Unless you work on Walden Pond, carving two or three hours out of your media-riddled day to focus on the substance for a report or proposal or brief is nearly impossible. But you can usually preserve pockets of twenty to thirty minutes. Don’t waste these precious moments staring out the window.
Meet the two sides of your brain: LEFT and RIGHT. The Left Brain is the CRITICAL side. Think of it as the producer who handles all money and logistics, but cannot stop herself from telling the director how to frame every shot. The Right Brain is the CREATIVE side. Think of it as the director who creates and coordinates all of the nuances of mood to fashion a brilliant film, but can’t balance his checkbook. The key to getting the writing done (or the movie made) is to marry the two.
Before we begin the ceremony, listen carefully: The closest I have ever come to being struck by lightning was one calm, sunny day inside an office building. I was standing in front of a roomful of writers, talking about my 21-Minute Method, a way to write the first draft of anything quickly, when I had a blinding flash of insight, three words that should become your mantra:
Everything created is the last failure in a series of failures. We cannot write a report, a proposal, a brief, a letter, even a wedding announcement, without failing along the way. It’s the process itself. Michelangelo failed and refined, failed and refined, as he created David; so it should work for us. It’s not supposed to be good the first time. Or the second. Or the third. Acknowledging this frees us to fail, which we will, as we sail with the Muse toward a fine document. If we could get Michelangelo over to the house for dinner, I'm certain he would say he was never quite satisfied with one of the fingernails on that right hand.
Back at the keyboard, in the middle of all that whiteness, the Cursor is throbbing to the beat of my heart. I can almost hear it. What do I do?
First: Hide the research. I need to know what I'm talking about, but I write my early drafts from memory. Everything I need to know is all there in my Right Brain.
Next: Converse. I imagine a dialogue between myself and a real person--friend/spouse/client/boss--in a real setting--office/home/kayak/over a glass of wine. That person has just said to me, “So, tell me about this idea/case/deal/problem.” Am I going to walk away? Look out the window? Stare at my friend/spouse/client/boss? Or am I going to say something? Lights! Camera! My alter ego waits, fingers poised--Tom Wolfe in the white suit at the cocktail party--to record everything I say! It will not be organized! It will not be good! It will not be pretty! It’s not supposed to be! It’s the first failure along the way! Action!
Remember: Don’t stop writing. No matter what pops into my Right Brain, it goes down on paper. I do not pause, do not look up, do not question. Hollywood says every movie is allowed one suspension of disbelief; here’s the one in this movie: In the early stages, it is far more important that I write, than it is what I write. Please trust me. If I do not stop, the momentum alone will carry me in and out of brilliant and not-so-brilliant insights. I just get black on white. Later, I will toss the not-so-brilliant stuff. How do I know I'm finished with the first draft? The Right Brain tells me; it slows down, like popping popcorn, in about four minutes.
But will I meet my deadline? Will it be good? Will the Right Brain ever speak to the Left Brain again? And just who’s going to clean up this mess? Stay tuned next week for Draft II – Return of the Curse.