Or, Let’s Do The Time Warp Again

One of my old bosses had a great saying, for which I bless her daily. Whenever someone tried to stick a bright red fireman hat on our heads, despite all our dodging and weaving, she would intone, firmly but fairly, “Lack of planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” And thus insanity was magically averted.

How many of us find ourselves running amok, putting out other people’s fires, either at work or at home? How do we find ourselves in those situations? Don’t firemen need special training, or something? I mean, there’s the whole not getting incinerated thing, and all.

We need to give ourselves the freedom to manage expectations, to prioritize based on our needs rather than others’. To, yanno, breathe.

Say it with me now: Oxygen is good. Oxygen is my friend. And gosh darn it, this oxygen is mine.

It’s Just A Jump To The Left…

Franklin Covey is all about the prioritization and categorization. But sometimes we get buried in so much minutiae it’s impossible to see the forest for the trees, or, really, even the trees for the forest.  Which tree to concentrate our efforts on? That lovely oak over there that looks just perfect for a picnic? That birch so useful in providing switches with which keep the insanity at bay? And is there a handy Redwood we can take a shortcut through?

Franklin Covey as a Time Matrix chart I’ve found useful. I like to call them buckets, and everything that needs doing or planning for gets dropped into the appropriate one. Budgeting time is a lot like budgeting money. You get your paycheck, you allocate X amount to bills, Y amount to food and gas,  Z to Savings, etc. You can put your money into savings from the word go, of course, but bills will still need to get paid and those pesky kids do need to eat once in a while. Not too often, mind. They might get spoiled.

In the case of Time, X, Y, and Z represents buckets where you invest your limited hours (see what I did there just then?) Here’s how the buckets work:


There’s another old saying that an ounce of prevention can save a pound in pain, and it’s true. If we invest an ounce of our time and effort in Quadrant II, we save ourselves a pound of sanity points in I and III. (Ever play Call of Cthulhu? Yeah, it’s kinda like that. Do your research and don your Amulet of Indigestion +2 now, and you avoid becoming lunch later).

Moral of the story is, by planning ahead just a little, you’ll have an easier time prioritizing on your terms, not someone else’s. Managing expectations is key—even if it means you have to retrain some people’s thinking along the way.  If you don’t respect your time, who will?

The idea isn’t to fill your day to gasping with to-do items and appointments, but to plan in such a way as to schedule blocks of time for the Big, Important Stuff in Red Quadrant, smaller, regular chunks for the Green Quadrant, and thus leave open bits here and there for Pesky Purple.

And Then A Step To The Right

Buckets work for Word Wrangling, too. Here’s what my revised Time Matrix looks like:

A lot of the items listed in the Green Quadrant I can kick out over morning coffee on a Sunday when the household is still asleep, or during my lunch hour at work. If I have a scene list in front of me, for instance, and I know what I need to work on, I can brainstorm the elements of that scene—staging, action, dialogue, imagery. Sitting outside for lunch, or in a variety of places, makes for an excellent opportunity to people watch and collect sensory detail.

I’ve also found that by taking a book or a legal pad out and looking busy cuts down on the interruptions. Practice your frowny face. It helps.

In Another Dimension . . .

Know what else the Bucket Brigade works for? Project-Specific organization. Whether you’re using a three- or four-act structure, having a map does wonders for the savvy Word Wrangler, even if you’re a tie-dyed-in-the-wool Pantser.

Screenwriters often use a technique called “breaking” a story. No, they don’t drop-kick it out of a third-story window (well, alright…sometimes they do). They get out a handy legal pad and draw a line first down the middle length-wise, then across, so they have four equal quadrants. They then list scene ideas on each line, in each quadrant—each quadrant holds exactly the amount of scenes for that Act so they don’t run over time. It keeps a tight, clean ship for the drafting process. So does working in Key Scenes—everything that must happen, at the proper juncture.

How many times have we started a story strong, but ended up sagging in the middle? Or rewritten Chapter One about eighteen times until it’s just perfect?

That’s not progress. It’s holding us back. Using the matrix lets us see what comes next, even if it changes on us. It’s okay. Go with it. Be flexible. That’s the Muse talking, and we don’t her to go away. Write hot for as long as it’ll take you. Rewrites and revisions can come later.

But . . . but . . . If we take the time to determine what happens in the middle, we’re more likely than not to cross the finish line. And isn’t that the point?

Here’s an example of a Story Structure Matrix:

Key scenes are a great way to road map your story. They’re destination points, but certainly  not chiseled in stone. And lawdy knows, Middles are the bane of the Word Wrangler’s existence.  Know what else it’s good for? The Dread Query and Even-Dreadlier Synopsis. These are the key moments you want to focus on—Inciting Incident, Midpoint, and foreshadowing the Climax for your Query, and Key Scenes for your Synopsis.

(Credit to Larry Brooks of Storyfix for the magical madness of Pinch Points.)

  1. Opening Scene: should mirror your Closing Scene.
  2. Inciting Incident : 10% mark—The moment/catalyst that starts everything.
  3. Plot Point 1: 25% mark/end of Act I: Complications ensue; more information becomes available to the hero; a key moment in the antagonist’s Nefarious Plan finds at least some measure of success.
  4. Pinch Point 1: Halfway to Midpoint—Added complication the hero has to squeeze their way through.
  5. Midpoint: EVERYTHING CHANGES. (i.e., the chase begins.)
  6. Pinch Point 2: An additional complication for our brave hero to squeak their way through.
  7. Plot Point 2: Okay. We’ve made it to the 75% mark. Time to climb our way through rising action to climax. We’re in the Home Stretch. Breathe, now.
  8. Climax: The Big Moment of Truth. Dun-dun-DUUUUUUNNNN!
  9. Catharsis: There’s usually a scene post-climax where everyone relieves their feelings or emotions on the whole matter. I call this the Aftermath.
  10. Closing Scene: The End. Really and truly. Mirrors your Opening Scene in way.

So there you have it, folks. Putting First Things First.

Next Time: HABIT 4: Think Win/Win



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