Ten Cycles--Five Questions: Where Every Writer Should Be, and What They Should Ask Themselves When They’re There

This literary, if not life-plan, system was bestowed to me by a friend who came upon it years ago when, at 100-miles-an-hour, he had to pop a wheelie on his motorcycle to maneuver through a pack of baboons sunning themselves in the middle of a blacktop highway in the Drakensburg Mountains in South Africa.

He had only a split second to decide what action he had to take to avoid several life threatening, if not life ending, scenarios. In that snap-of-a-fingers moment, he slowed his thoughts to ten cycles a second, which is the measurable electro-magnetic activity of the brain that represents the meditative state. As human beings we normally operate and navigate our everyday lives between 20 and 30 cycles a second. If we’re experiencing extreme anxiety or excitement -- like hurtling toward a pack of baboons on a motorcycle going at extremely high speeds -- it’s quite a trick to slow your mind to 10 cycles.

Yet, as writers, we do it all the time. In fact, we do it multiples of times throughout the day.  When we immerse ourselves into the stories and characters that inhabit the worlds  we create, we’re at 10 cycles. Staring at the blank sheet of paper or screen of our computers, our minds slow as we create and destroy plot lines, story arcs and the inner workings and histories of each player in each scene or chapter. When we cease to be ourselves, and assume the identities of our inventions, we are in that meditative state.

Now you know you do it. So what do you do with it?

You ask yourself one of the following five questions. At first, try them in order. After awhile, if you get stuck on one, contemplate them out of order. And never stop asking yourself these questions; either of yourself or your characters.

Keep in mind, these are strategic planning questions not only for yourself, but for your characters. When answered (each is in time) they become statements. A helpful note, some people use Purpose, Mission and Vision synonymously--that’s messed up.

What’s my (or my character’s):

The Purpose statement is an outcome. The purpose of every for profit organization is to make money. It isn’t. The purpose of Apple is to use technology to be counter culture. The purpose to get a job is to make the world better. You must have clarity about the outcome. Profit is a byproduct.

What business are you in? What are you good at, what are you not good at? Either you’re the best, or the second best at what you do, or get out. You’re not doing the right thing for you. If you’re mediocre, get out of it. Understand what you are good at and use it. Great performers practice the basics over and over. If you do something for 10,000 hours, you’re pretty much going to be an expert at it. They you can call up awesomeness at a drop of a hat.

The ideal future state. It’s like an architect when he creates a drawing of a building - when it’s done with there is a whole lot of specificity. Without that vision by the architect,  the builder is going to build it in a way that’s easiest for him. The key to happiness is pattern recognition. Choosing to be optimistic, choosing to be the best. Your mind looks for opportunities that fit your vision. If you don’t have a definition of the ideal life or organization, it will just sit there like a Corvette in the garage. You have to have clarity.

Have to have a clear definition of the ideal future state in order for the tools of your subconscious to go to work. Those tools are :
1.  Reticular activating system - recognizing stuff. It goes to work finding stuff to support your hypothesis. supporting data to the vision.
2.  Pattern recognition skill. Best learned by playing Tetrus and chess. You learn the patterns of behavior of a knight, pawn, etc.  “If this happens, I can predict what might happen.” Those two things are critical to happen.
3.  Metrics, what are the key numbers that define your vision? Pick a few key metrics, not 20.
4. Scenario. What is the worst case, best case and most likely scenario. Think ahead. IMAGINE.

What’s going on around you (your characters)? Be brutally honest. Check out the book Megatrends written 30 years ago. You have to understand the Megatrends in the greater world, and understand the Megatrends in your world or the world you are creating.
STEEP - Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political. For environment assessment name five things in your environment that come up.

Environmental assessment takes some time and effort, and you’re likely to go back and forth between it and Vision.

You can only have two priority action methods to move from where you are today, to where you want to be.

The first, and most common, is capacity building. After that it’s whatever you want.
Having three or more Strategies is like having none. And strategies change, all the time. It’s the most flexible and fluid of the five components.
In conclusion: you’re headed toward a back of baboons at 100 miles an hour and you have a split second to make a decision. What do you do?

Hughes Keenan
Hughes Keenan began his writing career at The Kansas City Star and was a member of the staff awarded the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for reporting. He has been a correspondent for United Press International, The Associated press, Reuters and Bloomberg News, covering war, politics, sports and finance. His first novel, The Harvest Is Past, was a finalist for the Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence.

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  1. Terrific reading here with lots to think about. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us.


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