In this installment of Motivation Monday's, Ryan discusses an essential element for writing great books. It's a common feature of all helpful, valuable, and compelling books. He also gives a summer update and what's in store for the podcast going forward. More writerly resources: https://theprolificwriter.net/
I hear it all the time…
Ryan, I’m not able to write the book, start the relationship, or build that nonprofit. I’m a busy person. Ryan, that might work for you, but not for me. I have unique circumstances…
I get it, you’re a special snowflake, and no one has faced the challenges you face.
But the reality is with creation we’re all in this together.
Humans are given twenty-four hours a day. We can only be in once place at one time. All of us have work, relationships, a need for food, water, and sleep. Not to mention the dog that needs food, water, and a walk.
The challenges are the same. We all need the same stuff and have similar responsibilities.
So how can we be more productive with the limitations and needs of daily life?
You start with the first thing.
Did you hear it? The first thing is always the next thing, next step, and most important step of creation. It’s so obvious that we often miss it and forget these foundational truths of creation.
The next step is always the next word, sentence, or detail in the project. Problems arise when we obsess over step nine, ten, or three hundred and thirty-nine. Those steps of creation will come later, much later.
Our situations are unique because we’re unique and our stories are unique. But the path of creation and writing and making things for the world to enjoy and doing work that matters is always the same…
Start here, and then go here, and then here, and here.
I’m sure woven into your story, and my story, are unique complexities and situations. Maybe it’s long hours at the office, a sick family member, or chronic illness. But wherever we find ourselves the truth is this:
The next step in your creative process, the next hour of writing your book, will be the same for you and me.
The path is always the first thing.
We have no idea what will happen after that. But that’s the beauty and fun and adventure of creation… only God knows where we’ll end up.
If you feel stuck and aren’t sure why the project isn’t going anywhere. Remember, just do the next thing. Don’t worry about step ten, worry about step one.
In this installment of Motivation Monday's, Ryan draws on the wisdom of fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien. Is writing fiction a waste of time? Or, does it tap into something deeper and important for the world? Find more writing resources: https://theprolificwriter.net/
Mentioned in the Show:
Free 5-Day Outline Your Novel Challenge: https://theprolificwriter.lpages.co/45-day-novel-challenge/
45 Day Novel Course Waiting List: https://theprolificwriter.net/45daynovelvip
Leave a rating/review on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-prolific-writer/id1185387038
What elements are essential for a great story? How can we evaluate our stories ensuring they're not just scenes going nowhere? In this episode, Ryan explores the 7 Step Story Structure for writing page turning, kick-butt, and compelling stories... every time. More writing resources: https://theprolificwriter.net/
Mentioned in the Show:
Free 5-Day Outline Your Novel Challenge: https://theprolificwriter.lpages.co/45-day-novel-challenge/
45 Day Novel Course Waiting List: https://theprolificwriter.lpages.co/45-day-novel-waiting-list/
Book: The Anatomy of Story by John Truby: https://truby.com/the-anatomy-of-story-2/
National University MFA Program: https://www.nu.edu/
Leave a rating/review on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-prolific-writer/id1185387038
In the latest installment of Motivation Monday's, Ryan shares a new resource called the Outline Your Novel Challenge. He explains why challenges are good for writing (or anything in life), and how to get involved with the free training launching soon. More writer resources: https://theprolificwriter.net/
Mentioned in the Show:
Free 5 Day Outline Your Novel Challenge (sign up here): https://theprolificwriter.lpages.co/45-day-novel-challenge/
Parkinson’s Law says: work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Give someone twenty-four hours to complete a project and watch them use their time efficiently and wisely. Give them a week and suddenly the project is perceived as complex and they spend half the week messing around.
Don’t believe me?
Why does the average person work eight hours a day and forty hours a week? Nothing is magical about these numbers. Do people actually need that many hours to complete their assigned tasks? Maybe. What if you gave them thirty hours to do their work? Would they complete these tasks and have ten hours to spare? Most likely. Parkinson’s Law.
What does this have to do with writing?
Many writers live under the illusion that if they had more time to write they'd have more success. The full-time writer is where it’s at. But what about Parkinson’s Law?
