Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How I work

Over the years I realized that waiting till deadlines wasn't helping me. I didn't do a good job, I forgot things, thought of better ideas and wording after the piece had been turned in. By grad school I got myself to change. As soon as I knew what the semester's assignments would be, I'd write an outline, some paragraphs, sketch out my ideas. As I came up with new ideas I'd add to that framework. If I learned something in class that added to my theme, I'd research further and work it in. Sometimes I'd realize I'd taken a wrong turn, but I'd learn so much that it was worth it. Because I'd already gotten the general frame of the paper in my head, I was sensitive to new information and ideas about my subject, and I had plenty of time to follow those leads.

By the time the paper was due, it was truly my own, as finished as I could make it. I never had those pre-deadline headaches, butterflies, and insomnia.  I never had to miss a social event or send my kids off because of a paper. I had plenty of time to study for exams, and the months of picking up new information on the particular subject matter made my exams better, too. It wasn't a matter of working harder, or necessarily longer, just better. I had to give up the adrenaline rush, but higher grades and compliments from professors were better. So was the relief of knowing I'd done my best.

Now I find I work better this way in life as well. I gather up resources for what I want to write. Once I get something on paper, I let it percolate, and let my attention draw itself toward my subject matter. How can I say it so my audience will engage? Empathy helps, but I don't mean walking around as yourself in someone else's shoes. I mean walking around as that person, as best I can, in their worldview. You have to acknowledge stereotypes in order to avoid them. You can't bring a fresh message to a cardboard cutout.  Once you get into an audience's point of view, brainstorm. Put things on paper. Don't edit. If you think of a better way to say something, write it down fresh, rather than mark up your earlier version. This way you capture your trail of thinking. Then let it sit. You need to walk away from all that driven writing. Change rooms, change tasks, change your frame of mind before you go back to it. Your ability to pick out fresh ideas, smart wording, engaging sentences will be much better if you haven't been staring at the lines sitting in front of you all day and night. Fresh eyes are almost like someone else's eyes. Everything you do between that first draft and your first read will inform how you work on the ideas you laid out. Think of it as teamwork with yourself.

Monday, October 15, 2012

He'd be 28.

Probably a lawyer by now. Wife and kids? If so, I'd be a grandmother. He'd be in New York, still, most likely. Settled down, starting to look back at his life and think about everything that happened over the last 3 decades, all the changes he had to go through. I can imagine him at that age, and what his world might be like, but I can't begin to guess how he might have surprised us all with the choices he might have made. I can wish he had the kind of life that made him happy, that made him grow into the person he wanted to be. I wish I could be there. I wish he were.