Ken Follett and Life’s 3 Acts.


What are you looking to achieve? That seems to plague us more and more every day with so many productivity gurus getting us down to inbox zero.

How about inbox none? Most things on the Internet are shallow. Like email. I never check it more than twice a day. I don’t even post anything on my social media feeds until Sunday night. I block Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, during working hours all week.

What if it’s as simple as choosing that there are essential elements to every day and it boils down to a dramatic question, acts 1-3, and a moment of emotional reality. I came to realize this while listening to Ken Follett talk on the James Altucher Podcast about his new novel A Column of Fire. Follett believes:

What is your dramatic question? Every book has a beginning, middle, and end; but each chapter should have a beginning, middle, and an end; but every scene too.

Altucher makes the analogy that Follett himself has done this in his own writing career. Follett started out as a journalist, making the transition to writing novels, and not getting a hit until his eleventh book Eye of the Needle. Follett wrote many spy-thrillers and did that in the first act of his novelist career before transitioning to historical fiction with his Pillars of the Earth. Follett dropped the quote above, and Altucher says one should think about their life in this structure. So at the beginning of every day, Follett confirms, he asks himself a dramatic question: What am I looking to achieve? What am I’m looking forward to? What am I grateful for? Then approach your day in three acts.

I start my days getting up and writing, whatever I’m working on—an essay, notes from reading–these days a short story to submit to literary journal. I start my day with a half hour or an hour of it—usually around 5:30am.

Then I teach online, and when I’m done there focus on my job search. In my cover letters, I approach it like this structure: first paragraph should be a dramatic question. What are the critical things this person needs to understand to do this job? What role does this job fulfill? How do I fulfill this role? Then body paragraph 1, act 1; body paragraph 2, act 2; body paragraph 3, act 3. Each one building on each other and how my experience fulfills the job they need me to do, sprinkle in an anecdote to each paragraph with a necessary ingredient of using the job ad’s buzz words. Then I wrap up with the fifth paragraph where we get to the emotional reality of the cover letter, chapter, etc.

Tell a story, have some thoughts about it.

Then I exercise and I spend the afternoon doing things for my family and writing some more for about two hours before I pick up my son at daycare. The evening is for family, winding down and making dinner and playing together. After bed time, reading and doing some professional development (reading a novel, or a comic book, or some nonfiction. Depends. Usually with some television.) See the three acts?

What is my main priority for the day? What do I get up for in the morning? My family and a bit of writing gets me going on the right foot. Then it’s Act 1—job stuff. Act 2—house and writing. Act 3—family time. And finally the emotional reality of the day, I ask the question: what did I learn today?

What did you learn? What are the three acts of your every day, week, month, or year? That’s why this structure always works in a story or any piece of writing—because every day is a journey.

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