Inspire Envisioning

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Nine Tactics for Winning NaNoWriMo

So, you’ve committed to writing a novel this month. The ambitious goal of completing 50,000 words of a cohesive story in 30 days is both daunting and exhilarating. Whether you’ve completed previous NaNoWriMo novels or are dipping your toes into these challenging waters for the first time, you’ve made the choice to face down that blank page right now. Where and how do you begin? Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, a veteran or a novice, here are a few ideas that will help you finish November with a draft you’ll be proud of.

1. Structure before you begin (or don’t). Some people prefer to have every detail of their story planned out before they begin (see above re: “plotters”), while others like to let their stories surprise them (these are the “pantsers” of the writing world). If you have a strong preference, it can be genuinely challenging to work outside of your preferred method. However, it can also be revitalize blocked writing. When you’re looking to write something fast (like a NaNoWriMo novel), having an outline speeds your progress, because you know what to write next. If your story isn’t moving as planned, though, try giving it freedom to develop and seeing what twists and turns pop up as you go along. And if you’re an obsessive plotter, writing a fast novel by the seat of your pants might be an exhilarating, and even time-saving, experience.

2. Work with others. Writing is usually a solitary activity: one person, one keyboard (or notebook, or typewriter). But it doesn’t have to be. NaNoWriMo offers a treasure trove of virtual support, as well as in-person opportunities in many communities to meet and write together. Take advantage of these changes to find support and camaraderie with others who are embarking on the same writing journey. Other fun ways to bring collaboration into your writing process include completing NaNoWriMo with friends, working with a writing group or coach, or coauthoring a novel. (My coauthor Kacie Berghoef has a great blog post about book collaboration, which might be helpful if you’re looking to go this route.) Collaboration means you don’t have to work alone. When you run into challenges, you’ll have others around you who will understand and help you through them.

3. Write to reader interest. You want to write the book you want to write. Maybe you’ve heard about “writing to market,” and cringed at the idea. Why would you want to follow ephemeral publishing trends? Conversely, maybe you’ve thought, “if (insert best-selling author) can do it, surely I can,” and decided to take up some broadly selling genre, topic, or formula, whether or not your heart is in it. Writing to reader interest is more complex than many of us think, though. It’s not about writing to a script; it’s about writing something that will be enjoyed. When it comes right down to it, most of us aren’t writing solely for ourselves. We write because we have a story to tell, and we’d like it to connect with an audience. And, my desired audience is probably going to look different from your desired audience. Consider the type of reader who gravitates to your genre and interests, and rather than writing to a general audience, write in a way that will keep their interest. Changes are you’re part of your own target audience. What book would you love to read? Write that book.

4. Write from personal experience. It’s an old truism that you should “write what you know.” This doesn’t mean that you need to limit yourself to things you’ve experienced in the real world. If this were the case, we’d have no imaginative science fiction, fantasy, or horror to enjoy. What is helpful is to draw inspiration from your experiences to ground your story. When your character’s in an emotional situation, look to your past to bring to life similar emotions that you’ve experienced. Your background can add color, detail, and richness: if you have a long career as a gardener, for instance, you can bring unique skill in describing the setting’s plant life. And don’t be afraid to mine your past for ideas. Your life is a wealth of inspiration, if you look at it closely.

5. Research what you need to know. There are lots of times when your story idea will extend beyond your current knowledge. Don’t be afraid to consult other people, books, or the Internet to learn the answers to your questions. From familiarizing yourself with your setting to getting to know the technical or medical details of your plot points, you’ll find that you need to research more factors than you’d expect to get everything right. In addition to information,relevant images, videos, and narratives (not just books–consider blogs and other internet resources) can make good sources, as can reaching out to people in your network who are qualified to answer your questions. Some of this research may come after NaNoWriMo, during the revision process. When the information is important to the plot, though, don’t hesitate to look it up on the go.

6. Throw in some danger. I’m not talking about endangering your own life as you sit in front of your treacherous laptop screen – I’m talking about imperiling your characters! Most novels are about people with problems. To maintain reader interest, keep the problems building until the end. When one problem is solved, might the solution create another one? Plumb plot possibilities by asking, “What could go wrong here?” If you want to write a can’t-put-it-down read, try ending your chapters with cliffhangers.

7. Keep the process fun and rewarding. External incentives make excellent motivators to keep going. NaNoWriMo is already great for this, with pep talks from prominent authors, relevant sponsor offer “prizes”, and the goal of “winning” built in. Build in intrinsic motivation by focusing on the fun parts of the writing process itself. Each day, focus on writing something that’s exciting and intriguing to you. If your scene is boring, cut it out. If it’s necessary to the plot but not that interesting, bring in fun details, dialogue, or other colorful touches. If you maintain your own interest through each passage you write, your writing will intrigue your readers too.

8. Use action to drive the story forward. Your story is about things that happen. Make sure enough happens to keep the pace going. Even a reflective story needs to have a consistent, interesting sequence of events. Your characters, too, need to be active – especially your protagonist. If you notice that things keep happening to your main character(s), give them more agency. Make sure they make decisions and initiate events rather than simply reacting. Give them a choice in every chapter. Give these choices consequences that significantly influence the plot.

