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When You Master Craft, It Opens Up A Whole New Level Of Confidence and Belief In Yourself

I wrote my first novel back in 2008. I was SO proud of myself the day I wrote “the end” on my first draft. And I fought hard to get that draft finished–I actually wrote the final chapter in the dark, by candle light, during Hurricaine Ike, on a laptop with a dying battery.

I was that committed to finishing.

After I finished I popped the bottle of champagne I bought for that very occasion. I was beyond excited. I finally did something I’d been wanting to do for most of my life… write a novel.

But little did I know, that was just the very early beginning stages of my fiction writing career. Because while I did have a first draft, what I didn’t have was a novel.

Instead I had an episodic narrative of a character’s day-to-day life. And that is not a novel. It’s barely even a story.

Because a novel–and a story–are very specific things. They have criteria and principles. If you don’t follow them, you’re not technically writing a novel (or a story).

In 2009, after months of trying to revise the first draft of my novel and getting nowhere, I finally accepted that I didn’t know what I was doing. Despite having read thousands of novels over the years and taking dozens of fiction writing classes and reading dozens of books on writing.

Because having read a ton of novels isn’t enough. Taking a few classes or reading a bunch of writing how-to books isn’t enough. Writing a compelling, cohesive, engaging story takes more than that.

Thankfully, not long after I accepted that I didn’t know what I was doing, I came across a blog post that totally changed my life. It was a blog post about story structure, written by best selling novelist and author, Larry Brooks.

I remember sitting on my couch, reading the article and feeling like the entire world had just opened up to me. I felt like I’d found the holy grail of storytelling.

Structure.

As I sat there reading the article over and over and over again, taking it all in, I finally got why nothing I’d written prior to that moment ever worked. I finally understood the core of craft.

Structure.

All stories must have structure. All stories must have plot points that fit specific criteria and fall at specific places in the story.

That day in 2009 was the first time I’d ever heard of story structure, and I’d taken evey class and read every book I could get my hands on. No one talked about structure, or at least, they didn’t talk about it in a way that actually made sense to me.

Larry’s article on structure filled in all the gaps that were left by the books and the classes I’d taken all those years. And I knew my writing life would never, ever be the same again.

I spent the next five years studying craft–and especially structure–like my life depended on it. I watched 2-3 movies every single day, breaking down the story and paying attention to the execution of the plot points. I devoured every blog post and eBook Larry Brooks had available at that point (and every post and book since as well).

I made it my mission to not only master the craft of storytelling for myself, but also to teach it to other writers, so I could save them the years of stuggle and stress I went through trying to write a story that worked.

Eight years after I found that article by Larry on story structure, I have mastered the craft of storytelling (although I’d argue no one ever really masters it because there’s always a new layer or level of understanding you can get to). And now, as I gear up to write my first screenplay, I’m feeling insanely confident in my ability to do a good job.

BUT even with all the studying and practice I’ve had these last eight years, I’m still re-reading Screenplay by Syd Field and I’m still watching 2-3 movies a night and studying the structure and scene execution, and I’m still looking up screenplays online and reading them.

Because even though I know craft and I know structure and I can pretty much do that shit in my sleep now, I also know that I can always learn more and do better.

I’ve committed to being a lifelong student of story. And I’m not dumb enough to think that just because I’ve watched thousands of movies in my life means I can just sit down and write a screenplay (nope!!).

All of this practice and studying and implementing on my own stories has made me feel amazing about my ability to tell a kick-ass story. I may not be the world’s greatest prose writer, but I’m a damn good storyteller.

I believe in my stories and I have confidence that I can turn any idea in my head into a compelling, engaging story that my ideal readers (or viewers) will love.

And that confidence and belief in myself came from being willing to do what others aren’t.

Most people won’t spend years of their lives studying story. Most won’t watch 2-3 movies a night and break down the structure. Most won’t put off the writing for months on end until they’ve got a solid story plan.

But I will.

So now as I move into a whole new arena (screenwriting), I still feel damn good about my ability to tell a great story. I know there’s still a lot for me to learn and I’m open to learning all of it.

And I fully believe in my stories and in myself as a storyteller. That came as a byproduct of my willingness to dive in and master craft.

Want to amp up your confidence and belief in yourself as a storyteller? Stop telling yourself that just because you’ve read a bunch of novels means you can write one.

Master craft. Study story like your life depends on it. And commit to being a life-long student of story.

