6 Takeaways From Rewriting “The Seventh”

I can’t believe it, but I’ve worked on two different screenwriting assignments this year, all while taking care of my little toddler, who just turned two in May. It hasn’t been exactly easy, but it’s been incredibly inspiring. There’s nothing quite like working on a screenplay with a deadline to shift one’s motivation into high gear. ;)

I recently shared that I’d overhauled my character profile template in the course of working on this latest assignment. Now I want to share some of the other things I learned through the process of working on this gig. This was a rewrite project, so it was almost like being hired as a script doctor, but since I’m also sharing writing credit for the project it’s a little different than being a true script doctor, which is often uncredited work. The project is called The Seventh, and it turned out to be incredibly fun to rewrite someone else’s work (not at all like rewriting my own!).

Here are six unexpected takeaways I gained from working on this project:

  1. Reverse-outlining pays off. Before I dove into the actual rewrite, I reverse outlined the entire script. I exported it from Final Draft into Scrivener and then into Numbers (the Mac version of Excel) so I could have a spreadsheet I could easily study all in one place. I like the Navigator in Final Draft and the outline view in Scrivener, but for this, I wanted something I could easily see in one place and control in ways that I wanted.

    Once I had the scene headings from Final Draft imported into Numbers, I went through each scene and summarized what happened in a few short sentences. Then I made notes about issues I noticed as I worked through. I also numbered the scenes. The beauty of doing this work is that it highlighted story issues, pointed out plot holes, and helped me get clear on the natural story breaks and sequences, and how well they were working, or not. Since I like to work in mini-movies (approximately 15 minute sequences) it helped me to see how well the script was working with that pattern and showed me where I needed to tweak it.

    What made this so fun was that it was like being a sleuth, digging in, finding what was working and what wasn’t. Very satisfying!

  2. Backstory matters. I knew this before. But now I KNOW it. Working on someone else’s project gave me more courage to dig deep into the how’s and why’s of everything. I couldn’t write it unless I understood it. With my own projects, I’ve been more cavalier about understanding where everyone comes from and why they’re doing what they’re doing, thinking I’d figure it out along the way (and of course I learned more about these characters even as I worked with them).

    But there was something about delving into all the details and leaving no stone unturned when it came to even the slightest motivation or plot hole to get our story strong and straight. This is, of course, particularly important with a complex sci-fi world such as the one in The Seventh, but as I’ve watched and read other stories lately it’s gotten crystal clear — the characters exist before they come onto the scene in our stories. They have histories. Issues. Relationships. And all those come to bear on the decisions they make and the motivations they bring to the scenes they’re in.

    We went through several different iterations of the backstory, and the feeling of finally getting a lock on it was thrilling, particularly because we didn’t give up on it until it truly worked.

  3. Having a rewrite plan helps, but it’s not set in stone. We went into the rewrite knowing we had a certain number of days to accomplish it (40 days). And we calculated approximately how many days I could spend rewriting each 15-page section of the script to hit our deadline. But as we went into it, we found ourselves spending more time on the backstory and world building than we’d anticipated. QUITE a bit more. Which meant that I had to compress my timeline.

    The other unexpected variable was that the script got longer, due to a variety of factors. So my calculation of a number of pages per day didn’t exactly match what I actually had to write. So again, I adapted.

    A third monkey wrench was what one of the writers in my program calls a “black hole” section, where the whole thing just takes a lot longer than expected to sort out. Not all 15 page sections are created equal, after all!

  4. Tracking progress helps keep the ship on course. Despite the shifts in the winds of rewriting, because I carefully tracked my progress, I was able to see where I was, and where I needed to end up. In the graphic below, you can see my revision plan in the upper table, essentially starting on June 3rd. We’d intended to start much earlier, but as I mentioned, the backstory and world building work ended up taking 14 days. In the lower table, you can see the number of pages I worked on each day or block of days.