If you had eight hours to write would you spend that time wisely? Not likely according to Parkinson’s Law. You'd mess around on social and playing games instead of doing the work. If you only have two hours to write you can use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage.
Tim Ferris in his book The 4-Hour Work Week asks some hard questions about our productivity. Actually you only have to ask two questions:
1. Am I being productive or just being active?
2. Am I inventing things to avoid the important?
Am I being productive or just being active?
Busyness for the sake of busyness is laziness. Endless outlines, research, and tweaking your website and social media profile is not productivity. These aren’t bad things and might be necessary sometimes.
But are we just doing things to do things? Living by the adage: look busy in case the boss is watching.
Activity doesn’t always equal productivity.
Here’s a question: did your activity lead to more words on the page? Are you moving your writing project forward or not?
If no, you’re active and not productive.
Am I inventing things to avoid the important?
Wow, a hard one. How often do I mess around doing mindless things instead of engaging the hard thing? If I had a dollar for every time, I said: one more episode on Netflix before I work on my book.
The invention of tasks to avoid the most important projects is the sly tactic of the Resistance-Demon. That still small voice that says: yeah, create a new website, instead of work on your book. You should watch another Ted Talk instead of meditate or call a friend.
Parkinson’s Law is alive and well. I’m going to invent all kinds of tasks to avoid doing the most important tasks. The important work.
But here’s the deal and don’t lose heart. When we invent stuff to keep us busy and avoid the hard thing. Listen to your life.
The hard thing that we're avoiding is what we have to work on. It’s the most important thing.
Whatever is scary or hard is most likely what needs our undivided attention. If our writing project is easy and breezy, it’s probably not pushing us enough.
If we have an idea that keeps us up at night and scares us to death… we know what we have to do next.
So, ask some hard questions and take inventory. What am I doing that's just busy work? Stuff that gets more words on the page? Does it move the project forward?
What am I inventing that’s a replacement for doing the hard thing? Whatever you’re avoiding is exactly the thing you need to work on next.
Hope this helps.
What separates an excellent and mediocre story? Why do some books, TV shows, or films keep us up into the wee hours of the morning?
Sleep optional until we find out what happens next.
While other stories never grab our attention and fizzle out on page fifty or episode two.
Glad you asked. Every great story has common similarities.
Seven to be exact.
If you want to write compelling, interesting, and page turning stories, consider these seven story structure elements. Every story has them, and the great ones, nail them.
These ideas aren’t totally my own, but have revolutionized how I write novels, and understand story structure. These seven story elements come from John Truby’s book, The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller.
What Truby calls: The Seven Key Steps of Story Structure. These seven steps are the heartbeat of every story because they involve human action. And human action involves characters and characters are the reason we love stories.
Let’s examine the steps together, and see how we can make our next story page turning awesomeness, keeping our readers up late into the night.
Step #1 A Hero
A hero in a setting with a flaw/weakness/need.
Every great story has a hero (main character) with serious problems. A flaw or weakness that’s ruining their lives. The bigger the problem the more interesting the story.
A need is what the character must overcome for them to have a good life. This typically involves overcoming the flaw/weakness and growing by the end of the story.
Great characters and great stories have two kinds of weaknesses/flaws:
1. Psychological- some kind of flaw that causes harm to the hero only.
2. Moral- some kind of flaw/weakness that causes problems for everyone else.
The secret sauce of great storytelling and crafting compelling characters is to ensure they have psychological and moral flaws.
A great example: Silence of the Lambs.
Weakness: Clarice is an inexperienced FBI, haunted by childhood memories, and a woman living in a man’s world.
Need: Overcome her past and prove she’s a good agent in a man’s world.
Key point: people don’t like perfect characters, or victims. Boring! People can’t relate to perfection. Beat the crap out of your heroes. Your readers will thank you.
Step #2: A Desire (Goal)
A hero in a setting, with a flaw/weakness/need, and a desire (goal).
Every story has a particular goal and desire the hero must accomplish. That is why readers come along for the ride. They want to solve it with you. The desire is the hinge for everything.
