July 8, 2012

Who's Writing Your Script?

Your life is a script unfolding moment by moment. The question we are asking today is, "Who is writing that script?" Is it you? Is it chance? Is it someone else?

The fact that you are reading Outside the Lines suggests that you intend to be the author of your own script. People who are content to let their lives drift by, controlled by circumstances and employers and rules and regulations, are not who we write for. But even though you envision yourself as the author of your own life script, you might not be as in charge as you want to be. It takes work to write your own play. It takes diligent effort to produce it, even if you have the script in hand. And even if you are succeeding in that diligent effort, there are myriad forces aligned to pull you down, lure you off track, and reduce you to a player in a tragedy that you did not choose and never envisioned yourself participating in. Life is full of distractions and obstacles. To write, direct, and lead in your own life script is not something that just happens casually. So let's look at some things that can help you to stay in charge of your own life story.

Crafting Your Story

Have you got a clear idea what your script says? It's crucial to the entrepreneurial life that you actually write your own story. All too often, we are content with a vague notion of what it means to be our own person, living our own dream out of the strength of our own energy and insight and creativity and talent. This is where we all begin, but it's not enough to carry us through. To fulfill that abstract vision, we must make it concrete. We must first identify the purpose of the story. Then we must craft an outline, develop the roles, and map out the elements that are crucial to make the story come together.

Why are you so concerned with writing the script for your own story? What do you want to convey to the world by this life you are living? If you have no clear idea here, then it's time to stop and work your way through this question. Without an answer that is compelling to you there is no point in going further.

Who, besides the protagonist, is critical to your script? A spouse or significant other? Children? A business partner? Collaborators? Agents? Vendors? Galleries? The list of key players other than yourself is important to your story. Map out the roles that others play in your story. Prioritize the roles they play, and understand the impacts they have on the make-up and progress of the path you are on.

As you consider the roles in your script, it's important to understand that key roles are not always positive. Sometimes a key role is that of adversary, or obstacle, whether intended or otherwise. This is not to say that you should demonize those who create difficulties in your personal story, but rather that you should understand how these relationships impact the story, whether positively or negatively.

What is the stage that your script plays out on? To what extent have you created the set, the props, and the mood? What are the elements that you can control? Because our lives play out in the real world of circumstances and situations, we do not often have full control of the stage, the props, the stage hands, the lights, or the actors. But it is important in writing your life script to be cognizant and proactive in making the set and setting as sympathetic to the story as possible within your ability.

Put simply, what we are talking about here is the importance of understanding the facts of your story clearly and intentionally. Make sure that you know what you can control and what is beyond your control. Uncover the hidden plot lines that run counter to your intention. Design your story around making all these factors work for you rather than against you. This is a process of analysis and evaluation and soul searching.

The Never-changing Story

As you take that deep, long look at what your script is about, you will most likely find a clear, driving force that propels you forward. This is what defines you as a creative being. It's deeply personal and unique to you. It might be difficult to articulate clearly, since creative energy comes from that part of our minds that is not analytical or linguistic. It may have been something you have carried with you your whole life. It may be something that has come to you more recently. But it will most definitely compel you to honor it.

The Ever-changing Story

And while the core of your life script wells up from a deep, unchanging energy within you, the stage you act upon is in a constant state of flux. You could not, five years ago, have predicted the situation you are in today. You cannot today, predict the situation five years hence.The script you are writing has clear, bold lines that run throughout, but each scene is written in the wings as the actors step onto the stage. The script of your life, of your art, of your calling, is subject to constant re-writes and revisions.

The Tyranny of the Urgent!

What is really important tends to get swept aside by what is urgent. This is ubiquitous. Examples abound, and there are many folksy sayings that express it, such as, "The cobbler's children have no shoes." This saying always meant something to me, because my mother was a piano teacher. On several occasions, she almost began teaching me piano, but every time, something came up, the lesson got put off, and the piano never found its way into my set of skills. All of my friends were taught piano by my mother, but they had parents paying for lessons. It was urgent for her to teach them because income depended on it. It was important for me to get lessons, but it was never urgent.

This tyranny of urgency is a grave threat to your ability to write your own creative script. It will assault you incessantly, and must be clearly identified and addressed every single time. There are important things that are urgent, but too often, the things that are urgent turn out not to be so important. Understanding this, and learning to evaluate the real importance of urgent demands on your time and resources, especially in comparison to your core priorities, is one of the most important skills you must develop if you are to effectively write your own script and bring it on stage.


My favorite way to work on the script for my own creative life is to attack it with Post-it notes. Every so often, and especially when things begin to get a bit chaotic and out of control, Peggy and I sit down in front of a white board or a big window with several pads of colored Post-it notes and some Sharpies. This is a basic brainstorming technique. We dump all the issues, the undone tasks, the problems unsolved, and the looming deadlines onto the board on Post-its. We try to identify everything that bears on the situation at hand and get everything out on the board so we can see it all. Then we start to organize the post-its into categories and groupings that make sense. Finally we prioritize these groupings and categories and organize them with goals, tasks, and schedules. By the time we are done, we have a clear sense of what to do next. We have essentially written the next scene in the current act of our script.

You can use this basic method for big picture planning or to tackle narrowly defined problems. Recently my studio has gotten piled up to the point that it is almost impossible to work there. I have always had pack-rat tendencies, and tend to be plagued with a scarcity mindset. I find it difficult to get rid of anything that I could use in the future. It seems that I can store an item for years without needing it, and then, the day after I get rid of it, I need it. This means that I keep lots of stuff that I don't really need—stuff that would be better stored on the shelf at the hardware store than in my studio. Or just as often, even though I have kept an item for years, when I do need it, I can't find it, and end up buying another one, only to find the lost copy soon thereafter. But this is a long standing issue for me, and I have wrestled with it for decades. As I am writing this, it occurs to me that I could apply the Post-it method to evaluate and rethink my priorities around storage, space, scarcity, and efficiency. I could rewrite the script on this issue if I would only take the time to unpack the issues onto those little squares of paper and see what unfolds in my understanding of it all. I have never really tackled this issue before, by the Post-it method or any other. Throughout my life, I have just fought back the clutter monster enough to keep things going. It feels to me now, as I think about how this pesky issue plays in my life script, that I could really make a breakthrough. As soon as I post this article, I will dive in and see where the Post-its take me.

There are other ways to go about organizing your thinking about the issues that confront your life, but Post-it brainstorming is one of the best. Try it if you're not already doing so and see what happens. Be sure to put everything up on the board. Nothing is too trivial. And resist the urge to organize too quickly. The beauty of Post-its is that they move easily. Just get everything up there quickly, then organize the fragments later by rearranging the Post-its. It's amazing how effective this process is for revealing issues and developing strategies. It can really help you to get control of your own script, and take it where you want it to go.

Contact Us
Have you got an idea for Outside the Lines, or question for us? Drop us a line!

Peggy Sonoda

Michael Reddell
PO Box 160
Cambria, CA 93428

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