9. Look at the story as a whole. If you’re a plotter, consider thematic elements and plot and character arcs up front. If you’re a pantser, watch them evolve and keep them in mind as you write. Beyond storytelling and entertainment, what meaning are you seeking to convey? What ideas do you want to explore? Who are your characters beyond their surface traits? What motivates them, and how will they grow (if they grow – iconic or static characters can work too)? What will they learn from the journey you are taking them on? Looking at your novel on a macro level will help it resonate with themes that speak to your target readers, ensuring it is both cohesive and meaningful.

NaNoWriMo is a wonderful challenge to take on, and you don’t have to do it alone. Feel free to reach out for support if you’d like some writing coaching, or to share what you’re working on in the comments. Happy writing to all of you!


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SMART Goal Setting for the New Year

As we turn the corner into another year, our best intentions come with us. We make plans to improve our health, relationships, work life, and many other areas that are meaningful or challenging for us. For a rare few, these goals have a lasting impact. For others, they are swiftly forgotten.

The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions has humbler roots than many of our goals have today. According to Time Magazine, it began in ancient Babylon, with promises made to the gods. The Babylonians took a down-to-earth approach; their promises included such manageable goals as returning things they had borrowed.

We can learn a thing or two from the Babylonians in setting yearly goals for ourselves that have staying power. A philosophy that aligned with their simple, doable promises was articulated by George T. Doran in 1981. Writing to managers, he described a system of goal setting that follows the acronym SMART. There are a few variations on the words associated with SMART. One version we like stands for:

Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Realistic
Time-bound

When we set goals that follow the five SMART principles, we’re more likely to achieve them. We build in accountability for ourselves and ensure that we don’t bite off more than we can chew. Rather than thinking big for your New Year’s resolutions, try using SMART principles that will work with your Enneagram type to help you achieve your goals.

Specific: Instead of committing to an overarching idea such as “getting in shape,” commit to a concrete practice that will move you toward your intentions, such as running three times a week.
While specificity is important for anyone who wants to set achievable goals, it’s especially useful for types Four and Nine to consider. Fours often daydream of lofty achievements; getting clear on the steps they want to take will bring these closer to reality. For Nines, hazy, generalized goals can lead to inaction, so focusing on the specifics will bring momentum.

Measurable: Find ways to measure progress toward your goals quantitatively. Continuing with the example of running, you could aim to get your mile down to under ten minutes, and time yourself with each practice. This step is particularly important for type Eight, as Eights tend to pour a lot of energy into their pursuits, sometimes tiring themselves out or quitting. Creating measurable goals will keep actions strategic.

Attainable: Choose a goal that is under your control. Something like getting a book published depends on external circumstances, but submitting your manuscript to a set number of publishers is something you can accomplish on your own. Consider this especially if you are type Three or Six. Threes often focus on outside validation, and benefit from the inner-directed approach of attainability. Sixes often place control within others’ hands, and focusing on attainability brings the ball into their court.

Realistic: Consider how your goal, which should be fairly concrete by now, will fit in with the rest of your life. Do you have the ability, resources, money, and time to achieve what you’re hoping to do? Are there aspects you need to reevaluate to make the goal doable? Realism is an important consideration for types One and Seven. For Ones, it will minimize perfectionistic expectations and ease pressure. For Sevens, it will focus energy on priorities and lessen overextension.

Time-bound: Set yourself a deadline, for the final goal as well as for any milestones toward it. This practice is valuable for all of us, and wonderful for types Two and Five. Twos frequently prioritize others and can get sidetracked, so keeping to a schedule provides useful structure for tending to their own desires. Fives tend to spend a lot of time on planning, so having a deadline will ensure their goals materialize in action.

We encourage you to use all five SMART principles as you create and pursue your New Year’s resolutions, with a special emphasis on the dominant one for your type. With these practices in mind, you’ll see better results in meeting the goals that matter to you.


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How Each Enneagram Type Can Build Healthy Habits

habits blogNo matter what our lifestyle is, all of us have habits that help us manage our lives. Sometimes these habits, such as flossing daily and having a regular personal growth practice, sustain and nourish our long-term happiness and health. Other habits, such as skipping lunch to be productive or not getting enough sleep, allow us to meet goals in the short term but aren’t good for our long-term well-being.

Each Enneagram type has a basic motivation or desire, and our habits are ways we unconsciously try to get our needs met. But it’s all too common for us to form self-talk and behaviors that end up hurting instead of helping us. There’s good news, though: with the right structures and support, all of us have the ability to form long-term habits that help us meet our fullest potential.

Here are healthy habits that each of the Enneagram types can work to develop:

Type One: Make time to relax and laugh every day. Your natural self-discipline helps you do the right thing, but can leave little time to unwind. Set aside a time where you practice deep breathing, laugh at silly YouTube videos, or dance along to music you like. Letting yourself let loose, even just a little bit, will provide perspective, fun, and balance.