If your story doesn’t have a defined desire/goal, you don’t have a story, or a very boring one. A story that goes nowhere.
Now, don’t miss this. The flaw/weakness of the hero is something within. The desire and goal of the hero is external. Don’t confuse the two.
Typically when the hero solves the weakness/flaw dilemma they’ve now reached their desire/goal. The flaw and need of the hero is often more obvious. The desire less so.
Example: Saving Private Ryan, John Miller wants to be home with his family and friends. The entire mission for saving Private Ryan, is so he can get home, so he thinks.
But when you get to the end of the movie, when Miller has a chance to go back home, he realizes the mission was much deeper. Miller is willing to die for the mission to see Private Ryan get home.
Step #3 The Opponent
A hero in a setting, with a flaw/weakness, and a desire, and someone/something opposing their goal.
The opponent is what we call the antagonist, or villain. Now, here’s the key for making compelling opponents for the hero to battle. They don’t just do evil or look evil.
The opponent wants the same thing as the hero, and will do anything for the hero not to get it.
Did you catch that? The opponent can’t want something random in the story. No, the opponent has to want what the hero wants. The thing that’s making the hero miserable is what the opponent wants.
If you do this well, it will create all kinds of tension and problems for the hero, and tension and conflict makes for great stories.
Key point: the easy way to create a good opponent, is to think about the hero’s primary goal/desire. Then create an opponent that wants to attack that goal and desire. You can even have them attack the psychological and moral flaws of the hero.
Another trick to make your stories page turners.
Step #4 A Plan
A hero in a setting, with a flaw, desire, someone opposing them, and a plan to fight.
Once you have a character with a flaw, a desire, an opponent, you need a plan to finish the mission. Good stories will often have a mentor, guide, or helper, to encourage the hero and craft a strategy for winning the battle against the opponent.
Example: Star Wars, Yoda trains Luke to defeat Darth Vader (dark side) for control of the universe (Force- light side).
Key point: when you’re building out a plan/strategy, build tension by having the hero fail multiple times at the plan before reaching their goal. That will keep the reader turning the pages. Attempt, fail, attempt, fail, etc. This creates good tension before the final battle.
Step #5: A Battle
A hero in a setting, with a flaw, desire, someone opposing them, a plan to fight, and a final battle.
The battle can be words or action. Most often a battle will happen in the middle of a story where the hero fails against the opponent. But remember, the desire (goal) of the hero, and the desire to stop the goal of the hero, by the opponent, will build to a final battle.
Will the hero or opponent win?
You can go either way depending on what the story needs. (FYI: Romance readers expect the boy and girl to end up together).
Step #6: A Self Revelation
A hero in a setting, with a flaw, desire, someone opposing them, a plan to fight, final battle, the hero realizes their desire/weakness/flaw.
After the battle, we wear the hero down, and they come to a painful self-revelation. They aren’t who they thought. They’re weak, flawed, and jacked up.
The more you can help the hero see their imperfections, the better. Make the moral and psychological needs come to the surface.
Pro tip: don’t make this preachy and too obvious, that’s lame. But reveal what the hero’s true colors are, the good and bad.
Example: Huckleberry Finn, when Huck realizes he was wrong thinking Jim was less than human. Huck won’t tell of Jim’s whereabouts, and would rather go to hell, then see him caught.
Step #7: A New Equilibrium
A hero in a setting, with a flaw, desire, someone opposing them, a plan to fight, final battle, the hero realizes their desire/weakness/flaw, and goes back to normal.
The hero must change and grow. One caveat, the hero can grow to a higher level and learn to live in the world.
Or, the hero can go lower. Let’s say they’ve committed a crime, and now must live with the consequences. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending to write a compelling and page turning story.
Examples of a hero rising: Die Hard, John defeats the criminals, saves his wife, and renews his love to her.
Example of a hero going low: Vertigo, he drags the woman to the top of the tower to confess to a murder, and she falls to her death.
Wow, that’s a lot, I know. But all you have to do is craft characters and scenes that serve these seven elements. If you do, you’ll have an excellent story to share with the world.
