– James Norman Hall
My college major was Psychology. However, for reasons I frankly can’t remember, I also took a fair number of Political Science courses.
McGill University is a big, traditional kind of place, and the grading format – especially for Political Science – was fairly unimaginative. A mid-term exam, a final exam, and one, big, honkin’ term paper on some obscure subject that nobody else on Planet Earth had ever heard of.
In terms of requirements, about the only rules were: 20-25 double-spaced pages, adequate references and no plagiarism.
Midway through my second year, and with six or seven of these snore-inducing missives under my belt, I became aware of a fairly predictable first step in the term paper completion process: Wasting time.
The problem was that specific topics were never assigned, and other than staying within the scope of the class in question, it was up to you, the student, to find a topic.
Early on, I found this quite frustrating. I knew with near certainty that whatever topic I began with would be dumped by me a couple of days later, as I dug in further and found too little information, or too much information, or some other deal-breaker which made the whole thing not worth tackling.
Eventually, however, I came to see that “wasting time” was simply part of the writing process.
Unlike other, more direct, A to Z tasks, such as mowing your lawn, balancing your checkbook, or fixing the broken light switch in your 11-year-old daughter Emily’s closet that she’s been asking you to take care of for three weeks now, writing has a healthy dose of random baked in. Whether working on a term paper, an E-Newsletter, or something else, it’s not as straightforward as just “doing it,” because the it that you are doing is pretty much nonexistent until it’s done (you still with me?).
I mention this today, because I know that for many people (left-brainers, I’m talking to you), the squishiness of the process is the cause of much pain and suffering, as you sit down each month to write your E-Newsletter.
Never fear. As always, I have some constructive and judicious suggestions: Don’t worry about it.
More specifically, here’s what I recommend:
- Move when the spirit moves you. Sometimes you’ve got a deadline and you’ve got no choice but to sit down and get it done. But that’s the worst case scenario. The best case scenario is when you’re so energized about a particular topic or issue that the words practically write themselves.
I’ve learned to pay attention to when I feel inspired, and absent some constraint that I simply can’t get out of, I’ll push everything else aside to take advantage of an unexpected visit from the “Good Writing Fairy.*”
Chances are you don’t like writing as much as I do. Even so, I’ll bet there are times, moods, days where it all just flows easier for you. So suggestion number one is to look for these and write inside of them whenever you can.
- Write something, anything (even if it stinks), and then come back. I have to admit that I don’t like doing this. I prefer to write from the “top down,” not moving on to the next sentence until I’m happy with everything that came before.
But I’ve learned that it’s a lot easier to edit and polish than it is to create, and when I’m having trouble, I’ll just get something down and come back to it later for improvements.
- Expect some bumps in the road. I’ve spent most of the last two days writing a client newsletter that when delivered, will take all of five minutes to read. I don’t like when that happens (most months that same newsletter takes me about half a day), but I don’t worry about it anymore either.
Like I said, it’s random, and if it doesn’t show up today I’ll look for it tomorrow. Give yourself the same permission to be inefficient, and you’ll find the process goes a lot easier (and the final product comes out a lot better).
Bottom Line: Writing – particularly the kind associated with the unstructured, “thought leader” E-Newsletters we talk about here – is rarely a straight line experience. Instead, it’s filled with stops and starts, dead ends, confusing moments, and yes, wasted time. You may never love doing it, but hopefully, you can at least make it a little less painful.
* No, I don’t have her number.