    This is one of those things I geek out about — watching my progress build, seeing how I’m staying on track (or not) helps make it exciting and fun and keeps me from getting lost in the “I’ll never make it” doldrums my inner critic likes to dish out. And I could easily tell my writing partner how close I was to being on schedule at any given point.
    The Seventh Rewrite Process

  5. Having a great writing partner is huge. I was thrilled to work with my co-writer on the rewrite, the original author of this script. I did all the rewriting work, but we worked closely together throughout the process. It was a huge source of fun and delight for me to have someone to bounce ideas off, run problems by, and generally dig deep into the story together. My co-writer was particularly good at keeping his ego out of the way and working hard with me on making sure the story improved. It was inspiring and impressive. Plus it turns out it’s just wicked fun to help make someone else’s writing that much better.
  6. Screenwriting every day for 40 days was empowering. Since having my second kiddo, I’ve been interspersing stretches of screenwriting with other writing (blogging, course writing, product writing, etc.) and while that’s been easier for me to manage, it’s been a little disorienting. I loved the feeling of ending each day feeling like I’d really USED my brain for my truest deepest calling — writing fiction. That expression “die empty” felt very apropos. Each evening, as I went to bed, I felt complete in way I don’t feel when I’m not writing fiction. It was amazing.

Interestingly, when I was first offered this writing gig, I turned it down, based on my level of busyness as a mom, as a writer of my own projects, and as an entrepreneur. But in the end, it was a delightful experience all around and one I’m truly grateful to have been asked to be involved in. I can’t wait to see what happens with The Seventh as it continues to evolve!


With Creativity Comes Confidence: A Lesson from a Sci Fi Genius

In working with my Artist’s Way Accountability & Support Group today, I was reminded of a novel I read recently called Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi.

The book is a fun, lighthearted romp about a film agent who ends up being the P.R. guy for a group of ugly aliens wanting to be accepted by the earthlings despite their extremely off-putting appearance and odor. A highly entertaining read and clever story, to say the least.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Beyond the unusual plot line, what particularly endeared me to the book was that it was Scalzi’s very first novel and one he wrote as a “practice” novel just so he could say that he had done it (and to impress his classmates at his 10 year high school reunion :) ).

Here’s what he has to say about it on his website (where, by the way, you can read the whole novel):

“In sitting down to write the novel, I decided to make it easy on myself. I decided first that I wasn’t going to try to write something near and dear to my heart, just a fun story. That way, if I screwed it up (which was a real possibility), it wasn’t like I was screwing up the One Story That Mattered To Me. I decided also that the goal of writing the novel was the actual writing of it — not the selling of it, which is usually the goal of a novelist. I didn’t want to worry about whether it was good enough to sell; I just wanted to have the experience of writing a story over the length of a novel, and see what I thought about it. Not every writer is a novelist; I wanted to see if I was.

“Making these two decisions freed me from a lot of the usual angst and pain that comes from writing a first novel. This was in all respects a ‘practice’ novel — a setting for me to play with the form to see what worked, and what didn’t, and what I’d need to do to make the next novel worth selling.”

The genius of this was that it freed him from the zeitgeist of perfectionism (a trap many of us, including me, know only too well) and allowed him to loosen up, have some fun, and get into action with Doing The Writing.

He made some attempts at selling it, but wasn’t able to, so he ended up posting it online for donations from people if they liked it on a kind of “shareware” basis. (Love that!) He was later invited to do a limited edition hardcover release of the book in 2005 and then in paperback in 2008.

Build Your Confidence

Magically, he says, “…between the writing of this novel and the publication of [my second novel], five other books slipped out of my brain, due in some measure to my confidence that I could write book-length works, be they fiction or non-fiction.”

Love that, too.

Isn’t it fascinating how simply Doing The Writing (or Doing The Work) helps us to build the confidence we think we need “before” we can do it “for real.” This clever guy found a way to do both at once.

(On a similar note, funny how this often comes up for entrepreneurs, coaches, and artists around having enough “credibility” to do what we want to do. So often I hear people talking about getting “certified” first, taking one more training,  getting the “right” website designed, or crafting the “right” progam. I make those mistakes too — my coach just busted me on this very thing this very morning, hello!)


There is nothing like finding small ways to get started to help build your confidence around new skills.

For instance, I took a screenwriting class last summer and then signed myself up for a short screenplay writing competition to put my skills to the test. And my first script came in 3rd place in my group! My two subsequent scripts did not “score” in quite the same way, but simply the act of creating all of them gave me a sense of confidence and comfort around putting the pieces together to make a plausible script.

Since I have never written any fiction before this, I was so pleased with gaining the sense of, “Oh, yes, I can do this!” Even if I have more to learn (there’s always more), I’m off to a good start.

Reminds me of what a numerologist told me about my Life Lesson once upon a time, “With creativity comes confidence.”


How does this inspire you?