Go get those words on the page!
(Source: The Anatomy of Story, John Truby, adapted from pages 39–55)
A frequently asked question of authors: where do ideas come from? A good question but if we peel back the onion, it makes a lot of assumptions.
An assumption that inspiration, motivation, and ideas, come from what some call, The Muse. Mousa, was the daughter of Zeus, a goddess assigned to oversee the arts, and inspire artists to create. A sky ferry of sorts visiting the struggling writer with inspiration and ideas.
We wait while our next great idea is born and Mousa, comes to nudge it along. But until the ideas falls, we sit idle.
A second assumption is that professional writers have fully baked ideas when they come to the page. Not true. Their best ideas came when they showed up. When they applied butt in a chair. Our best ideas have no chance of seeing the light of day until we add words to the page.
The myth of the muse has damaged many a writer. Held too many writers back. Stephen King in his famous book on the craft of writing, On Writing, said this about the muse:
“Don’t wait for the muse. As I’ve said, he’s a hardheaded guy who’s not susceptible to a lot of creative fluttering. This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon. Or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.”
I’m not willing to say there’s nothing magical about writing. Where do ideas come from? Why do we write? How does a story take shape? The subconscious, God, the muse? I think all of it. It is magic.
But you can’t wait for the magic. You’ll be waiting a long time.
Nothing good in life happens through passivity. The girl you married didn’t come about because you prayed and waited for her to knock on the door. You made the call, set up the date, and later asked her hand in marriage.
Relationships take work to flourish and writing is no different. Lay the pipe and drive the truck. The muse won’t do it for you.
Somewhere along our journey’s the myth of the muse poked its mythical head in our writing room. The magical creature that shoots ideas out of her butt, into your brain, and then funnels to our fingers. Instead of laying pipe, we sit in the truck, and wait for inspiration.
Steven Pressfield in a recent interview said he wears work boots to write every day. Why? You know, because there’s no Muse. The work boots are a reminder to punch the clock and do the work.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your next book, or article, wasn’t built while you napped. It came to life with fingers tapping, a computer buzzing, coffee flowing, and a back aching.
Waiting for the muse is rooted in fear. A fear of being exposed as a phony and wannabe writer. An opportunity for Resistance to sink her claws into our writing souls.
Later in On Writing King explains the difference between pros and amateurs:
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
Pressfield wears work boots to remind himself it’s time to lay pipe. King writes from nine ’til noon whether or not the muse shows up. Grisham sets a goal of ten pages per day. Muse or no muse. I write 10,000 words a week, whether or not I’m feeling it. The difference between the pro and the amateur.
Now before I go, there’s something King said which is super practical advice. Something we can apply to our writing craft today. Let’s not leave this conversation in the ether:
“Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon.”
If you need The Muse, fine. But make sure he/she knows where you’ll be. Have you determined your writing time/place? Is it on the calendar? We schedule everything else in our lives why does our writing get second fiddle?
Or, are you too much of an artist? You only write on Tuesday’s after drinking fox tears from a silver goblet? You only write when the schedule allows for it?
The more we plant butt in a chair at consistent intervals the better chance the muse can sprinkle story dust on our heads. Funny how that works.
Tell the muse what time you’ll be writing tomorrow. They’re welcome to visit anytime. If they forgo the invitation, fine, we’ll still be laying pipe, and punching the clock.
You know where to find us.
Jerry Seinfeld wrote and starred in the most famous and profitable sitcom of all time, Seinfeld.
How did he do it?
Was Seinfeld the best actor of our generation? Nope. Watch the show and you’d agree. Seinfeld agrees.
How about a case of right time and right place? Maybe. But Seinfeld barely stayed on the air for the first three seasons. It limped along and found an audience in season four.
Maybe it was the all-star cast? Jason Alexander, Michael Richards, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, had some previous success. But they weren’t household names in the business.
So what did Jerry Seinfeld do to make his show a 3.1 billion dollar phenomenon?
Closed the door.