Type Two: Take yourself on dates. You’re naturally intuitive about others’ needs, but sometimes you spend so much time supporting others, your own self-care gets lost. A little bit of time set aside to do something you love, whether it’s watercolor painting or Netflixing a favorite TV show, will give you self-nourishment and support.

Type Three: Unplug yourself from the external world. Your incredible productivity, and ability to accomplish things that others value and appreciate, can make it hard to make time to discover your own desires. Whether it’s going into nature or taking a mindful daily shower, true solo time- without your phone or social media- will help you look out for number one.

Type Four: Bring organization into your self-expression. You have a remarkable ability to create and imagine, but sometimes lack the self-discipline to bring your visions to life. Accountability to a schedule or calendar will help you finish tasks and share your gifts with the world. Feel free to customize your organizational system with your own personal touches!

Type Five: Use the buddy system to get motivated. Your strength of incredible focus gets lost when you aren’t able to start projects that inspire you. Find a friend or coworker with similar goals for accountability to provide encouragement. A buddy will be a source of connection and support, giving you the kick to put your ideas out there.

Type Six: Do something that stimulates your mind. You’re wonderful at providing leadership from a place of support, but can get mentally “stuck” in certain ways of doing things. Doing reading that interests you, discussing and debating ideas, and even playing strategy computer games will help you stay in touch with the ideas you believe in.

Type Seven: Focus on doing one thing at a time. Your productivity is a huge strength, but when you try to do several things at once, it’s easy to drop or forget projects. Try tying a task that’s boring into something you find fun or interesting (musical cleaning party?). Harness your natural enthusiasm to focus and see tasks through to completion.

Type Eight: Do something regularly to give back to others. You excel at leadership and impact, and can sometimes overlook relationship building. Use your strength to lift up others, even though simple morale-boosters, like complimenting your partner or holding the door at work. Giving genuine love and care will nourish your own heart and make you a better leader.

Type Nine: Make a list of goals, and a plan for accomplishing them. Your gift for creating harmony and unity sometimes causes you to lose a sense of self amongst the greater collective fabric. Set aside time everyday for self-exploration and execution of your own personal desires. Self-accomplishment will give you an ever greater sense of happiness and harmony!

Setting healthy habits takes work- according to the latest research, it takes an average of 66 days for people to change their habits. During those initial few months, stay motivated, and ask for help when you need it. A more balanced life isn’t far away!


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Effective Goal Setting for Your Enneagram Type

20151029_144017“Out with the old, and in with the new!” The beginning of a new year is widely recognized as a time for goal setting. We may vow to clean our houses, get in shape, be kinder. But often, the promises we make are forgotten by February.

As with many aspects of life, our personality patterns bring both strengths and challenges for goal setting. Each type tends to run into certain snags that make it more difficult to meet our goals. With this in mind, here are some type-specific shortcuts for setting goals that are achievable and rewarding.

Type One: It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to fulfill a goal to the letter, which can lead to the “paralyzed perfectionist” syndrome. This year, build some flexibility and leeway into your plans. Pursuing your goals can be imperfect and messy, while still being productive…and even a little fun!

Type Two: Have you ever found yourself making resolutions on behalf of others, rather than for yourself? Take some time for self-reflection in your goal setting this year, and prioritize self-care. What goals can you set that will nurture you and meet your needs? Consider setting yourself breaks from helping others.

Type Three: As with Type Two, take time for self-reflection and set some goals that are for yourself only. It may be tempting to promote your goal and your efforts toward it. However, you’ll find value in setting goals that are personally meaningful but private – accountable just to yourself.  

Type Four: It’s easy to dream of ambitious results. This year, set goals with built-in structure, making them easier to achieve. For example, you could work toward a specific goal every day, with measurable steps. Rather than aspiring to fix a perceived flaw, set goals that are positive and results-oriented.

Type Five: Rather than thinking about your goals and generating endless possibilities, focus on one or two solid objectives. Get grounded and implement them in your daily life. Bringing in help and support from others is helpful. If your goal is to get in shape, for example, find a gym buddy to work out with.

Type Six: Don’t let fear get in the way of committing to the goals that are important to you. There’s no need to ask your “committee,” or turn to that self-help book, for input in choosing a goal. Listen to your inner guidance and select a goal and way of meeting it that resonates with you.  

Type Seven: You have lots of great ideas. Go ahead and brainstorm; then take time to look through your list, reflect, and select one or two important things to focus on. Start by prioritizing something small and measurable. Big plans take time, and are completed step by committed step.

Type Eight: It’s easy to put a lot of zest and energy into your goals. Don’t overdo your plans this year; your goal setting doesn’t need to be ambitious or tiring. Be gentle with yourself and your efforts. Choose goals that will nurture your heart, and tap into your protective, magnanimous side.

Type Nine: Let your affinity for routine work for you, rather than against you. It takes time to change or create a habit. However, once you’ve put the effort into establishing a regular behavior, it will stick. Setting goals that you can work into routines will build new, meaningful habits into your life.

If you’d like to learn more about the Enneagram and goal setting, including a framework for setting more effective goals that benefits all types, join us on January 8 for our first Leadership Lunch Talk in San Francisco, or contact us to schedule a talk or workshop with your organization or group.