It’s the only way.

Dream life or bust,

 

 

#DreamLifeOrBust #DailyThinkDifferent

P.S. I’m opening a few spots this week to work privately with me on planning and developing your story idea into a cohesive, engaging story roadmap that you can use to write your first draft. Private coaching isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve been wanting to work with me on your story, stay tuned…

Here’s Why You’ve Gotta Put First Thing’s First

The last few days I’ve been Upper Limiting like a mofo and I’ve been feeling really annoyed and even resentful of all the stuff I had to do (especially work-related stuff). I was also self-sabotaging by napping too much and only doing the bare-minimum work every day.

And that was making me even more annoyed.

This past weekend it all just got worse. I seriously found myself questioning everything I’m doing and literally wanting to tear down my entire business and rebuild it from scratch. It took me ’til last night to finally realize what the real problem was.

Last night I realized that over the last few days–and especially the days where I was feeling the most annoyed and resentful–I hadn’t been working on my novel revisions. 

Instead, I kept putting everything else I had to do before the revisions, and was watching the draft sit on my coffee table , but I wasn’t touching it. BIG PROBLEM!

Because writing novels–writing fictional stories–is my soul’s work. It’s the one thing I am meant to do, more than anything else that I’m meant to do. It’s the one thing that truly feeds my soul and fuels me to stay motivated and productive in other areas of my business and life.

But I wasn’t doing the work.

After I realized that’s what the problem was, I hit up my accountability buddy about it and she suggested that we support each other in making sure we do AT LEAST 15 minutes of work on our fiction every single day, no matter what.

‘Cause that’s the thing about your soul’s work. If you don’t do it and if you don’t make it a priority, it will ruin everything else in your life. It will make you feel angry, annoyed, resentful, and a whole array of other things that you don’t really need to be feeling.

This morning, before I did any of the other work I needed to do, I spent 30 minutes working on my novel revisions. After that I was able to quickly complete the other tasks on my list.

But on the days when I don’t do that? On the days when I think all the other stuff I need to do is more important than my fiction?

That’s when my life, my business and my happiness starts to suffer. 

And it doesn’t have to be like that. You can intentionally choose to put first thing’s first, every single day, and do the work your soul calls you to do.

The thing you’ve gotta remember is that it’s a CHOICE. It’s a choice to put your writing–your soul’s work–before everything else. And even if it’s a tough choice–or sometimes feels like an impossible choice–choose it anyways.

Because in doing the soul’s work first–in making your soul’s work a PRIORITY–everything else will work better. Everything else will fall into place, and you’ll be happier and more motivated and productive, because your soul work is done for the day.

Fifteen minutes a day. That’s the bare minimum you need to focus on your soul’s work. And if you do that, you’ll find yourself a totally different person. 

Your soul’s work is important. It’s imperative. And if you’re not doing it, that could be why other parts of your life aren’t working as well as they could be.

You can’t ignore your soul’s work and still be happy. You can’t ignore it and be motivated and productive. You can’t because you’ll walk around feeling resentful of all the stuff you have to do or all the stuff you’re doing that doesn’t feed your soul.

And your creativity will suffer.

Don’t do that to yourself. Make a commitment right now TODAY that you will put your soul’s work first. That you will spend at least 15 minutes a day, every day, working on the writing that makes you feel ALIVE.

If you do this, I promise you, you’ll see significant improvements in your mood, your productivity, your motivation, your personal relationships and more.

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What’s your soul’s work? Share in the comments. 

The new-and-improved Bestselling Author Mastermind will be opening its doors to new members soon! Get on the waitlist here so you’re the first to know when the doors open. 

I’m On Periscope! Check Out My Replays…

I’m sure by now you’ve heard of Periscope, the live-streaming video app from the people behind Twitter. If you haven’t, you can learn more by going to the app store on your smartphone and downloading the Periscope app. Once you do that, you can watch live broadcasts, interact with the broadcaster, ask questions/chat, and give “hearts” (Periscope’s version of “likes”).

I’ve been doing tons of Scopes lately, covering all different writing-related topics, like how to create playlists for your stories, whether or not story structure is formulaic, the 6-week story planning process and more.

You can find me on Periscope at @JenniferBlanchard. 

And since not everyone is available when I do the Scopes live, I created a landing page where you can go to view all of the replays. I will be posting all of the video recordings on there when I’m finished with the live broadcasts.