In an interview on Alec Baldwin’s podcast, Seinfeld explained what set their show apart. Previously, in the interview, Baldwin asked Seinfeld why he didn’t leverage their success to make more shows. His answer (paraphrased):
“Let me tell you why my tv series in the 90s was so good, besides just an inordinate amount of just pure good fortune. In most tv series, 50 percent of the time is spent working on the show, 50 percent of the time is spent dealing with personality, political, and hierarchical issues of making something. We spent 99.9 percent of our time writing. Me and Larry [David]. The two of us. The door was closed. It’s closed. Somebody calls. We’re not taking the call. We were gonna make this thing funny. That’s why the show was good.”
Seinfeld never wanted to do shows again, because making TV is less art and creation, and all the other politics and network stuff. It’s administration, promotion, and dealing with personalities. Jerry wanted to write and spend the bulk of his energy in the creation process. He wanted to make art.
Seinfeld closed the door.
So many writers and creatives get hung up on the non-art stuff. They want success, want to share their art with the world, but never close the door, and make the stuff.
Weekly, I’m emailed asking how to find more time to write.
My answer: close the door. When will you close the door and make whatever you’re supposed to make?
Stop fiddling with your website and checking your Facebook page. Close the door and write.
Stop reading your reviews and crying in the corner.
Close the door.
Stop worrying about whether people will think your ideas are good, or book will change the world. Close the door and write the dang thing.
Jerry Seinfeld is a comic success and genius. But what sets him apart, and what I can tell from interviews, and hearing from others comics. He has a work ethic like no other. Seinfeld is always creating new material and working on his craft. I once heard he writes new jokes every single day.
Imagine the artist that stopped cuddling with their latest project and made something new. Imagine the pastor who closed the door and gave more focused time and attention to his latest sermon. Not allowing everyone and everything to impede on his time.
The mother who wants to start a blog amid a house of children. What if she closed the door in the evenings and wrote, and wrote, and wrote? What could happen?
Most writers and creatives are looking for some magic pill, marketing formula, or right connections, to get their work in the world.
What we all need more than anything are closed doors.
Butt in chairs and closed doors. Anything that doesn’t help move the creative ball forward is wasted energy.
There will always be a time and place and need for putting on the business and promotion hat.
But the one thing you can do, and must do, and have to do, is close the door, and write.
No one can do it for you.
Who knows, maybe you’ll write the next Seinfeld?
*originally published on Medium.com
What will it take to make it as a writer? Well crafted sentences? Maybe. How about marketing savvy? Sure.
With all the noise on the internet, social media, and the plethora of publishing platforms. How will the average writer get noticed?
My core belief is the prolific writer wins in the end.
What’s that you say?
It’s a new tribe of people who aren’t content with your One… Next Great American Novel. They are writing a novel a month.
The tribe of prolific writers aren’t satisfied with one genre, one stream of writing income, or making excuses for having a consistent writing habit.
These crazy people will not allow their blog to languish in the sea of dead ones. They will produce, work, and make art consistently.
Maybe even daily.
In the last year I’ve interviewed some of the most prolific writers on the planet. Some who’ve written twenty, thirty, forty, and even two hundred books. People who live in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, UK, US, and in small and big cities.
Some of these prolific cowboys are young and some are grandparents, some men and some women. My guests have included people who make six figures… wait for it… a month, off their writing. Yep, that’s right.
These writing bandits make a great living and provide for their families…others are just getting started and will be there soon.
The point is just this… Yes, it’s noisy in the blogosphere… yes, it’s loud on the inter-webs. But the ones who will rise to the top are The Prolific Writers of the world. The grinders, producers, hustlers, and hard hat creatives who put on the work gloves, safety glasses, and don’t wait for the Muse to show up.
Wayne White creator of the 80’s cultural phenomenon Pee Wee’s Playhouse was asked what it takes to be an artist:
I follow instincts instead of intellectual ideas. I really don’t think the artist is an intellectual. I believe that the artist is a set of nerves, nerve endings. That’s what an artist is.
We are nerves and nerve endings. The role of an artist is not to determine the value and intellectual warrant of the art. Whether the thing we make is good, worthy, or commercially viable.
