Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals, Part III: Boost Your Writing Progress (Or, How to Design a Writing Intensive)

Welcome back for the third part of my series, (You Can Still!) Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals. 

In last week's posts I wrote about Clearing the Decks for your writing and Reverse-Engineering & Revising Your Writing Goals. Today I'm writing about boosting your progress. Next time I'll talk about Setting Yourself Up for Success, so stay tuned for that posts, coming up soon.

Part III: Boost Your Writing Progress -- Or, Design a Writing Intensive

In my last post, I wrote about reverse engineering and revising your goals. The reason to assess your 2017 writing goals now is that we're within spitting distance of the end of the calendar year, and therefore the "deadline" for meeting 2017 goals ...before the clock strikes midnight. 

Even if you've decided to shift your goals forward into 2018 (I've done this with one of my writing goals), you may still want to do an extra "push" with your writing this year to boost your progress and move the ball down the field a little farther than you might get if you a) aren't writing as much as you'd like to, b) are catching up after a summer writing hiatus or slow-down, c) still want to try to meet your original goal, or d) need a leg up with your motivation.

Doing a focused burst of writing -- a short-term writing intensive -- is like doing a runner's wind sprint, where you alternate slower, steadier walking or slow running with more intense bursts of faster running. So doing a writing intensive is about temporarily picking up your pace, then downshifting back into your regular writing habit. (You have a regular writing habit, right? If you don't, check out my Circle for help.)

A focused stretch of writing can also serve another purpose: It allows you to go deeper into your writing. It's about putting the focus more intently on your writing. It's not just about writing faster or more -- but it's also about a quality of experience. Almost like carving out an at-home, immersive writing retreat for yourself. 

In the Deep Dive writing intensive I'm running (starting next week), we're creating this deeper experience by "clearing the decks" -- making space for focused, daily writing at a more intense level by eliminating obstacles and distractions. One of the things I talked about during the free clear the decks teleclass (which you can still listen to, if you're interested), is mentally making space for your writing, including thinking about what you're reading, watching, and thinking about during your writing intensive. 

Set Up a Writing Intensive for Yourself

Here's a simple strategy for creating a writing intensive for yourself:

  1. Give yourself a clear time period within which you'll complete your intensive, whether it's a day, weekend, week, or month.
  2. Clear the decks for your writing. Eliminate distractions, set up your life so you can focus on your writing.
  3. Get crystal clear on your writing goal for your intensive.
  4. Have a plan for how you'll complete your writing goal (more on this below).
  5. Implement your writing plan, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, step-by-step, task-by-task.
  6. Have a reward in mind you'll receive when you finish.

Have a Plan to Meet Your Writing Goal

When you're aiming to write efficiently, wind sprint style, you'll make more of your writing time if you go into it knowing exactly what you're working on. Sometimes writing is unwieldy at best, but you can still go into it with a clear intention and plan. 

The type of plan you develop will depend on where you are with your current book or script.

Here are samples of plans you could create for your writing intensive. The idea with all these plans is to give you a clear list of tasks to work through, one by one, so you can stay focused and efficient during your intensive rather than feeling overwhelmed, spinning in circles, or getting lost along the way.