I’d love to have you share your comments on the blog.


What’s Jenna Up To?

~> April 20, 2011. Speaking at the Thriving Practice Workshop Series in Berkeley, California on creating a web presence and using social media to reach clients.

~>April 23, 2011. Next broadcast of my Radio Lightworker radio show “Dreamification” on “Visioning and Moving Ahead With Your Dreams Even in the Face of Fear.” Details. Listen from anywhere in the world to this Internet radio show.

~> April 26th, 2011. My Artist’s Way Accountability & Support Group continues. Details.

Band of Misfits, or Voices of Reason? Guest Post by Kristine Carey

Kristine CareyThis is a guest post by Kristine Carey, an expert coach and speaker with years of experience helping entrepreneurs love their work (and life!) who is passionate about you unplugging from the collective and finding success on your own terms, to simplify and return ease, fun and meaning to work.

I rewatched the latest Star Trek today; one of the things I like about it is the story of how all the core crew got to know each other.

When you look at them as individuals they are clearly the smarty pants of their class. And yet another quality also stands out: They are all misfits.

Kirk is the consummate rebel who doesn’t believe in no win scenarios. Spock, as much as he appears to play by the rules, gives the metaphorical finger to the Vulcan High Council and joins Star Fleet.

Scotty is assigned to a snowy planet in the middle of no where for proposing, and experimenting with, transporter technology that others said wasn’t possible. And McCoy, having lost Earth to his ex-wife (“my ex-wife got the whole damn planet in the divorce; all I’ve got are my Bones”), takes his belief of integrity and doing what’s right to the stars.

All misfits in a certain sense — all possessing the necessary mettle to do what’s right, and what’s needed, when called upon, despite what convention may say. They come to rely on each other’s quirks, lean into the unlikely combination they present, the possibilities they create together.

Who’s Got Your Back?

I’m wondering: Who’s got your back?

Do you run with a crowd that follows the rules and plays it safe?

Or do you listen to those whose voices are outside the mainstream? What unconventional voices are whispering in your ear right now, encouraging you to do something wild, take a gamble that just might payoff?

Be unconventional; look to the periphery for inspiration, what your next, right action may be. And look for those hanging around on the rim with you, leverage their particular brand of crazy, and see how far you can go together.

Question: What’s your brand of crazy, how can you leverage it, and who can you get to come on this journey with you?

Commit to Your Big Dream

Because Dreaming Big is the best place to start…

My Big Dream (in addition to making a Big Difference in the world for others) is to be a writer — a Sci Fi writer no less, though most likely also a self-help writer Revolutionary Philosopher as well.

About a week ago I wrote my very first sci fi screenplay, under the gun of a competition deadline no less (big yikes). It may not be my best work ever, and it may not win the round I was competing in, but I DID IT. That’s what counts to me.

Since then, as I’ve been crafting and clarifying my next Big Direction for my coaching business (seems like everything is getting Big around here all of a sudden; I like it!), I realized that I need to make a much Bigger :) commitment to my own Big Dream.

… And does even better with a commitment

So, I just cleared space in my calendar every workday (that’s Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday) for one hour of writing time. And during that time, I will NOT be writing ezines, or blog posts, or articles, or web copy. Oh no.

What I WILL be doing is writing my feature length screenplay, come hell or high water. I will allow other Big writing projects during that time, e.g. writing my book, “Hey Folks, We’re Doing It All Wrong,” if I’m overcome with a massive inspiration. But it has to be Big Writing to qualify for that time block.

… And follow through

I intend to let you know how it’s going on the blog as a weekly accountability deal.

I’m not quite sure how I’ll handle it when I’m away or facilitating retreats quite yet (probably I’ll have to do a little schedule rearranging), but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

(I’m also sure my organizing coach will have some suggestions, and she’s the only one allowed to comment on this matter (see my request below). :) )

Drum roll, please, for the Big Invitation

This is where you come in: I’d like to invite you to join me. What’s your Big Dream? How have you committed to making it happen? I want to help you get your art, your message, or your movement to your audience, too.

Take a moment to think about your Big Dream and share what it is in the comments section below. Then tell us, how are you committing to making that happen?


In the spirit of Havi Brooks’ “Comment Zen,” I have this request:

Since I am exploring how to be more transparent, raw, vulnerable, and in my full, messy delicious creative energy in my posts, here’s what I would love to hear:

  • How you personally are doing whatever I’m writing about for yourself.
  • How my writing sparks something for you.
  • About your own stories, ideas, musings, and wonderings.