The true artist needs nerve. Lots of nerves because we don’t know what we’re doing. Art is not math and science. Not an intellectual exercise. The creative process comes from a deeper place… the gut, heart, and soul.
Art is hard to quantify whether it’s quality or not. Some people like genre fiction and others grab literary. One person enjoys the clean lines and sparseness of modern art… while others think Monet nailed it. No one knows why we have to create, or where it comes from, and what is worth keeping around.
Art is birthed from nerves.
The nerves of ordinary children, men, and women, who sit with pencils, crayons, canvas, camera, clay, computer, or tap shoes, and express and make whatever comes through the mind, heart, body, and soul.
When I write… this article, my next book, or a letter to a friend… I need nerves. Nerves to tell the truth. Nerves to love others through the work. Nerves to create whatever The Muse brings into my brain and soul.
I spoke with a fellow writer and creator about why we create. We didn’t know. But we knew… You have to… there’s something calling it out of you. It’s not boredom or wasting time. Creating and art is not a hobby or an indoor activity when it’s hot. We write and create because we have to, and can’t stop if we tried, and want to believe a gift from the Creator being made in his image. We create because it’s in the DNA.
Nerves. Nerve endings. More often than not we need the nerve to create regardless of where the chips may fall. Many artists and creators fall to the wayside because of lack of nerve. They make the thing, and the thing didn’t make them millions, or get their work in a gallery. They quit.
Wayne White gives more advice to the aspiring artist who is losing nerve and wants to quit:
Never rest as an artist, that’s one thing you‘ve got to realize. The minute you get satisfied with yourself, that’s when the work starts to fall apart.
Never rest. Don’t get satisfied. Have nerves. Sounds like good counsel.
I’d like to let you in on a secret. I know a blog is not the smartest place to share some of the most vital information for the aspiring and seasoned word slinger.
Regardless of the repercussions I’m willing to lose it all for what I know. The King of horror (Stephen King) and best-selling American novelists of the last century is giving away his most potent secret. A secret guaranteed to unlock the keys to the kingdom of writing.
Before I give away King’s secret I’d like to go on record and say two things:
First, I do not know Stephen King. Second, this is common knowledge available in multiple interviews and books written about the master storyteller.
Here we go. The secret to becoming a writer. A writer who does the work and shares the work. Not a wannabe, not someone who talks about writing, an actual living and breathing writer.
You decide to become one.
When you explore the interviews and comments of people who knew Stephen King one is thing rings true. He wanted to be a writer and became one. Nothing would stop him.
King was not an overnight success. He wrote hundreds of short stories and received hundreds of rejection slips. He wrote four novels never published in high school and college (Rage published later under Richard Bachman, but was not his best).
King read stories and wrote stories from a young age. He often said he’d write books and stories even if he never made a dime. In fact, most of his early work never seen by anyone. The secret to King’s success was he determined to be a writer and nothing would stop him.
He talked about writing with professors; he read everything he could get his hands on, and even helped other students with their craft.
The secret for becoming a writer is determine to be one.
Let me be honest. There’s too much chatter on the inter-webs about technique, marketing, and gaming the Amazon algorithms. If that’s what you think is necessary for being a successful writer you’ve missed the forest for the trees.
Writing is art and one of the most powerful means of communication in the universe. But we cheapen the form when we place monetary gain as the ultimate benchmark of success. The only legitimacy for the writer is if he/she land a publishing deal and sell millions of copies.
Love needs to be a new benchmark. You must love to write. Or in King’s advice from On Writing, you need to do two things to be a writer, read a lot, and write a lot.
People who love the art form will write and write often.
When you watch interviews with King or hear him give lectures at events one thing rings true. He loves to write. He sees himself as a writer and nothing else matters. There is a childlike quality to the way he talks about his art.
I don’t hear that kind of affection these days in writing circles and groups. All I hear is how hard it is (which is true), how our books don’t sell, and what is the latest marketing technique to sell 100,000 copies.
This will not sustain you in the hard times. You must determine to be a writer. It’s what you do and what you love.
The secret to becoming a writer is to determine you are one.
If you don’t write… by definition you are not a writer.
When you determine you are. Watch out. You might become the next Stephen King.