Back when I wrote my column for the paper, I’d try to set aside one whole morning a week to write my 560 or so words. Once I actually started writing, it usually didn’t take me but about 23 minutes to discover “the point” of what I was going to write, and that would have been around word 700 of my first draft (usually around 800). Once I got to the “sweet spot,” the place in the column where I finally went “Ooooh, THAT’s what I’m trying to say,” the rest was cake. I’d finish whatever else I thought I needed to say, then, with the “sweet spot” in mind, I’d go back through and take out whatever didn’t relate (mostly). This was hard. Because the stuff that didn’t relate was often some of my most witty and pithy commentary. (I can say that as there’s nothing to disprove it—it’s all on the virtual cutting room floor.)
So, really and honestly, if I knew what I was going to say, it took me less than an hour to produce a whole and mostly good column. So what did I do with the rest of that morning time?
Spider solitaire. And lots of it.
With Spider you can go back and restart the game when you lose. So I’d do that until I could figure it out. Sometimes that took minutes, other times hours, and, rarely, but it did happen, I gave up the game altogether. I found myself reliant on this “pre-writing” routine. If I could win a few games easily, I knew I was ready to write. If I struggled with seeing the patterns, I knew I was in trouble. I knew my mind was cluttered and confused and the writing would be, too. Generally. And when I got frustrated with the game playing, I’d start playing with words instead of cards. And eventually, with deadlines looming, I sometimes wrote some stinkers because I just couldn’t get those cards in order let alone those words.
Why does this come up today? While waiting on hold on the phone, I lost the same game four times in a row. This does not bode well for the writing projects hanging over my head. Or does it? But business writing is different. Sweet spots don’t come like Mr. Darcy out of the mists (oh, you knew there had to be a Pride and Prejudice reference in here somewhere as I obsess … OBSESS, I tell you!); they are given (and, generally, are less than sweet or even inspiring). So, maybe losing is really just the opposite. My brain is confuddled enough for the writing I must do, perhaps.
Perhaps I just need to do it. There’s another writing practice I employ on occasion–to simply write.
Ah well, what pre-writing techniques have you, if any?