by Catherine Rayburn-Trobaugh: President, Word Branch Media
It’s 2:00 a.m. and your article [paper, ad copy, proposal . . .] is due at 9:00 a.m. You drink more coffee; you write a few disconnected words; you play computer solitaire.
Sound familiar? So NOW you want advice as to how to conjure the muse? I suppose I could say, “I told you so,” but let me be a little more helpful.
Here’s the bad news: the muse of writing is mythology. It’s fiction. Writing is about hard work, a little bit of talent with some skill mixed in, and, yes, joy. So waiting until the muse comes to visit is like waiting for Santa to bring you a Porsche.
Let’s back this scene up a few days. Your boss gives you a project to work on that involves, for example, writing an article about the new CEO for the employee newsletter. You smile confidently and accept the challenge, and you hope that your boss doesn’t hear you quietly sobbing in your cubicle as she leaves. For the rest of the afternoon, you surf the net for basic information on the CEO and sit at your computer, fingertips hovering above the keyboard, ready to type wildly as inspiration descends on you.
The next morning finds you in the same position.
Here’s where you made your first mistake: you didn’t have a plan. A lot of people skip this step because it seems like a waste of time. Actually, taking twenty minutes to sketch out a rough plan will save you hours in the long-run. How formal your make your plan depends on the complexity of the project and your own personality, but make a plan.
The next step is to write.
What? It couldn’t possibly be that simple, but it is. Most of us assume that what we write has to be perfect, and anything else would be a waste of time (see previous “waste of time” comment). So who is your favorite author? Do a quick Google search to find out about that author’s writing strategy, and I’ll bet it includes plenty of rough drafts and extensive rewrites. If a professional writer doesn’t write perfect copy the first draft, what makes you think you can?
After some intensive rewrites, let’s bring you back to 2:00 a.m. the night before the project is due. This time you are sleeping peacefully, dreaming of the big promotion you are going to get after this successful project. Your article is sitting on your boss’s desk, ready for her glowing approval first thing in the morning.
Now get to it!
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