written pages to show for it.

It was surprising because I did it by writing for about an hour every morning during four months — I never thought an hour a day would amount to anything. I surprised myself weekly when I saw what I had accomplished with just an hour every morning. I surrendered to the process, allowing myself to write badly, knowing that it was only the first stage in a big adventure. Overcoming that editor inside of me, who kept telling me it was crap, was a big victory. And my first draft is the result. Now I know that first drafts aren’t supposed to be outstanding perfect novels, they’re just supposed to be written.

2. Can you give us a soundbite about what the story is about and about who you are?

The story is set in the 1570s of Stockholm, Sweden. In a power struggle for the crown our hero supports a new queen for the throne, who turns out to be a murderer, poisoning her competition. When his secret love interest is surprisingly accused and imprisoned for the murder, without any hope of pardon, our hero has to choose between his career or saving her. And what price will he pay for the choice he makes?

I work in the financial industry, for a private equity company, with business development. It’s hands-on management in selected individual companies in a wide range of industries. Writing is for me a creative outlet and a possibility to follow a totally different path.

3. What have you learned about your writing process from participating in the  Circle?

Consistent daily work is key to my process. Being consistent means that I stay in touch with my writing, even though I might be working and doing other things during the day. The story evolves and develops in my subconscious, waiting to be served up during the next writing session. Setting goals and being accountable within the Circle, giving and receiving feedback on each others’ processes — in short, knowing that my efforts are noticed by others is a big motivator for me.

Focusing on the process rather than the craft, is a very important difference from other writing groups I’ve participated in. For me, this group is about focusing on getting the writing done, every day. What you write, how you write, and when you write is up to you. But do it every day. The accountability and support of the Circle is key to making that happen.

4. What were the biggest challenges you faced before joining the Circle? Have they changed?

My biggest challenge was finding time to write. I kept telling myself I needed chunks of at least 3-4 hours of undisturbed concentrated time to get anything done. I used to laugh at friends telling me how someone they knew had finished a novel by coming in 15 minutes early to the office and using that time to write. “It just isn’t possible,” I used to say, but now I know better. I kept on trying to find my big chunks of time, getting them here and there. It was a constant struggle. Looking back, I feel like I wasted a lot of time thinking about how to find time to write, but never doing the actual writing, and instead ending up feeling frustrated and lost. I knew I wanted to write, but why didn’t I just do it? I wrestled a lot with that question. With the help of the Circle I established a habit of rising early and writing for an hour every morning. Consistently.

5. When you first joined the Circle in May 2012, what was your writing habit like and how did it evolve? Were there any key moments where you shifted your habit? Was there a particular trigger or did it build over time for you?

At first my writing consisted of sporadic big chunks of time, where I spent the first part of each writing session reconnecting with my story and the latter part coming up with some new tweaks to my outline, synopsis, and characters. I always felt happy and satisfied afterwards, but not continuing to work on it over time always made me question my earlier work when I got back to it. And I was never moving into writing actual words, paragraphs, and chapters of the book, just staying at the outline stage.

There were two key moments for me — One: I followed the advice from you, Jenna, and fellow members of the Circle to adjust my target amount of writing time downward until I found a suitable amount that I could do consistently every day. For me that was five minutes. How amazed and surprised I was of the power of those five minutes. It changed my world — I connected on a deep level with my story and gradually increased the five minutes to sixty minutes per day. At first outlining scenes and then actually writing the first draft.

And this is where my second key moment occurred — Two: I could not get myself writing. I stalled. I reworked. I was stuck. Again following advice from the Circle I gave myself permission to write badly. I told myself “I am writing crap,” and suddenly I was writing about 750 words during that hour every morning. And surprise, it wasn’t all crap.

6. What advice do you have for other writers?

The only way to do it, is to do it. Complete the journey from the first page to the last page. If you can’t do this, it’s game over. Because without the first draft, you have nothing. You need a lot of faith to do it, faith in your unproven ability to write a novel. But give yourself permission to fail, to write crap, to make mistakes, to forget your outline and synopsis and before you know it, you will have your first draft.

7. What’s next for the novel and for your writing?

Right now I am revising the draft. Aiming at having a first rewrite done in a couple of months. There are times when I feel like giving up, but I now know that that’s only part of the writing life. It’s a constant flow of ups and downs, you just have to trust the process and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Finishing this first draft, I will turn it into my second and then my third, or as many as I need to finally hold an amazing novel in my hands.

8. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

Have faith, never give up, and know that in the end you’ll succeed. Once you’re in the habit of writing, trust the process to bring you to the finish line. If you feel down and lost during the journey, just tread water and wait for the next creative wave to come. It always does, have faith.

Thanks, Rikard!

Your turn

Join me in congratulating Rick on his big accomplishment and help cheer him on for his revisions! Leave a note for him in the comments. Feel free to ask questions too. Tell us what you think about writing for 5 minutes a day.



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