  1. Story Development Intensive. If you're developing a new story, you can create a list of items you want to have answered before you start writing, so you can be crystal clear on your work plan (and so you'll know when you're done!). For example, you may want to have your plot points identified, your premise line written, your character profiles developed, and a scene-by-scene outline created, among other things. Here's my "Must Have" list before writing pages.
  2. New Writing Intensive. If you’re ready to start writing pages, you'll hopefully already have your own list of story development items complete and ready to go so you can just jump straight into writing pages. If you don't yet have your story developed, you could go back to the Story Development Intensive, and make your writing intensive about doing that work, or perhaps you prefer to just go for the "pantser" approach and write an intuitive stream-of-consciousness draft. That's a perfectly reasonable approach, and many writers swear by it. I would be remiss in not saying, though, that it can create one of the biggest challenges I see for writers who then have a potentially massive, disjointed draft they then have to face revising and editing.
  3. Organization Intensive. Perhaps you're at a different stage of work -- the organization stage. Many writers spend years drafting various versions and pieces of a manuscript and then find themselves overwhelmed with all the parts and sections. If you're in this boat, you'll want to make a plan for how you'll address getting it organized. I recommend you start by cataloguing what you have and where it's located, along with a single sentence summarizing each section. While you're at it, you may want to develop a numbering or naming scheme for your digital and paper files. Once you know where everything is, and what it is, you can move into developing a plan for adding additional writing or moving into the revision stage if you have everything you need (writing additional scenes or chapters can be a natural part of a revision plan, after all). Organizing is a great thing to tackle in an intensive because it's one of those onerous tasks often best handled in a big burst of work.
  4. Story Analysis Intensive. If you're at the stage where you have a draft, but you're not ready to begin revising because you know your story needs more in-depth work, you may want to check out Shawn Coyne's The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know * as a process for analyzing your work. Tackling this level of work could potentially become the entirety of what you do for a writing intensive, depending on how much time you have set aside, or it could be the first stages of a revision intensive.
  5. Revision Intensive. If you're revising, I strongly recommend having a revision plan in place before you begin. You could use a Story Grid plan, or use a different approach. I'm a fan of Rachel Aaron's revision approach in her book 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love,* where she has you make a to-do list, a reverse outline, and a timeline for your story so you can more efficiently dip in and out of your story to make corrections and revisions. It's also worth prioritizing your to-do list from largest to smallest changes, so you're not undoing work if you suddenly cut a large swath of text.  
  6. Polishing Intensive. If you're at the final stage, you can do a polishing intensive to spine and proofread your final draft. This may involve first doing a pass through the manuscript to make small changes throughout the text, then printing and proofreading the draft, then making the changes in the final version.

In my own case, I'm currently working on revising pages for the screenplay I'm working on. Since it's a fairly major revision, the steps I've taken to get to this stage include:

  • Meeting with the producer I'm working with and getting his feedback and notes on the prior draft.
  • Summarizing our notes so I could see what needed to be changed and what would stay the same.
  • Reverse outlining the prior draft.
  • Reworking the GMC for the characters.
  • Reworking my Story Grid Foolscap for the overall story (and all of the many things that entails).
  • Reworking the plot points and handling the ripple-effect changes they created.
  • Creating a new scene-by-scene outline for the story, including a scene event, goal, motivation, and conflict for each scene. 
  • Collecting all the scenes from the prior draft that are rework-able and adding them into my new draft in Scrivener.
  • Starting to rewrite those existing scenes and write new scenes as I move through the script -- and this is what I'll be continuing to do before and during the Deep Dive.

Got questions? Comments?

Leave them in the comments and I'll be happy to respond. :) 

And check out Part I, here: Clearing the Decks, Part II, here: Reverse Engineer and Revise Your Goals, 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

 

* Amazon affiliate link

My “Must Have” List Before Writing Pages

In a recent post I wrote about what "counts" as writing. I promised to share some of the story development steps I take before I'm willing to begin writing actual new pages; hence this post. This is a work in progress for me; I'm constantly working to hone and improve my writing skills, so I'm sure it will continue to evolve as I evolve as a writer.

Here's what I currently like to have before starting to write, in approximate order:

