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Prepare for your Best Work by Planning [43012]

By January 14, 1985July 14th, 2023Articles

Many writers ask me, “What’s the first thing you do when you sit down to the typewriter to begin an assignment?” Actually, to do your most creative work, you should begin long before you approach the typewriter.

            I’ve found from personal experience and in reading about others that creativity builds in the subconscious. The mind is working on the assignment whether we are aware of it or not. So that’s really my first priority to get my mind interested in what I have to work on.

            You can do this by some simple advance planning. Know what you’re going to be working on, give it some causal thought, and then forget it. The creative part of you won’t forget it. It will mull it over, analyze it, dissect it, prepare ideas, and then present them to you when you’re ready to receive them.

            Most geniuses that we study say this same thing in different ways. Musical composers often claim they hear the music in their head and then just write the notes down. Thomas Edison worked hard on the problems that he tried to solve, but noticed that the right solution would just pop into his head from who knows where. But these people were “thinking” about their work constantly, even if they weren’t aware of it.

            Sleep is supposed to be good thinking time for the subconscious, possibly because it’s free to work at that time without annoying distractions from us – from our conscious minds. I have great success with thinking about an assignment right before bedtime, then “sleeping on it.” It’s amazing how creative my mornings are after that. Often I’ve written an entire routine in that twilight area between trying to wake up and actually becoming alive again. I grab a pen and a notepad and write key-words or entire jokes that my subconscious has presented to me after a night’s work. Of course, I have to transcribe quickly since my writing at that time of the morning is mostly illegible.

            Even when you don’t have the luxury of time to allow ideas to roam around your sub-conscious, preparation is still necessary before pounding the typewriter keys. Your subject should be analyzed, organized, and outlined before attempting execution.

            Let’s suppose, as an illustration, that a client wants a 30-joke routine on his lazy brother-in-law. You should first give some thought to that subject. Make some observations about the topic in general. Lazy brothers-in-law are annoying. They eat too much. They’re always there when you don’t want them. They cause arguments between you and your wife, and so on.

            Now take these generalized thoughts, categorize them and place them in some logical order. We’ve noted before that it’s difficult to write 30 jokes about any topic. It’s overwhelming. So we make it easier by dividing it into ‘bite-sized’ chunks. We list 5 or 6 sub-topics and then we only have to write about 5 jokes about each. The end result is a 30 to 35 joke routine on your major topic.

            Now your preparation may look something like this:

  1. How lazy he is
  2. Always lying around
  3. Won’t get a job
  4. Never has money
  5. Eats like a horse
  6. How I plan to get rid of him

Now that your work is laid out, you can take the cover off the typewriter. You can now concentrate on item 1 and generate some good lines because your thinking is better directed.

      This preparation applies to larger projects like teleplays and full screenplays, also. As a

producer of several sitcoms, we always asked that the freelance writers submit a full outline before beginning their work on the teleplay. This assured us that they would go in the same direction that we had discussed at the story conference. Without the outline, it’s easy to get lost in the middle and to begin writing along tangents. Besides, it just keeps your writing organized and makes the creation of dialogue that much easier.

            Here’s the kicker. The preparation, even though it uses some of your valuable writing time, makes your work better. It also makes it go faster. The advanced work you do makes the actual writing easier, thus you can get much more done. If you give it an honest try, you’ll find that taking time out to prepare will allow you to get much more written in much less time. Try it and have fun with it.