The Jen Grisanti Interview: Change Your Story, Change Your Life
In today’s TV writing world, Jen Grisanti needs little introduction. To the few who may not be familiar, she is the writing instructor for NBC’s prestigious Writers on the Verge program. With a career that included years as VP of Current Programming at CBS/Paramount she is a published author and HuffPo blogger, and a consultant to many writers working in television today. What all of these bullets don’t tell you is this: Behind the pedigree exists a hard working, passionate woman, whose latest effort Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path To Your Success is a book that’s nothing short of valiant. Having met – and instantly bonded – in late 2012, Jen generously invited me to read this remarkable new book of hers. The interview below is what emerged.
In an industry where we all master the art of the spin, you chose to share quite a few dark, pivotal moments with your readers. Was this a difficult decision? What inspired you to do so?
Yes, you are correct. We do tend to hide things. When we do this, we don’t allow people the opportunity to really see us. I have come to learn that our pain is what connects us to others. When we reveal our truth, it allows others to do the same. So, by doing this in my book, it was a conscious attempt to get the readers to open up so that the exercises could be utilized to the maximum advantage.
In my career, I was known as extracting the truth in my writer meetings and getting writers to recognize the value of utilizing their emotional truth and adding fiction to it. I would do this by sharing my own truth. When I would share my truth, they would open up. When I saw how this practice led to very positive results, I realized the value behind going into the dark moments.
To succeed professionally and with their craft, how important is it that writers are honest with themselves about their own “all is lost” moments, and why?
Our “all is lost” moments are where our truth lives. So, by confronting what your biggest fear was when you hit rock bottom, you will see that it is this emotion that will connect you to your audience. If you felt this, chances are millions of others have felt the same in different situations. Our fear is what drives us toward the goal in fiction and in life. If writers can utilize this emotional truth in the lives of their characters, they will connect. This is one of the most important keys to telling strong story.
Could you illustrate for me how one would link their story to their success?
Yes. Since I am known for using my own story, I will use it here. In my story, when my contract wasn’t picked up after 15 years with two sister companies, I hit one of my “all is lost” moments. My personal dilemma was that I learned story from some of the most talented people in the business and now with my job ending, I no longer had the platform to utilize the value of my experience. So, instead of hiding my truth, I decided to reveal my truth as part of my story. By utilizing my truth in my seminars, my blogs and my articles, I began to connect with my audience on a much deeper level. This led to the growth of my company and selling two of my books, Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story and Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path To Success. In essence, it is my personal story that links to my success.
Motivation is something I always harp on, and you have a whole chapter about it! How important is it, both for the writer and the story they are writing, and why?
Motivation is the fuel behind your desire. It guides you to take action. It will get you to where you want to go. By understanding why you want what your want, you’re chances of reaching your destination are that much stronger.
Could you expound for me on the components that make up motivation? You really nail this!
In fiction, there are five components that I discuss with regards to motivation. They are:
Wound & Flaw
Moving forward and evolving
What does your central character desire? By understanding the answer to this, it will help to motivate your character toward the goal.
I ask writers to think about the wound that is driving your character and the flaw that gets in the way. So, the wound is a part of what is motivating your character. By helping your audience understand the wound, you are connecting them to your pursuit.
With the external stakes, you want to always remind your audience of what is the worst that can happen if they do not achieve the goal.
The past is what motivates the present. Understand how to utilize in the present so we understand how it is fueling your character.
Moving forward and evolving. This pertains to the arc of growth for your character. Your character might have a faulty philosophy that is motivating them toward the goal in the beginning. Through hitting obstacles, they grow into a deeper sense of awareness. Their philosophy may shift.
In life, if you think about these same tools, it will help you to connect more with what is motivating your pursuit. Take the time to define your desire, understand the wound that is driving your toward it, know what the worst that could happen is if you don’t achieve it, think about how you’ve grown from your past, be open to your arc of growth. Being open to shift your philosophy after you hit some obstacles may open you up to a whole new path of understanding when it comes to the achievement of your goal.
There’s a line I love in the book: “How can you learn to get what you want professionally while getting your emotional needs met personally?” Can you talk about the importance of this quest a bit?
Yes, when we think about our external pursuits, we often fail to understand the internal part of it. We know that we want the external achievement but we may not understand why. Therefore, when we do achieve the goal, our sense of fulfillment may not be there because we didn’t consider the emotional component of the outcome. When we do think about why we want what we want and are very present in understanding our desire, we have a greater chance of feeling a stronger sense of fulfillment when we reach our destiny.
What are the some of the life lessons that most affected your professional story?
The life lesson that most affected my professional story is the idea that our failures can actually bring us closer to our success. We view our failures as a step backward but the lesson I learned is that they can actually be a step forward.
I learned that by doing the emotional work and defining what I want and why I want it, I have a much stronger chance of feeling fulfillment when I reach my achievement.
I learned that our story is our gold when it comes to connecting with our audience.
You have a series of personal, challenging exercises in the book. What are you aiming to have the reader achieve with them?
My goal and intention with this book is that the reader begins taking actions toward creating the story that they want their life to reflect. The exercises are tools to guide them toward being the author of their life and an active hero in their story.
Do you find that there is typically a particular area where writers struggle to change their story?
I find that writers often see the gift of how they change the story in the lives of their fictionalized characters but fail to see how they can apply this same lesson to their own lives. The voice of the writer is what differentiates them and connects them. By understanding how to make changes in their own lives, the writer increases his/her well of story to write about.
How does one create change?
You create change by defining what you want, taking action, believing, being present in the journey and recognizing the emotional intent that is fueling the change.
Could you explain the difference, and the roles of, ego and spirit, and how one moves from one to the other?
When we are motivated by the ego, the attainment of the goal has to do with our individual validation. When our spirit motivates us, we have a greater understanding of how the achievement of our goal is not just about us; it is also about contributing to the greater good.
Moving from ego to spirit is how we move from a narrow focus of life revolving around us into the idea that our goals can also contribute to the greater good and serve others in the process.
If there is one thing you hope readers would get from your book, what would it be?
Yes. The one thing that I hope that readers get from my book is that by being an active hero in your own story, you create your destiny.
International speaker Jen Grisanti is an acclaimed Story/Career Consultant at Jen Grisanti Consultancy Inc., Writing Instructor for Writers on the Verge at NBC, former 12-year studio executive, including VP of Current Programming at CBS/Paramount, blogger for The Huffington Post and author of the books, Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story, TV Writing Tool Kit: How To Write a Script That Sells and the upcoming book, Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path To Your Success.