  • Goals, Motivation, and Conflict (GMC) for Main Characters: The goals, motivation, and conflict for each of my primary characters so I stay in touch with what they're doing, why they're doing it, and what gets in their way over the course of the story. (This link will take you a more detailed article about GMC.)
  • Character Profiles: I write character profiles for my primary and secondary characters detailing their personality traits, flaws, character arcs, and more. (This link takes you to the same place as the one above, where you can also download a free character profile template that includes GMC.)
  • Logline: A twenty-five word summary of the story, including its best hook.
  • Premise Line: A longer summary of the story, using Jeff Lyons's method for mapping the core structural story elements to a premise line template.
  • Theme and Message: What's this story about? This is one of those things I'm usually guessing at when I first start —it often doesn't become clear until I've written one or more drafts, but I like to take a stab at it before I begin. More on this in the future.
  • Internal and External Content Genres: I like to use Shawn Coyne's The Story Grid* to get clear on the external and internal content genres of the story to help me make sure I'm staying in touch with the theme and intent of the story I'm aiming to tell.
  • Key Story Values: I also like Shawn's approach to identifying the key values at play in the story (as indicated by the content genres) and make sure (to the extent of my current abilities!) that I also understand their gradations along the spectrum from positive to opposite/contrary to negative/contradictory to the negation of the negation that I'll be exploring over the course of the story.
  • Primary Plot Points: I detail my primary plot points, using a cobbled-together version of the many variations I've learned over the years. These tie in well with the mini-movie method I use (developed by Chris Soth) and help break a story down into smaller chunks.
    • Opening
    • Inciting Incident
    • End of Act I, Lock In, Plot Point #1
    • First Pinch Point
    • Midpoint
    • Second Pinch Point
    • End of Act II, Cave Moment/All Is Lost, Plot Point #2
    • Crisis
    • Climax
    • Resolution
  • Plot Backstory: I like to write out a summary in prose of what's happened leading up to the story. Who was doing what before we enter this story world's timeline? 
  • Scene by Scene Outline: I also like to have a scene by scene outline before I start writing scenes. I identify their location (with a slugline, since I'm writing scripts), the essence of what happens in the scene, and several other elements. I use a scene template that I'll share with you at some point.
  • Treatment/Synopsis (Optional): I may also write a treatment or synopsis for the story, knowing it will likely change as I write the actual story, just to give myself a little more guidance about what happens. Usually I'll do this before a scene outline.
  • Query Letter (Optional): Sometimes I'll even take a stab at writing a query letter for the project to help me identify the hooks for the story and what to focus on building strongly.
  • Timeline or other organizing structural tools (Optional, if the story demands it): If needed, I'll create a timeline for the project (particularly valuable for time travel stories!) or create other project specific organizational systems if the story requires it. This is one of those gut-level things for me.

Once I have all these pieces of the puzzle assembled, that's when I'll feel more confident about starting pages. Sure, some may change, but it gives me a road map and greatly streamlines the writing process for me. I'm also finding that I'm asking myself to stay longer and go deeper with each element, in order to feel more solid about it before diving in. 

What do you like to have before you start writing pages, if anything? Or are you more of a pantser when it comes to writing pages? I'd love to hear about your approach in the comments.

* Affiliate link

 

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 yesterday, 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).

I've given you the quick version here. Jeff went into more detail during the class, which I highly recommend you listen to if this is of interest to you.

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Would you like to learn more?

Jeff will be teaching this entire system in much more detail at a live upcoming workshop that I'm co-hosting with him here in Berkeley, California on October 26 and 27. We'd love to have you join us!

In the Rapid Story Development workshop, you'll discover:

  • You will learn the basics of the Enneagram system and how it works to build stories, including hands-on exercises to illustrate how each Enneagram style operates and is motivated.
  • Your own Enneagram type, which will help you become a more conscious writer, so you can consciously know what you're writing, how you're writing, and why.
  • Deeper insights into the specifics of the Enneagram that inform how to set up truly compelling conflict, both story-wide and at the scene-level.
  • How to create antagonists that are perfectly designed to challenge your protagonists in a deeper way -- no more generic "bad guys"!
  • How to design and understand your character's natural motivations, communication styles, and conflict styles so that each character can have a unique and identifiable voice -- the end of characters all sounding the same!
  • How to translate your nebulous story ideas into a compelling narrative throughline that works from start to finish -- everything naturally intertwined to create a story that just feels right.
  • How to land on the underpinnings for key story beats, like your inciting incidents, turning points, midpoint complications, etc, so that they keep your story moving forward naturally without feeling forced.

You CAN learn a lot about this information in books and online -- in a piecemeal way. But no one other than Jeff has put this information together in such a cohesive system, and there's nothing quite like learning it in a hands-on, immersion environment with a master teacher right at your side. Plus, Jeff will be doing 1:1 story development work with every participant (either live in the workshop or following the workshop by phone), which is not to be missed.

Find out more details and register at http://RapidStoryDevelopment.com (note that this link will take you to Jeff's website to register).

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.

Warmly,

 Jenna

You may also be interested in:

* Affiliate link
Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Using the Enneagram for Story Development

Lyons Fin 018In the first class of my interview series with Enneagram and story development expert Jeff Lyons yesterday, 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.

We hope you'll join us! You can find out more about the teleclass series and register here. Don't worry if you missed the first class, you can catch up with the recording.

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.

Warmly,

 Jenna

You may also be interested in:

 

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