And I would love to skip:

  • You feeling like you need to take care of me, give me useful suggestions, or other well-meaning but unsolicited advice.

Thank you!


What’s Jenna Up To?

~> January 21st & 22nd, 2011. Voice Your Vision Mastermind Retreat. In-Person Workshop in Berkeley, California. Clarify your unique vision to implement your Life Purpose in a specific, step-by-step plan. Details: www.VoiceYourVisionWithJenna.com

~> January 27th & 28th, 2011. Powerful Strategies to Slay Your Inner Critic Demons So You Can Leap Into the Creative Spotlight.” Appearing as a guest expert at Baeth Davis’s “Claim Your Spotlight” program in Los Angeles, California.

~> NEW DATE: February 22, 2011. Virtual Workshop: Claim Your Calling: 5 Steps To Get You Back On Track With What You Were Put Here To Do. Details. Early registration ends January 27th.


Wisdom From Arthur C. Clarke: Breaking the Mold with Purpose and Creativity

One of my all-time favorite science fiction books is The City and The Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke. I believe it was the first sci-fi book I ever read.

This magical story details the life of Alvin, a “Unique,” who has never been born before.

In the fully enclosed, domed city of Diaspar, everyone else has lived many lives — they are reborn cyclically from the city’s Central Computer banks — and their memories of their past lives return to them on their 20th birthdays. Alvin has no prior memories.

Alvin’s uniqueness was deliberately designed. Because the city creators knew that the measures put into place to protect the last of the human race might someday no longer be needed (including behavioral inhibitions to keep everyone safe at home), they knew that a catalyst would be required to test the waters and breakthrough old paradigms when the time was right.

Over the billion years the city existed and of the millions of city inhabitants at any given time, only 14 other Uniques emerged to play this key role in the fate and future of the city.

Unfortunately for Alvin, as someone with such a unique purpose and role to play, he didn’t fit in well with his co-habitants. None of the other people in his life were interested in seeing what was beyond the walls, or questioning why things were they way they were.

One day, Alvin met another unique character: Khedron, the Jester. Although Khedron had lived before, he too was designed to play a key role — the role of the artist and the saboteur — with the purpose of shaking things up, stimulating discourse and debate, and catalyzing other catalysts (the Uniques) into action.

The city planners had chosen his role with care: They realized that a billion-year-old city would get downright boring and complacent without periodical upheaval, crime, disorder, and change.

Although the Jester had lived before, and had his own implanted inhibitions, he operated outside the societal norms and could help Alvin to claim his purpose and to act on it. Khedron became Alvin’s muse, in a sense.

Ultimately, Alvin ventured beyond the city walls to discover the self-imposed secret truths that kept the human race cowering on planet Earth and fulfilled his purpose.

I share this story with you for a number of reasons:

  • I love the demonstration of purpose — of how a single individual can have a lasting impact — and how compelling that purpose can be. Alvin could not rest until he had fulfilled his purpose. Khedron fulfilled his purpose as well. Each had a role to play.
  • I also love how The Jester — the archetypal fool — demonstrated the powerful role an artist plays in a society. Often creativity and art are thought of as gratuitous or entertaining, but this story caused me to see creativity as a powerful force for change, learning, growth, healing, and understanding. When I hear people debating or disliking an art piece (particularly a public art piece), I smile to myself, and think, “Good! That artist is fulfilling her purpose — she’s got people talking.”
  • I love the idea that not fitting the mold is not only “designed” but is the key ingredient for success. The discomfort both characters experienced as “different” parallels the lives of many sensitives and creatives as we navigate this world not well-designed for us. Precisely because of the fear of being different, or rocking the boat, many of us hold back. But as sensitive sages and visionary creatives, when we hold back, we fail to fulfill our purpose. We must recognize that not fitting in is part of our impetus to fulfill our purpose.
  • I love the reminder that we require muses and supporters as we breakthrough the limitations imposed on us (self-imposed and otherwise). As my teacher Sonia says, “We cannot do this alone.”


What do you think?
I’d love to hear from you:

  • What does this spark for you?
  • Where are you ready to venture into new territory?
  • What status quo paradigm are you longing to challenge?
  • Who is your Khedron or muse?

Please share your comments and thoughts on the blog below.