Jennifer Grisanti is the author of Story Line: Finding Gold in Your Life Story. She is also a Writing Instructor for NBCs Writers on the Verge and a sought-after consultant and former studio executive who covered Medium, Girlfriends, The 4400, Numbers, Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210, Charmed, and many other hit series.
Grisanti talks about her new book and her writing process, offers advice for writing fiction and non-fiction, and more. “Write the book that you would want to read,” Grisanti says. “Understand your audience. Know your intention and your message.”
What led you to write Story Line?
I wrote Story Line as a way to share my philosophy about how to write strong story on several platforms. I have analyzed story for 18 years now, 12 of them as a studio executive at CBS/Paramount and Spelling Television Inc. where I staffed over 15 top primetime shows. I figured that through sharing my philosophy and what I learned from some incredible mentors, including Aaron Spelling, that I could empower the writer to help make their dreams a reality.
Another pivotal life moment that led to me writing Story Line was after my contract was not renewed while I was working at CBS/Paramount. I had worked at 2 sister companies for 15 years. So, this was a big moment that definitely influenced me to open my own company and in opening my own company, writing a book was a natural part of the process. I wanted to send out a powerful message about everything I learned.
What was your process for writing it?
My process for writing it was that I woke up every morning at 4:00 a.m. and wrote until 7:00 a.m. I was running my business full time so I knew that I had to be disciplined with when I wrote. I find that when you write right after your wake up from dreaming, you write from a deeper place. I first learned this when I saw Susannah Grant speak on a panel at the WGA.
Another thing that clicked with my writing process was when I heard that when you are writing a book, write down the title for each chapter and then think about your chapter as a conversation that you would want to have on the topic. For some reason, knowing this made the writing process so much more enjoyable and less daunting.
How was writing a book similar to/different from your experience in the entertainment industry?
It was a very different experience in some aspects and similar in others. I structured my book so that I rotated every other chapter between freethinking and craft. The chapters on craft came easier to me because they involved everything I teach. Whereas, the chapters on freethinking were more challenging because I had to be vulnerable and I had to use the other side of my brain and take off my analyst hat.
What was your favorite part of writing Story Line? The greatest challenge?
My favorite part of writing Story Line was being conscious that the message I am sending out could change the way that people write and see story. My goal was to hit as many light bulb moments as I could to help people with their creative process.
I also enjoyed moving out of the analyst mode and into the author mode. I always wanted to write a book. This one was ready to be birthed.
Why is it so important for writers to use their life experiences when writing fiction?
The most important reason for writers to use their life experiences when writing fiction is because it connects them to their audience. When you understand the truth behind the emotions of the characters you’re writing, it comes out. We see your truth. In seeing your truth we connect to your vision and your story.
What are the main lessons you hope writers take away from your book?
I want writers to take away is that all the answers to your success as a writer are within. If you learn how to draw from your emotional well, you will connect with your audience.
I also want writers to take away that if you start your story with a powerful dilemma and you stem your goal from the dilemma, and connect all your pivotal moments back to the goal, your story will have a much stronger chance of succeeding.
What are the 3 biggest mistakes new writers make?
1. Their writing portfolio doesn’t align with their goals.
2. They think that they can write one script and sell it.
3. They write more toward the market than their passion.
Advice for those writing a non-fiction book?
For those interested in writing a non-fiction book, I highly recommend it! There is not greater life experience that getting your story out there.
I say that my book represented one year of work and 17 years of emotion. By going the page, you are able to make sense out of things. It is an amazing sanctuary.
Write the book that you would want to read. Understand your audience. Know your intention and your message.
Think about the question “What’s in it for me?” (meaning your audience)
Additional advice for screenwriters?
My advice for screenwriters is don’t give up. Even though the climate is very challenging at the moment, strong story will rise. Observe and live your life. Don’t be afraid of your pain or of your falls. They are there for a reason and it is these moments that add to the gold in your well. Take the time to understand the craft. Get in a writing routine, so that you are writing consistently. Be open to the messages around you. Be vulnerable. Be aware of dilemmas and how to build them into a powerful way to start your story. Make sure that the goal is clear so that all your pivotal moments can connect back to it. Build your network. Seek guidance from others who have been where you want to go.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
I know now that it all takes time. At the beginning of my career, I wanted to be a Vice President immediately. I wanted to reach my destination and didn’t realize that the journey there is often the most beautiful part of the experience. I learned through the years that you have to be clear about your goal and be willing to put the work into the pursuit of your dream.
I learned that the word “no” means nothing. It just means that you have to try another angle to get where you want to go. The only person who stands in your way of achievement is you. Make it happen. You can do it! Living your dream is a destiny you deserve.Author Q&A Debra Eckerling Jen Grisanti Michael Wiese Productions Story Line Write On! Online Writing Fiction Writing Non-Fiction Writing Screenplays