>> Check out my Periscope video replays

What’s your handle on Periscope? Let me know in the comments so I can follow you!

The Author Intensive: Planning and Development

Over the 18 years that it took me to finally publish my first novel, I’ve developed a lot of processes and strategies for getting things done, and for coping with the BS that pops up and tries to get in your way. And I wanted to share these processes, to help other writers who are struggling with writing their novels.

So I’ve created the Author Intensive: Planning and Development, a 6-week, one-on-one program where I walk you step-by-step through the process of planning and developing your story.

This is the exact process I use to plan and develop all of my stories, including SoundCheck, my debut novel. My process is based on the storytelling principles my mentor, Larry Brooks, shared in his bestselling writing book, Story Engineering.

The purpose of this program is to help you start your story off on the right foot, by figuring out how to make it work before you spend any time writing the first draft.

I know how frustrating it can be to get 25,000 words into a story and realize you don’t know where you’re going and you have no idea how to end it.

If you figure that stuff out first, you’ll be off to the races. 

>> Learn more about the Author Intensive: P&D

 

Why You Should Ignore Your Characters and Know Your Ending Ahead of Time

When I wrote my first novel back in 2008, I had no idea how it was going to end. I wasn’t even really sure how it was going to start, or what was going to happen along the way. All I knew was that my protagonist wanted to end up with the guy.

Except that wasn’t a good fit for the real story that wanted to be told; the real story that was hiding below the surface. I just needed to dig deep enough to find it.

The real story had a different ending in mind.

But I didn’t listen. Instead, I wrote the ending my character wanted.

Turned out that was the wrong decision (and my story didn’t work).

You’ve Gotta Ignore Your Characters

I’ve been told by writing teachers that characters speak to us and we need to listen to them. That our characters hold the keys to the story.

The thing is, though, that’s a bunch of garbage.

Sure, characters do speak to you, but you definitely don’t have to listen to what they have to say. And, really, you shouldn’t listen to them. You should pretty much ignore 90 percent of what they tell you.

They do not hold the keys to your story.

It’s up to you as the writer to guide the story’s direction. You, the writer, already have the keys to the story–you just have to unlock it. 

The truth is, characters are never going to put themselves in conflicted enough situations to make a good story. Characters just aren’t brave enough for something like that.

You as the author have to make your characters be brave by throwing them into situations they aren’t expecting, and allowing them to learn and grow and change throughout the story.

You’ve gotta figure out the story you want to tell ahead of time, so that you can know exactly what type of situations you need to construct for your characters to play in. And you’ve gotta know how the story’s gonna end.

Because when you don’t know how the story’s going to end, that makes it impossible to do things, like set up what’s to come, foreshadow or make things flow like they should.

You’ve Gotta Know Your Ending

You’ve probably watched quite a few movies in your lifetime so far. Now think of this–what if the movie writers had no idea how the movie was going to end?

What if they just decided to write along and see what unfolded?

You’d be watching a pretty boring movie. Because nothing would be happening. You’d just be watching characters move from one day to another. Completely episodic.

And that’s not what stories are made of.

Stories gotta have a mission–a purpose. The protagonist needs to want something bad enough to be willing to go after it. And you have to leave little hints along the way at what’s to come.

You won’t be able to do that if you write your story before you know the ending.

So, When Should You Write Your Story?

Unless you want to write several full drafts before you discover what your story is about, you shouldn’t sit down to write your draft until you know the following information:

  • Your Story Structure–your story’s gotta have structure: a First Plot Point, Midpoint, Second Plot Point and two Pinch Points.
  • Your Hook–every story needs a “hook” early on, something that hints of the story to come once the First Plot Point hits.
  • How the Story Ends–you’ve gotta know your ending, period.
  • What’s At Stake–there’s gotta be something at stake in the story. Your protagonist needs obstacles to overcome, so that the reader can root for him. If the reader has nothing to root for, you’ve got no story.
  • Your Concept and Your Premise–if you don’t know what your story’s about, you better find out–before you write a word. (Grab a free copy of the eGuide + workbook, Write Better Stories, and discover what your story is really about.)

Until you know all of this information, at minimum, you won’t be in a place to truly write your story.

Of course that’s not to say you can’t write during the planning phase of your story. Some writers find it helps them to plan what happens in their stories if they spend time writing about (and getting to know) their characters first.

What often helps me is to do a character plan using the three dimensions of character.

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How do you get prepared to write the draft of your story?